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.”
California Watch, part of the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting, has launched a new initiative aimed at tracking “every quote, promise and statement” made by California’s two major candidates for governor, Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman.
Readers will be able to sort statements into nine different categories, reports the non-profit site, including promises, attacks and vague policy points, and a category designed to highlight issues that candidates have tried to avoid.
We are unveiling Politics Verbatim today with about 300 documents and 1,000 excerpts. We will be adding to the site daily, scouring news and campaign sites and Twitter and Facebook feeds. We also are encouraging crowdsourcing from other journalists and readers.
California Watch says it is interested in expanding the initiative to cover other candidates and races and the US Senate campaigns.
Columbia Journalism Review has an insightful feature up on the United States’ burgeoning non-profit journalism industry. Writer Jill Drew looks at the unusual practices that separate organisations like California Watch from traditional newsrooms, and whether the philanthropic donations and other smaller revenue streams on which they rely can sustain the groundbreaking work being done.
The editors agreed; this was big. But then the conversation veered in a direction unfamiliar to traditional newsrooms. Instead of planning how to get the story published before word of it leaked, the excited editors started throwing out ideas for how they could share Johnson’s reporting with a large array of competitive news outlets across the state and around the country. No one would get a scoop; rather, every outlet would run the story at around the same time, customized to resonate with its audience, be they newspaper subscribers, Web readers, television viewers, or radio listeners.
From Nieman, former Washington Post executive editor and Centre for Investigative Reporting board member Len Downie claims that the for-profit model can no longer support the kinds of investigative journalism that society needs. Journalists must instead embrace a variety of new economic models, he says. Downie also questions the sustainability of the non-profit organisations that have launched in recent years:
That leads to the other big question of sustainability: it’s not clear that all the non-profits that have launched in recent years will survive. “How many will succeed and for how long?” Downie wondered. A related question: how will the collaborative model settle out, and where will non-profits find productive niches?
What advice would he give to people going down the non-profit publishing route, we asked. Irving answers:
A non-profit is a business as well – it still has to make a surplus, it is just that that surplus is used to do more of the charitable work, rather than as personal profit.
I would advise people to go one of two ways – either have some good ideas for business models from the start (take a look at Patient Opinion for an example) or work out how to run it entirely on philanthropic donations and volunteer work.
It’s going to be as hard to start a sustainably funded non-profit as it is to start a successful for-profit business.
Like all other media organisations in times of economic crisis, Global Voices ‘has to be creative and innovative when it comes to thinking of ways to sustain our organisation,’ writes managing director Georgia Popplewell in a blog post.
GV, a non-profit community of over 200 bloggers, provides reports from citizen media and blogs around the world. Its funders can be found here. But now the organisation is exploring other source of revenue too: content commissions and underwriting, advertising, consulting and online donations. Popplewell outlines the developments in the post, and calls for further ideas.
NB: I am an occasional contributor for Global Voices. If you’ve got story ideas about citizen media in the UK which I can follow up for Journalism.co.uk and GV please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org. I am currently looking into examples of asylum seekers in the UK using online media to raise awareness of their situations.