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New news group, old ethics debacle

Steve Tripoli Oct 17, 2007


Scott Jagow: I watched the movie “All the President’s Men” last night. And I was thinking — there really isn’t much investigative journalism anymore. And then I came to work, and saw this story: Two California billionaires plan to start a news organization called Pro Publica — to do investigative journalism.

You might remember Herbert and Marion Sandler. They made their fortune at a savings and loan called Golden West Financial. It was sold to Wachovia last year. Steve Tripoli has more on their new venture.

Steve Tripoli: Pro Publica’s investigations will be offered for free to willing news organizations.

Rem Rieder at American Journalism Review says the lack of such work in newsrooms now is an unwelcome casualty of widespread budget-cutting.

Rem Rieder: The watchdog function is the key to what newsrooms are supposed to do. And when there’s a squeeze, and there’s not enough resources to do it, it’s definitely an abrogation of responsibility. And a very sad one.

But Rieder says privately-funded investigations pose a potential conflict. The Sandlers are major Democratic political donors.

Rieder: I think it’ll be really important to have safeguards in place to make it clear that Pro Publica’s decisions about what it investigates are independent.

Of course, news organizations have the final say on whether to accept Pro Publica’s work. Presumably, they’ll vet it.

And the new venture will have resources. It will be the biggest investigative shop around, with 24 reporters and editors — plus a $30 million commitment over three years from the Sandlers.

I’m Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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