Ian Burrell: Hail the philanthropists who have offered a future for serious journalism

Viewpoint: James Murdoch's idea of a news organisation is that "the only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit"

Share

Some good news at last for the future of serious journalism. Signs are emerging that a new form of philanthropy-funded investigative reporting in the public interest is going to have a viable future.

On New Year's Eve, the New York-based ProPublica organisation sent out a message to its 94,000 Twitter followers appealing for tax-deductible donations to help it fund its investigations. This was no desperate appeal. Two years ago this non-profit independent newsroom was supported by 100 donors; now it has 1,300. And for the past two years it has been able to put Pulitzer prizes on its shelf to show its value.

The model has helped inspire an Australian initiative called The Global Mail, which will launch next month in Sydney as an online news organisation with 17 staff and an annual budget of nearly £2m. For the first five years of its existence, The Global Mail will be underwritten by Graeme Wood, an entrepreneur and philanthropist. The team are promising not only investigations but analytical reporting and colour writing. They intend to update their website daily.

In Britain we already have The Journalism Foundation, which promotes free and independent journalism. One of its trustees is Evgeny Lebedev, chairman of the company that owns The Independent. TJF's chief executive officer is the former editor of The Independent, Simon Kelner. There is also the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which is based at City University and was established in 2010 by software entrepreneur David Potter and his wife Elaine, herself a former investigative journalist for the Sunday Times. The bureau recently distinguished itself with its reporting into the lobbying firm Bell Pottinger, published in The Independent.

This is not James Murdoch's idea of a news organisation. Murdoch junior delivered a lecture in Edinburgh three years ago at which he provocatively argued that "the only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit". His speech was largely an attack on the BBC's licence fee-based funding model but was also a swipe at some of News International's loss-making newspaper rivals, such as The Guardian and The Independent (the Murdoch-owned Times, incidentally, is reckoned to lose more than either of these titles).

When the family of the former Guardian editor CP Scott set up the Scott Trust in 1936 as an act of philanthropy to support the newspaper financially and editorially "in perpetuity" they fostered an idea that is gaining currency 75 years on, even if recent management policy has resulted in a perilous reduction in the Trust's coffers.

ProPublica began in 2008 amid a crisis in the American newspaper industry created by the loss of readers and advertisers to the internet. It was set up by the philanthropists Herbert and Marion Sandler, who made their money from banking and who underwrite ProPublica to the tune of $10m (£6.44m) a year. Its editor-in-chief, Paul Steiger, a former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, sifted through 850 job applications to hire the initial 28 staff, which has since grown to 34. The Sandlers have extended their initial three-year grant but separate donations have grown to $5m (£3.22m) a year.

More importantly, ProPublica has exposed the role of Wall Street in the American housing bubble and the threat to the American water supply caused by dangerous "fracking" natural gas drilling methods. In the past 12 months it has uncovered racial bias in the granting of presidential pardons and investigated the risks of cancer caused by airport security scanners.

The editor-in-chief of The Global Mail, Monica Attard, is confident the site will have full editorial independence from its wealthy benefactor. "I have employed a bunch of fearlessly independent journalists," she told the Sydney Morning Herald last Friday. "Most people who know them know that they won't stand to be told what to do and what to write."

i.burrell@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower