ProPublica Gets Down and Dirty

ProPublica does not produce your average news stories. Instead, they focus exclusively on investigative journalism.

ProPublica’s mission reads: “To expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.”

ProPublica strives to focus only on truly important stories – stories with “moral force.” As their mission says, they try to “shine a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.”

Unfortunately, ProPublica believes that investigative journalism is at risk. Many news organizations take investigative journalism for granted. Today’s investigative reporters lack resources and time to do such reports. Time and budget constraints from news outlets make it nearly impossible for journalists to do investigative reporting in addition to their regular beats. Because of the business crisis, the creation of original journalism in the public interest, is being squeezed down, and in some cases out.

More than any other journalistic form, investigative journalism can require a great deal of time and labor. Also, results are not always positive. Sometimes stories that seem promising at first, ultimately fail.

According to ProPublica, given these realities, many news organizations have come to see investigative journalism as a luxury that can be put aside in tough economic times. In a 2005 survey by Arizona State University revealed that out of the 100 largest U.S. daily newspapers, “37 percent had no full-time investigative reporters, a majority had two or fewer such reporters, and only 10 percent had four or more. Television networks and national magazines have similarly been shedding or shrinking investigative units.”

These are just a few examples of how investigative journalism is in danger. But, ProPublica is making moves to revive investigative journalism.

ProPublica says it seeks to stimulate positive change by uncovering unsavory practices in order to stimulate reform. They strive to do this in an entirely non-partisan and non-ideological manner. ProPublica follows the strictest standards of journalistic impartiality and ethics. They refuse to lobby and never sides with politicians or advocacy groups.

ProPublica tries to focus on the two biggest centers of power – business and government. They report on topics such as product safety, securities fraud, flaws in the criminal justice system, and practices that undermine fair elections. ProPublica also focuses on other institutions such as unions, universities, hospitals, foundations and even on the media. They attempt reveal injustices within such institutions, especially when they exploit or oppress the weak or when they abuse public trust.

ProPublica accomplishes this by being persistent. They subject corrupt institutions to public criticism and continue to do so until change comes about. ProPublica says they stay with issues as long as there is more to be told, or there are more people to reach.

But ProPublica does not just destroy an institution’s reputation; they strive to be fair. After writing a report, ProPublica gives the people and institutions that are cast in an unfavorable light the opportunity to respond before the report is published. They claim to listen to the response and adjust their reporting when appropriate. By editing each story multiple times, ProPublica assures that it is accurate and fair. Under the rare case that errors occur, they correct them quickly and clearly.

By doing all these things and more, ProPublica is giving a new life to investigative journalism and journalism practices in general.

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