Health & Science

09 September 2009 

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Website of the Week — Pro Publica

04 September 2009

Time again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative online destinations.

One of journalism's most important functions is to hold powerful institutions accountable, and one way the media does this is through investigative journalism. It's hard work, sometimes tedious, often expensive, and occasionally dangerous.

The Internet is full of sites that feature news, but at our Website of the Week, the focus is on investigative journalism.


"ProPublica.org is a website for a nonprofit, investigative journalism organization," says Eric Umansky, a senior editor at Pro Publica. "We're really looking for stories with moral force. Stories about people being exploited, about people in power taking advantage of people who aren't in power — that's the kind of thing that we investigate."

Umansky is one of more than 30 experienced journalists on the staff. Investigative journalism has traditionally been done by teams of reporters and researchers at newspapers or broadcasters. Pro Publica is different. They're funded mostly by foundation grants, and the work they do is not just available on their own website. Anyone may re-publish it, online or in print, as long as it's properly credited.

"Our mandate is for our stories to have impact. Well, the way you have impact is not just by limiting it to your site but by encouraging other people to run your stories, too. So why wouldn't we want other people to run our stories?"

In fact, Pro Publica's first big splash was last year, when a joint investigation they did with the American TV network CBS was featured on the top rated news show, 60 Minutes. The topic, incidentally, was VOA's sister broadcaster, the Arabic language al Hurra television.

At ProPublica.org you can read their investigative stories on health and science, the economy, and business. National security stories focus on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, detainees in Guantánamo, and other topics.

Umansky says the independent Pro Publica model makes sense at a time when American journalism, especially the newspaper business, is facing a tough economy and a very uncertain future, but he admits it may not necessarily be right in other countries.

"Every place is going to be different, and I wouldn't want to say you should copy Pro Publica because different locations and different countries have different needs. But I would say that we are one model, one way of doing this kind of work, of doing work that holds your government and other institutions accountable for the power that they have."

Investigate some of today's best investigative journalism at ProPublica.org, or visit our site, VOANews.com, for the link to this and more than 250 other Websites of the Week


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