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ProPublica Is Great, But Let’s Advocate for Much More

In a PBS NewsHour report focused on nonprofit funding of the news, especially ProPublica for investigative reporting,  Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, says:

I’ve been watching ProPublica. I think ProPublica is a great development in this area. But I am saddened by something that Paul Steiger told me a while back, that he was deluged with applications from people who would have been theoretically working at some of the nation’s greatest news organizations on investigative reporting that they would have been doing, but now either were out of jobs or were insecure enough in their own jobs to think that ProPublica, even with its three years of funding secured, was a better bet for them.

That, I think, reflects about what the real climate is in this country for this kind of expensive, vitally important kind of news. 

Here is more from Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief of ProPublica and former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal:

…our budget is $10 million a year. But we do have in 25 journalists the largest single team of investigative reporters in the United States.

That’s not very much money and that’s Jones’ point, who says it is time for find a more viable model. Foundations are not enough. They have limited funding, don’t have the long-term resources and will fund start-ups, but lose interest and move onto other things.

Why can’t that viable model be everyday citizen support? My Representative Journalism project is fully built on the premise that audience will pay, if you give them something of value. I mean I hardly have any hair left and I still pay well over a $100 a year to get haircuts. Nothing is free. Why should the news be free?

Each day we read of another news organization making cuts. Eventually, the pool of quality news will shrink to almost nothing. That’s when I am convinced those of us in the public who love news will step forward to start paying the price. Yes, pay attention to the foundations for start-up money, that’s how the Harnisch Family Foundation is helping Rep J, but really start thinking how we can we mobilize the public. Just look at Barack Obama’s campaign, he has proven that by turning to the vast funding power of the public, hundreds of millions can be raised. Raising a $1 million in a day is not unheard of, has also shown its amazing power to do the same.

So where is the campaign to raise money for real news. We have some nascent efforts, like David Cohn’s and Hal Plotkin’s, but they are slight whispers. Let’s do a scream out — let’s show the world what life would be like without news. Let’s borrow the techniques of the politicians and advocacy groups. Let’s be the advocates for reinventing a higher quality, even more ethical journalism. We can do it, but, to borrow a phrase, we just have to believe in change.

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