Outsourcing the I-Team

As newsroom budgets slash expenses, investigative reporting is increasingly going private. Some news giants are catching on.

ProPublica is just two year old, but the Manhattan-based organization already boasts industry respect, support and a handful of awards–and now, the Pulizter for investigative journalism. How’d it get so big so fast? Flush with cash from private donors and foundations, the nonprofit piggybacks on the cred of news agencies, and partners with them to produce stories.  (Read more about the rise of non profit, non partisan journalism here.)

Number of ProPublica partnerships since inception:  
Los Angeles Times: 27 storiesProPublica
Politico: 13
Huffington Post: 10
The Washington Post: 9
USA Today: 8
Chicago Tribune: 6
New York Times: 6

Other partners have included ABC, CNN, CNBC, “60 Minutes,” Newsweek, Salon, Slate and PBS’s “Frontline.”

The Pulitzer-winning story was written by Sheri Fink, a journalist who also has a medical degree. The New York Times Magazine even paid half of the prize-winning
investigation’s $400,000 bill (which paid for a year salary for Fink countless FOI requests, among others.)

But it didn’t start out that way. Fink first pitched her story idea–a New Orleans Hospital where 45 patients died during Hurricane Katrina, more than any other hospital during the crisis–while an underpaid, independent freelancer to the New York Times Magazine. They loved the story, but were hesitant to launch a year-long investigation.

Gerald Marzorati, editor of the New York Times Magazine, told The Washington Post: “We as a magazine don’t have the resources to pursue a story like that. So we sort of passed.”

The Washington Post continues:

“Once ProPublica got involved, the magazine worked with Fink through nearly a dozen drafts and provided fact-checking, legal reviews and photography. “Our magazine editing machine was engaged in bringing this to publication for a long time,” Marzorati says. “It was a real collaboration.”

“In some cases, [ProPublica founder Paul] Steiger says, ProPublica does all the reporting, and in others has shared the reporting load with the news outlets. More than half the joint efforts with The Post have featured bylines from both organizations, including such Steiger hires as former Post reporter Dafna Linzer and former New York Times correspondent Jeff Gerth.”

The Washington Post also says:

“Herbert Sandler, a 78-year-old former bank owner who is giving the venture roughly $10 million a year, says his motivation is simple: “I can’t stand the abuse of power. I can’t stand corruption. I can’t stand the powerful taking advantage of those with less power.”

Read more about the rise of nonpartisan, non profit journalism.