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ProPublica – A Breath of Fresh Air?

As news publishers across the nation struggle to meet budgetary demands, cutting investigative journalism programs from their repertoire along the way, the launch of ProPublica, announced earlier this month, is being met with great anticipation. Describing itself as "an independent, non-profit newsroom that will produce investigative journalism in the public interest," ProPublica plans to maintain a staff of 24 leading journalists dedicated solely to practicing investigative journalism with impartial reporting standards, promising to "[produce] journalism that shines 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," according to Paul Steiger, ProPublica’s president and editor in chief (and former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal).

ProPublica intends to make its content available to the public free of charge via the organization’s website, distribution to mainstream print news outlets, and through connections with bloggers, reporters and editors, who will link to stories and expand on ProPublica’s reporting. In essence, the project strives to give new life to a long-revered method of fact-based, investigative reporting within emerging digital platforms and social networks.

Despite these altruistic intentions, ProPublica has been received with criticism for its dependence on left-leaning funding sources (primarily the Sandler Foundation, whose namesake, Herbert M. Sandler—a major donor to the Democratic party—will serve as chairperson) leaving critics to wonder whether or not the organization can produce the unbiased stories that it promises. There are worries also that the group will focus largely on big issues like health care or international policy that are already being covered by national media outlets rather than local, community-based news, thus overlooking those stories that need to be told but may not necessarily be as "sexy".

In a time when digital platforms have created, as Pro Publica suggests, "a situation in which sources of opinion are proliferating," it will be an interesting challenge for the project to establish itself as a credible news source for both mainstream media and bloggers alike.