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Investigative Journalism Rebound?

April 8, 2008

I first heard about ProPublica a couple of weeks ago. And let me say, it’s rather intriguing, but will it work?

Backed by several heavy media hitters and deep pockets, ProPublica is an “independent, non-profit newsroom that will produce investigative journalism in the public interest.” I still have a few questions as to how they’ll “sell” the content and what the terms of the syndication would be.

Ultimately, I find this venture particularly interesting given our ever growing appetite for quick hits, interactive posts, and real-time reader commentary. I can’t imagine there’s much of a target audience these days for 5,000 word investigative pieces, but I could be wrong. Perhaps newspaper editors feel they need some form of investigative arm, even if it’s in this outsourced, shared model that ProPublica is touting.

From ProPublica’s website (emphasis mine):

From a philanthropic perspective it is also worth noting that this model will assure an unusually high level of accountability for a non-profit. One quality test for our stories is built into our model: these stories will have to be sufficiently compelling to convince editors and producers to accord them space or time. If they do so consistently, donors will be able to be confident that professional standards are being met and maintained, and that important work is being undertaken.

Just because editors and producers may find the content compelling, does not mean today’s audience will agree. And if that happens, advertisers will demand their ads run alongside stories such as this, rather than that 5,000 “page turner.”

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