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#news2011: ProPublica model ‘not feasible’ as commercial venture, says editor-in-chief

November 29th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Business, Events, Investigative journalism

A commercial version of ProPublica is not “feasible at present”, its editor-in-chief told the Global Editors Network news summit today.

The US investigative news site, which relies on funding from philanthropic donations, was launched in 2008.

Giving a keynote speech to the event in Hong Kong via video-link Pro-Publica’s Paul Steiger, a former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, said he did not think a commercial organisation would be able to do as ProPublica does and “concentrate on doing nothing but investigative reporting”.

“It is possible that news organisations can have investigative reporting as part of the menu of reporting”, but not to the same extent.

The industry has gone from a high profit margin business model to one with much tighter margins.

As a result news organisations are “much less able to take the risk of sending reporters out on a project that might not produce a viable story,” he said.

I don’t think it is impossible at to make it happen in places outside of the US though. It just requires energy and ingenuity.

Click here for more on ProPublica and how it is funded.

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ProPublica: How we got the government’s secret dialysis data

Today, US non-profit ProPublica begins publishing the findings of a long-term investigation into the provision of dialysis in the US, which will also be published by the Atlantic magazine. In an editors note on the site, Paul Steiger and Stephen Engelberg explain how reporter Robin Fields spent two years pressing officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to release a huge dataset detailing the performance of various dialysis facilities.

Initially, she was told by the agency that the data was not in its “possession, custody and control.” After state officials denied similar requests for the data, saying it belonged to CMS, the agency agreed to reconsider. For more than a year after that, officials neither provided the data nor indicated whether they would.

ProPublica finally got its hands on the data, after the Atlantic story had gone to print, but plans “to make it available on our website as soon as possible in a form that will allow patients to compare local dialysis centers.”

Full story at this link.

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ProPublica figures reveal several half a million dollar salaries

August 12th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Jobs

Paul Steiger, the editor-in-chief of non-profit investigative news site ProPublica earns a salary of $571,687 (approximately £366,701), according to figures reported by the organisation to the IRS.

In 2009, the organisation employed 47 people and five volunteers. Salaries for senior staff in 2009 included $343,463 for managing editor Stephen Engelberg and $320,978 for treasurer and secretary Richard Tofel.

Steiger is very open about his approach to staff pay, as he told the New York Observer in 2007, “I’m prepared to spend $200,000 on the exact right person, but if the exact right person isn’t there, then I’ll get three people at $60,000.”

Full figures on FishbowlNY…

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Nieman Journalism Lab: Questions for a ‘new class of cultural institution’

December 2nd, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Training

Jim Barnett, currently researching non-profit news, has a few questions for the executive editor of the non-profit investigative journalism organisation ProPublica, outlined in a post on the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Paul Steiger, speaking at the Federal Trade Commission event in Washington DC, said that a major goal of ProPublica is to create ‘nothing less than a new class of cultural institution in this country’.

“That’s pretty lofty stuff,” writes Barnett. “And it would seem to carry a lot of implications not only for how news is created, but the regard in which a news organisation is held by community leaders.

“Does that mean it would operate like a major metropolitan opera or a symphony? Exactly how would it build that kind of image and gravitas? And what kind of fundraising would it do? How would it work with for-profit legacy media?”

Full post at this link…

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Reportr.net: Blogging from International Online Journalism Symposium

If you’ve got the time, you can follow the live updates from the International Online Journalism Symposium at UT Austin in Texas, via the event’s live-stream (you have to download the relevant plug-in).

Alfred Hermida is updating after sessions over at Reportr.net. Here’s his post from the first panel:’The search for a business model for journalism‘.

He blogs on ProPublica’s Paul Steiger presentation here, at this link.

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After 250 job cuts, LA Times leading reporters head to ProPublica

Last week LA Times, one of the biggest employers of journalists in the US, announced that it would be dispensing with the services of 150 of them as part of a total 250 job losses at the paper.

Yesterday afternoon it emerged that two more journalists would likely be leaving the LA Times, but not as a direct result of the editorial cuts.

According to LA Observed, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporters Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber will be leaving the paper later in the summer to join the not-for-profit investigative start up ProPublica.

“It’s another big morale blow in the newsroom, which used to be a place where journalists aspired to reach and stay to do their best work. With new deep cutbacks coming and [LA Times owner] Sam Zell’s outbursts making many of the best journalists feel the Times’ commitment to serious news is precarious, it’s no longer surprising to see stars like Ornstein and Weber flee,” wrote Kevin Roderick.

Last week’s editorial staff cuts, which amounts to roughly 17 per cent of the employees, will be spread between the print newsroom and The Times’ web operations.

Those cuts led to this fascinating quote from Times editor Russ Stanton:

“You all know the paradox we find ourselves in,” he wrote said in a memo to the staff. “Thanks to the Internet, we have more readers for our great journalism than at any time in our history. But also thanks to the Internet, our advertisers have more choices, and we have less money.”

One hundred and fifty losses job losses against two hires doesn’t really make a great case for the internet as a growth medium for the employment of journalists, but nonetheless the growth of ProPublica and its journalistic modus operandi online marks a neat stab at Stanton’s paradox.

The ProPublica site will be fully operational later this year and plans to have almost 30 investigative reporters working on in-depth stories (it helps that self-made billionaire Herb Sandler has set up the site with a donation of $10m a year from his foundation and that it’s under the watchful eye of former WSJ editor Paul Steiger).

ProPublica will conduct investigations, largely online, in areas of significant public interest. It will also use TV documentaries to reveal on that large canvas issues that will be followed up extensively online.

It’s first major project, an investigation into US-backed Arabic language TV network Alhurra, ran on 60 Minutes two weeks ago.

Zell say that newspapers have to slim down and become more economically viable. Newspaper’s are about money, not news, that’s fairly self-evident. Little wonder then that Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber decided to walk and pursue their investigations elsewhere.

What awaits them at ProPublica?

A philanthropic backer claiming no editorial interference. No desire for profits. No ads on the site. Where almost all resources will be poured into journalism (what no free CD give away?).

The journalistic equivalent to Willy Wonka’s ‘golden ticket’, it seems.

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Non-profit news site ProPublica goes live

June 11th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Uncategorized

ProPublica, the not-for-profit news website focusing on investigative journalism, has gone live.

Editor-in-chief Paul Steiger and managing editor Steve Engelberg welcomed readers to the site yesterday in an introductory post, saying the site would be committed to covering news that had slipped under the radar and to probing further into existing stories.

“Today, we take our first concrete step in building an investigative publishing platform that will produce original stories focusing on betrayal of the public trust and abuse of power.”

The site will feature original content, including long-term investigations working with other media partners, alongside analysis of current campaigns and news and an aggregation of investigative journalism online.

The launch follows the latest phase in ProPublica’s recruitment with seven new additions to its staff bringing the total to 20 out of a planned 27.

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