A New Model for Investigative Journalism

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.

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