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Steiger discusses ProPublica’s role in investigative reporting

The greatest casualties of changes in the newspaper industry aren’t just jobs.

Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief, CEO and president of the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica, argued Monday night that the newspaper’s traditional role as watchdog has also been lost.

Steiger spoke to a crowd of about 60 at the Reed Sarratt Distinguished Lecture through the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Steiger addressed faculty and students in Gerrard Hall about the state of print and online media and his organization’s role in a potential future for these fields.

“Today, print newspapers are in relentless financial decline brought on by rise of the Internet,” Steiger said.

“What this means besides dismay for jobless journalists is missing reporting. Most newspapers have vastly shrunk the size of their investigative reporting team, as those reporters are needed to fill up the daily paper.”

ProPublica is a free online nonprofit newsroom focused on investigative reporting.

The organization selects projects based on potential impact with a spotlight on public interest, Steiger said.

While Steiger mentioned obstacles such as skepticism surrounding ProPublica’s nonpartisan status, he stressed that the organization has won two Pulitzer prizes and receives millions of dollars in donations each year.

Steiger told the crowd of mostly students and faculty about the essential role of youth in the organization.

“An important part of our mission was to have young people on board so we could transmit the culture and ethics of this kind of reporting to another generation and have the more experienced folks teach the younger ones,” Steiger said.

“That indeed is happening, but the reverse has been more significant, and more exciting.

“Folks in their twenties … came in and taught the older folks how to use the wonderful power of digital data servers and matching up of digital databases and social media.”

Steiger added that he believes in the reporter-driven story, or a story in which a reporter pursues an issue he personally finds worthy of investigation.

His words resonated with members of the audience, including students in the journalism school.

“It made me realize the importance of investigative journalism and how important the reporter-driven story will be for the future,” said Janae Hinson, a junior public relations major.

Kristin Oakley, a senior at Duke University, said she was most interested in hearing about ProPublica’s nonprofit business model.

“I think it works well for investigative journalism because it’s a small group of people and they have time and money to spend. It could work for other people.”

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