Yesterday the Associated Press announced that in July it will begin syndicating investigative stories for its 1,500 member newspapers from four independent news shops: the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Investigative Reporting, ProPublica, and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University.
This is good news:
Investigative, independent, nonprofit journalism may be the brightest light journalism has going for it right now. ProPublica and the Investigative Workshop didn't exist two years ago, and CIR is doubling its size. Mother Jones has also, thanks to your loyal support, flourished as a newsmaker. That the readers of the newspaper, how-many-ever of them are left, will be reading significant stories that aren't easy to come by, is excellent indeed.
This is also bad news:
Or maybe just a confirmation of what we already knew: newspapers don't have anyone investigating much of anything anymore. Which means that investigative shops supported by people like you equal all the stories we're going to get. Even standout local newspaper reporting, like the Chauncey Bailey Project, was made possible via a collaborative, nonprofit effort. And with the AP deal newspapers are off the hook, since four indy orgs will dig the dirt for them.
Still, of the four news outlets supplying the AP, ProPublica has 32 reporters (plus its "citizen journalists" project), the Center for Public Integrity has 18 writers and fellows, CIR has 10 reporters (as of now), and the American University project uses mostly undergrads and graduate student stories. That's 60 full-time journalists tracking and scouring for stories for 1,500 newspapers and their readers. Which, of course, is 60 more than we had last week.
Right now signs are pointing toward independent media as the savior of an entire industry, of a fourth estate that is meant to hold government, industry, everyone, accountable. To do so nonprofits need more than the usual shoestring, they need longevity, and long leashes. Because investigative reporting is hard, confounding, and critical work, just ask newspapers.