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ProPublica champions investigative journalism online

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ProPublica is a non-profit organisation which seeks to bring stories of those abusing power to light. Set up in 2007 by Paul Steiger, former managing director of The Wall Street Journal, and Stephen Engelberg from the Oregonian, the Manhattan newsroom combines top editors with 32 hand-picked reporters to safeguard the highest standards and practices in investigative journalism.

A section on the website’s ‘About’ page reads:

Investigative journalism is at risk. Many news organizations have increasingly come to see it as a luxury. Today’s investigative reporters lack resources: Time and budget constraints are curbing the ability of journalists not specifically designated “investigative” to do this kind of reporting in addition to their regular beats. This is therefore a moment when new models are necessary to carry forward some of the great work of journalism in the public interest that is such an integral part of self-government, and thus an important bulwark of our democracy.

It goes on to say the recession and the digital revolution have contributed to journalists having less time to dedicate to pieces of original journalism in the public interest. ProPublica hopes to fill that gap and go beyond. The result is a news website jam-packed full of quite heavy reads – all pertaining to some civic good and, unlike other news organisations, able to focus robustly on the investigative (or ‘accountability’) journalism. Examples on today’s front page include whether the stimulus report from the White House is accurate to the cost of enrollment abuses at the University of Phoenix.

Opening government data would increase the ability for reporters to do their work. One investigative reporter at The Washington Post, James Grimaldi, said on azcentral.com government secrecy is a constant roadblock for him.

“Open records laws are not followed as closely as they should be by government agencies.”

The work going on at ProPublica is unique and to be commended. Even now, those working on UK regional newspapers are seeing the gap in accountability journalism emerge – journalists are gathering online to investigate just how much council reporting is done in local newspapers on Help Me Investigate. But not many journalists can easily leave stable posts to pursue investigative journalism online start-ups, unless a funding model is there to sustain them and while ProPublica is unique, it also has a unique funding model in that it is supported in the long-term by the Sandler Foundation which is not easy to replicate.

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