The investigative news non-profit was a bold experiment in traditional reporting in the time of digital upheaval. Five years later, it's still a viable organization.
Among all the nonprofit and for-profit news organizations founded in the digital era when so many traditional print publications have suffered economic catastrophe, the most respected new enterprise is ProPublica. Launched in 2007-08 with a $30 million long-term commitment from the West Coast philanthropists Herbert and Marion Sandler, ProPublica has succeeded by every measurement. It has won a dazzling array of prizes, including the 2011 Pulitzer for National Reporting honoring a series called "The Wall Street Money Machine," the first time a Pulitzer was awarded for stories that did not originate in print.
ProPublica has also made a major contribution to what is called data-based journalism, a combination of investigative reporting and sophisticated computer analysis on issues such as pharmaceutical company payments to doctors across the country listed by name. In 2011, ProPublica partnered with 27 other news organizations, including many of the country's foremost names -- the New York Times, the New Yorker, NPR, and PBS's Frontline -- to produce 115 stories. (ProPublica partnered with The Atlantic for a December 2010 report on dialysis.) All this has been accomplished with a staff of about 40 journalists and support personnel, which seems surprisingly small, given the impact ProPublica has had on the news. It has shown beyond doubt that there can be top quality reporting in a time of widespread cuts in resources across some of journalism's most established entities.