April 13, 2009; L.A. Times | ProPublica, an online nonprofit newsroom, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting on Monday. They shared the award with the New York Times Magazine for a story by Sheri Fink about a New Orleans hospital in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Though not the first nonprofit news organization to win a the prize—both the nonprofits St. Petersburg Times and Christian Science Monitor have been recipients of many Pulitzers—the L.A. Times called the award “a shift in how journalism in the United States is presented.”
Much has been made about the demise of journalism as we know it, and whether or not there exists a sustainable business model to reverse its decline. On its Web site Monday, ProPublica announced that such a reversal is happening: “This is therefore a moment when new models are necessary to carry forward some of the great work of journalism in the public interest that is such an integral part of self-government, and thus an important bulwark of our democracy.”
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ProPublica, founded by former Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger, is by far the largest of the new journalism ventures. The New York-based project began two years ago with a pledge of $30 million in ongoing support from Marion and Herbert Sandler of San Francisco. Unlike the St. Pete’s Times and the Monitor it presents its work in collaboration with traditional media outlets, like newspapers and television, to produce in-depth reporting that has become to costly for many news outlets.
One estimate has the bill of the Pulitzer-winning story at $400,000.
So has the time come for this new breed of nonprofit newsroom? Maybe not entirely. The bulk of the prizes were awarded to traditional heavy-hitters. The New York Times won two Pulitzers for explanatory reporting and national reporting and a share of a third, and the Washington Post led all newspapers, winning four Pulitzers in international reporting, feature writing, commentary and criticism categories.—Aaron Lester