A new not-for-profit online journalism start-up launches today in Australia, backed with $15 million of funding from a philanthropist to see the site through its first five years.
The Global Mail is edited by former ABC broadcast journalist Monica Attard and aims to provide “public interest journalism – no ads, no subscription, no celebrity stories, no spin”.
Attard told the Australian: “I had long viewed, with a degree of envy, the ProPublica model in the US. The model was inspired by ProPublica.org, even though we won’t and can’t do investigations alone.”
She adds: “We would like to think we can come up with novel ways to help pay our way in the world. We haven’t thought of any yet. That’s the honest-to-god truth.
“The market is small in Australia, so we figure there’s room for a new player aimed at covering the world, with Australia in it.”
What is it? A tool for creating beautiful interactive timelines.
How is it of use to journalists? Having spent time developing a timeline tool, US investigative journalism news site ProPublica has made the code available for others to use, enabling journalists to build interactive timelines from a spreadsheet.
The LA Times and Chicago Tribune are among those who have utilised the open source software since it was made public in April 2011.
TimelineSetter is not for the technology shy, however. Non-coders should not let this introduction to the tool put them off and should instead try watching the two videos embedded below and test out the technology.
Let us know at @journalismnews if you build and publish a timeline using ProPublica’s code.
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.
There was a fascinating session at the World Editors Forum today titled ‘looking beyond the article’, which saw a number of speakers discuss the news game, and the ways news outlets are using gamification methods to offer wider context and understanding to news stories, events and scenarios.
One of the first speakers, Bill Adair, who is founder and editor of PolitiFact said he felt there was “a tremendous lack of imagination” in the industry in how to take advantage of new publishing platforms.
It’s like we’ve been given a brand new canvas with this whole palette of colours and we’re only painting in grey. We need to bring all the other colours to this new canvas.
He later said:
Many of us are slaves to our content management systems, which are slaves to the old way we were publishing. We have to think beyond that.
Scott Klein, editor of news applications at ProPublica, shared many examples of news apps which are doing just that. Klein’s presentation of these examples can be found at this link.
He told the conference that as well as adding context a news app has the ability to personalise and place the user at the centre of the story and offer them the ability to see the impact on them, “it doesn’t just tell a story, it tells your story”, he said.
You can hear him speak more about this in the audio interview below:
Another member of the panel was Bobby Schweizer, co-author of Newsgames: Journalism at Play. He said video games give the opportunity to look beyond the traditional news story and called on conference delegates to try and “make something”.
And he himself is trying to help make this happen, working on the development of new software called the Cartoonist to help journalists produce their own news games, a project which won Knight News funding last year.
In the short audio clip below I ask him more about what this software will offer journalists:
When asked about the implications of news games being able to be created quickly and potentially running alongside more breaking forms of the story, Schweizer said news outlets and journalists need to ask themselves why they are making the game.
You have to ask what do you have to gain over a written article? If you only need to answer who, what, when and where maybe you don’t need a game. This has to be a balance that each organisation will have to find for themselves.
ProPublica has published the full transcript of a podcast interview with outgoing senior editor Susan White. White gives some interesting insights into how things work at the US’ best-known non-profit investigative outfit and her own way of going about being an editor.
Mike: Why don’t we walk through an investigation? How does an idea originate and what do you tell the reporter to do, once you hear that idea?
Susan: I rarely tell reporters to do anything. I don’t think that’s the role of the editor. I guide, I steer, and I encourage and I help shape, but I don’t give reporters marching orders.
Mike: Is that because you think they’re wise enough to know the first steps?
Susan: Right, well… The best ideas come from reporters, not editors. I don’t think since I’ve been at ProPublica I have assigned anyone a story. I rarely have throughout my editing career. Usually a reporter comes to me and we have this idea. We vet it at the top here, at ProPublica, because if we’re going to work on something for a long time, we want to make sure that it’s going to work out.
Non-profit investigative journalism outfit ProPublica is to start using Press+, a payment plaform launched last year by startup Journalism Online.
ProPublica will use the tool to manage public donations, with Press+ logos across the site to encourage users to give money. Following an arrangement with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has provided 10 non-profit news sites with the platform, ProPublica will not have to share revenue with Journalism Online for the first year. The New York-based non-profit is the second outlet to take up Press+, following its launch on the New Haven Independent site in June.
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.”
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.”
Police in England have come in for a fair amount of criticism recently for their treatment of photographers (see here and here), but their US counterparts have received some attention too after detaining freelance photographer Lance Rosenfield, who was working for ProPublica at the time.
Rosenfield was driving away after taking photos of a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas when he was followed by a BP employee, blocked off by two police cars and detained. Rosenfield had remained in a public space outside the refinery while working. The police reviewed his pictures and recorded his date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information. According to Rosenfield these details were then shared with BP.
Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief of ProPublica, said:
“We certainly appreciate the need to secure the nation’s refineries. But we’re deeply troubled by BP’s conduct here, especially when they knew we were working on deadline on critical stories about this very facility. And we see no reason why, if law enforcement needed to review the unpublished photographs, that should have included sharing them with a representative of a private company.”
ProPublica managing editor Stephen Engelberg shares some advice on reporting bank investigations.
When the journalistic scrum forms around an investigation, read very carefully and withhold final judgments.
…Stories about investigations often leave the impression that authorities are running full tilt at malefactors. And they often fail to answer basic questions. Are these investigations fishing expeditions? Pro forma reviews? The first steps toward significant charges?