Pro Publica: Innovative or Insane?

Steiger190.jpgWe’re intrigued by the idea of a nonprofit group dedicated to advancing investigative reporting. But what a sorry state of affairs the Fourth Estate is in that newspapers aren’t willing to fund this work with their 11-20 percent profit margins.

Here’s a small sampling of how the rest of the media world is responding to Pro Publica, which will be run by former WSJ editor Paul E. Steiger with two Californians’ (Herbert M. and Marion O. Sandler) money:

Robert Stein puts it succinctly: “In an implied rebuke to junk journalism, a rich California couple is underwriting investigative reporters to give away their work to mainstream media. It won’t work.”

Media Buyer Planner is a little more kind: “A challenge to the company will be the fact that, outside of news from wire services, the largest newspapers are generally loathe to publish investigative work from other organizations. Experts, however, say that that resistance is dissolving in the face of financial struggles.”

Radar is cheeky: “A crack team of investigative journalists will form the nonprofit group Pro Publica and, with the guidance of pre-Murdoch WSJ editor Paul E. Steiger, will tackle the big stories that waning newspaper and magazine budgets have had trouble funding. And will save the world.”

Brit Hume is just ugly about it: “But a closer look at the group suggests it is not a politically neutral operation prepared to let the chips fall where they may. The Pro Publica organization was created by Herbert and Marion Sandler — former owners of one of the country’s largest mortgage and banking companies. The Sandlers made about $2.5 billion when they sold it. They are major Democratic political donors, who gave all their campaign contributions to Democrats in 2006. They have also been longtime critics of President Bush.”