Thoughts on ProPublica

Posted: February 2, 2011 by Karissa Donkin in #3 Propublica

Working for a news outlet has its pros and its cons. One of the pros is the legitimacy associated with working for a respected news organization. One of the cons is living in an environment where you’re restricted by daily deadlines. News organizations are struggling to find money in the budget to simply pay enough people to fill the pages every day, letalone allow someone to take their time on in-depth pieces.

It’s also often argued that our generation just doesn’t have the appetite for these pieces. They want their news and they want it quick and abbreviated.

Of course, one of the ramifications of having less people doing this type of journalism is the most vulnerable, those most unlikely to be heard in a story unless you push for it, suffer.

ProPublica is (according to their website) an independent and not-for-profit news agency dedicated to doing investigative reporting.

Before I analyze any stories ProPublica has published, I first want to say that I have qualms with the term independent. Is anyone really independent now? I’d like to think I’m a neutral journalist but I have biases, and so does everyone else. The website isn’t answering to a big corporation nor do they rely on ad revenue – but they rely on donations. If the website gets bigger in the future and attracts big donors who donate a lot of money because they like the website, would they risk losing that money by publishing something that would make those donors angry? Essentially, money has to come from somewhere and I’m not sure I really believe any news outlet can be truly independent today.

I chose to examine the F.A.Q. on U.S. aid to Egypt. First of all, I think the story angle is fairly creative, although I imagine it’s been covered somewhere before given how much media coverage there has been during the unrest in Egypt.

I like how Wang included links where appropriate to provide references. This adds some legitimacy to the website. After researching more about Wang, I see she has a journalism degree which also adds legitimacy to the website. I assume she is being paid as a writer but it probably isn’t getting a particularly high salary and there probably also isn’t a lot of job security. But that someone with a journalism degree has taken a chance on the site by adding their name and expertise to it is impressive.

My biggest qualms with this story revolve around style. The story is pretty bland. You’re not going to suck me into reading it all unless I’m interested in all of it. I’m of the opinion journalism shouldn’t just be facts. The journalist clearly did research, but did they actually do any interviews? No one appears to be quoted.

I think ProPublica has good intentions and I’m glad it exists. We should value investigative reporting and even though there isn’t a lot of money in the budget for it, I think there is still some good investigative reporting going on. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of style or interesting content. Perhaps once ProPublica has established itself more and the journalists associated with it develop legitimacy with readers (perhaps this has already happened for some readers who have followed the website longer than I have),  the website can focus on putting more time into how they present their pieces.

At the very least, ProPublica is trying something new and interesting. I don’t think it’s ever a negative thing for people to be trying new things when we’re living in such uncertainty about where media is going.

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