How Do Single-Issue Journalism Sites Fit the New News Landscape?

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August 5, 2014; Columbia Journalism Review

The landscape of the news is changing daily with a lot of experimentation that must attend to the “fit” of an enterprise in its field among other things.

Criminal justice reform is a big topic crying out for attention, and we seem to be at a moment in time when public policy might finally be poised to change. But does all that mean that the Marshall Project, a new nonprofit news site focused on criminal justice and well capitalized by Neil Barsky, will find an effective niche in the news landscape?

It can’t hurt that former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller is heading the effort up, but what will it be when it is finally born—an investigative site like ProPublica, or something more driven by readership online? This is the question that David Uberti asks, pointing to the group’s first article, which covers a 2004 Texas execution. Uberti writes that the article broke new ground on the case, which some argue might be the only proven instance of wrongful execution.

Keller says the article should not be taken to mean too much, since it is “is more of a sneak preview than a debut.”

“This will be one template we’ll follow,” Keller said. “We’d like to do long investigative pieces, deep dives, that we then deliver to the general public in partnership with other news organizations. That ProPublica model has worked quite well for them and we’ve had a lot of people who’ve wanted to partner with us.”

But Keller says that the site will also provide a daily sendout of aggregated news along with analytical feature articles.

NPQ recognizes this plan as in some ways similar to our own, and so we will watch with some interest as it takes off.—Ruth McCambridge