ProPublica makes its midwest gambit | Bleader

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

ProPublica makes its midwest gambit

Posted By on 12.13.16 at 01:00 PM

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click to enlarge New York-based ProPublica plans to open a Chicago outpost. - PROPUBLICA
  • ProPublica
  • New York-based ProPublica plans to open a Chicago outpost.
Here's good news for Chicago journalists and journalism. ProPublica is hiring. The New York-based investigative outlet is interviewing for an editor here in Chicago. And once that editor is found—by early January, says ProPublica—he or she will take the lead in hiring an editorial staff of ten or so additional journalists. The Ford Foundation gave ProPublica a grant to extend its operations beyond New York, and Chicago will be the first outpost.

Will you offer competitive salaries—whatever that means these days? I asked president Richard Tofel. "Whatever it means, they will be," he says. "Our approach is very clear. We don't use money to bid people out of their jobs, but we don't want them turning us down to do the same work somewhere else."

I called what ProPublica's setting up here (the first temp office space will be somewhere downtown) a "bureau" and Tofel corrected me. "It's more nearly analogous to a newspaper in an old multinewspaper company," he said. Chicago will have its own home page—accessible through the ProPublica site—and a staff responsible for filling it and maintaining separate social media accounts.

Tofel wants to defer questions about the exact size and structure of the staff until the editor is on board to answer them. ProPublica Chicago will be covering the city and state, "and we might venture beyond Illinois a little bit. We want to do accountability journalism. That's what we do."

Not-for-profit ProPublica launched itself in 2008 and called itself the "best-led and best-funded investigative journalism operation in the United States." It had won two Pulitzers when I looked in on it in 2011, and has since won another. Support comes from institutional and family foundations and from individual donors.

Tofel also told me about a response to president-elect Donald Trump that suggests a spiritual awakening.

"We have seen a very dramatic increase in smaller donations since the election," Tofel said. "We had close to half a million dollars last year in small-dollar giving and earned income [the last a trifle] put together. This year it's already more than $1.3 million, and a great deal always comes in at the very end of year, so I expect it to go up."

How much came in since the election? I asked him. "More than $1 million," he said. "The number of gifts from small givers is up from 3,300 to, at this point, more than 17,000. A lot of people have felt since the election that they want to take part in some sort of civic action. We're very much honored to be one of the beneficiaries of that."

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