Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, October 15, 2007

  A well-funded unbossed?

The New York Times reports today that a new non-profit backed by strong critics of the Bush administration will assemble a team of smart and skilled researchers to generate the kind of investigative reporting that American newspapers used to do. The group plans to give away the results of their investigations to any news outlets that are willing to print the information.

To my mind, that sounds like with a payroll.

Paul E. Steiger, who was the top editor of The Wall Street Journal for 16 years, and a pair of wealthy Californians are assembling a group of investigative journalists who will give away their work to media outlets.

The nonprofit group, called Pro Publica, will pitch each project to a newspaper or magazine (and occasionally to other media) where the group hopes the work will make the strongest impression. The plan is to do long-term projects, uncovering misdeeds in government, business and organizations.

Let's see...long-term projects? Check. Uncovering misdeeds in government? Check. Uncovering misdeeds in business? Check. Uncovering misdeeds in organizations? Check.

Looks like traditional media types decided it was time finally to get out from under the thumb of the corporations that dominate the news business, and get into the unbossed line of work. A warm welcome, then. Make yourselves at home, there's plenty of room and no end of stories to be uncovered.

Nothing quite like it has been attempted, and despite having a lot going for it, Pro Publica will be something of an experiment, inventing its practices by trial and error. It remains to be seen how well it can attract talent and win the cooperation of the mainstream media.

Attracting talent won't be a problem, if they're truly unbossed and unbought and paying good salaries to boot. Getting the cooperation of the traditional media, however—that's a problem, at least as we've discovered here at unbossed. We give away good, basic research here day after day, week after week. And the corporate news media usually sniffs and turns its back, or if it does pick up our work it will rarely give even a modicum of credit. The new non-profit, with all the traditional trappings of a news outlet, may get more respect however.

Pro Publica plans to establish a newsroom in New York City and have 24 journalists, one of the biggest investigative staffs in any medium, along with about a dozen other employees. Mr. Steiger said he envisions a mix of accomplished reporters and editors, including some hired from major publications, and talented people with only a few years’ experience, so that the group will become a training ground for investigative reporters.

Headquartered in NYC; that's a good start. It might help to inoculate their work against the D.C. insiders' smugness that has done such damage to traditional news reporting during the last generation.

On the other hand, with close proximity to Wall Street (especially since it will be led by longtime WSJ staffers), Pro Publica may turn out to be rather less than eager to investigate fundamental issues of work, labor, and class than these times desperately require. It's not just that the beat reporter who specializes in labor issues has all but disappeared from the American newsroom. It's also the fact that the US has during the last generation rushed rapidly backwards in the direction of the Gilded Age, with a stagnation of wages, pensions and health coverage collapsing, and astonishing gaps in income and wealth opening up between the richest Americans and everybody else. The richest one percent of the country now has an income that is nearly twice as great as the total income of the poorest 50% of the country.

Since the funding for Pro Publica will come from members of that top 1%, it's a legitimate question to ask whether its reporting will highlight basic facts such as these.

crossposted from

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