Propublica: Pros and Cons

Posted: February 2, 2011 by shanefowler2 in #3 Propublica

For the past two years Propublica has been involved in an ongoing investigation focusing on ‘For Profit Schools (’ These schools sit outside of the traditional realm of education in that their sole focus is turning a profit. Grades are of little consequence to these schools, as they work and operate on a business model. Their are obvious flaws to this type of system and Propublica set out to determine what, if any, problems existed when a learning institution operated on a business model.

What Propublica discovered was a system built on deception. False marketing led people to believe in all sorts of false information. Most cases involved false statistics in their overly aggressive recruiting tactics. In some cases, facts about enrolment were outright lies such as an online ad campaign showcasing special Obama grant money set aside specifically for mothers wishing to return to school (Obama Mom money.) Also, those that were targeted were typically lower-class citizens simply looking to increase their chances of moving up in the social field. These people would ‘graduate’ from these schools, only only to find in many cases that their supposed degree could not offer them the opportunities they were promised.

Many of these schools recruit nationwide, and that kind of scope is not always easily covered by local News organization. The nature of Propublica allows it to cross borders and states easily. Also, a large fraction of these institutions exist only in the online sphere, which in many cases put them out of the jurisdiction of many news organizations. The concept of online schooling is fairly new something that can be intimidating to several traditional news outlets. I’ve found that many stories that do develop online are passed over by most news organizations due to their complexity and the feeling of foreignness to the TV and newspaper audience. Propublica operates almost exclusively online, only coming to print when picked up by another outlet. Propulica’s comfort online lets them openly pursue stories and investigations in another world that TV, Radio and Print is still struggling to understand. Propublica’s online presence also gives them credibility to the newer generations, perhaps beating the age-barrier, when delivering news. Their embrace of technology and the internet sets them ahead of their traditional competition.

The nature of Propublica stands in direct contrast to that of this investigation. Money creates a conflict of interest when providing the public a certain service, in this case education. Propublica works off of a non-profit model. The fact that they are not driven by turning a product seems to take pressure off of producing a product, or ‘making news.’ This has been a problem in the past with the traditional model, needing to sell a story in order to sell papers can lead to a tainted product. Taking the need to ‘sell’ leads to a purer product. Propublica cannot be accused of manufacturing information in order to turn a direct profit, where as for-profit schools sit on the opposite side of that accusation.

It is my opinion that the news should be driven by the news. Events that happen should dictate the news, and not the need to sell stories. However a publication needs funds in order to survive. Here in Canada the CBC is operated using direct government funds, but that model runs the risk of government interference, no matter how slight. Being publicly funded and working on a non-profit premise seems to cure that issue, however, even that model is not without its flaws. A company like Propublica needs to be careful as to who influences its content. Being seemingly independent means that Propublica doesn’t necessarily have to answer to anyone or anything. This can be a benefit, but self-governance can lead to issues. A self serving institution still needs to be funded, and as it expands there will be a reliance on other funds which they have begun in the form of public fund raising. Donations are notorious for coming with strings attached. Another pitfall that Propulica needs to be wary of is political leanings. Being independent and not aligning itself to any one political party or thought can be a tricky business when being run by a select group of people that are not necessarily governed or kept in check by an alternate power.


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