As we've discussed before on this blog, one of the major casualties in the shifting new media landscape is the traditional investigative journalist--someone with the time and resources to research in-depth stories. In response to this problem a new group called Pro Publica is proposing a novel economic model: hire the journalists into a foundation and give their work away to the publications where it will make the biggest impact.
The new initiative, headed up by Paul Steiger, head editor at the Wall Street Journal for 16 years, will spend $10 million annually to support a newsroom of 24 journalists and 12 other staff in New York City. The money comes from Herbert and Marion Sandler, former heads of Golden West Financial Corporation, a big player in mortgages and savings.
It seems likely to me that Pro Publica will succeed in attracting some high-level talent, both because of Steiger and because many journalists have come to fear for their jobs in the shrinking newsrooms of traditional papers. The real question is how well this system will work in digging up and delivering quality reporting. What do you lose, and what do you gain, when your employer is no longer a "paper of record" but a private foundation funded by people with their own political agendas? On the other hand, it's easy to argue that every newspaper already has some kind of political position, so maybe Pro Publica will be no different.