MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
A new journalism venture is aimed at creating a newsroom for investigative reporting. It's called Pro Publica. It will launch in January. It's a non-profit organization that will hire its own reporters and editors to dig into investigative stories, that'll provide those articles free to newspapers and magazines.
Paul Steiger will serve as president and editor-in-chief. He was managing editor of the Wall Street Journal for 16 years. And Mr. Steiger, why the need for this new group?
Mr. PAUL STEIGER (Former Managing Editor, Wall Street Journal): Well, I think that investigative reporting is the one area that is likely to suffer the most as traditional news media continue to go through the wrenching change their business models that is going on now. With the rise of the Web, with the rise of competing sources for information, they're having to overhaul their budgets. And the staff that seems to get squeezed the most is that staff of people, whether they're full time investigative reporters or reporters who get a chance to do this kind of reporting off their normal beats. That seems to be what is falling most by the wayside.
BLOCK: What kinds of stories do you see Pro Publica taking on?
Mr. STEIGER: We'll be looking to shine a light on any area where people with power or powerful institutions are not living up to their responsibilities. And obviously, you know, the first two places you look under the most powerful institutions in society are government and business. But we'll also look at unions, we'll look at lawyers and courts, we'll look at universities and school systems, we'll look at hospitals and doctors, we'll look at the media - any place where there are centers of power.
BLOCK: You're hoping to have, in the end, 24 fulltime reporters and editors, and the idea would be you'd report a story and ideally, leading newspaper, hopefully the New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times, might take one of those stories, print it in their paper, essentially outsourcing investigative reporting. Wouldn't you think those newspapers or maybe a magazine would want some editorial control? If it's going to be appearing in their pages, they'd want to have some control over that story.
Mr. STEIGER: Well, yeah, and we'd be willing to deal with them as editors. Think of the model of a freelance reporter, they go through editing process and if there's a meeting of the minds, the piece gets published. And if there's not a meeting of the minds, then people look for alternatives. Obviously, we will do this with trial and error, we'll learn by doing.
BLOCK: Mm-hmm. How do you measure success?
Mr. STEIGER: I think we measure success by having impact; by the, you know, the traditional measure of investigative journalism success is changed. It can be changed in the public's understanding or it can be people dislodged from public office. It can be, in some cases, people given more power as you shine a light on people that are doing things to correct wrongs. So I think that will be our measure of success.
BLOCK: The two main funders behind this idea, Herbert and Marion Sandler, are big Democratic donors known to be critics of the Bush administration. Do you fear that the perception at least would be that that you have an agenda here?
Mr. STEIGER: No, for a couple of reasons. One, it's because Herb and Marion Sandler have assured me that what they are looking for here is a fully nonpartisan approach. And second, my own record coming from the Wall Street Journal, I mean, you know, as you know the Wall Street Journal has a proudly right wing editorial page. But its news columns, which I directed for 16 years, have a strong and I think well deserved reputation for being straight down the middle. And that's the approach that I'm determined to carry forward this, where I wouldn't become involved otherwise. And the Sandlers and I are fully in agreement on that approach.
BLOCK: And what's the budget for Pro Publica?
Mr. STEIGER: Ten million a year.
BLOCK: Which is pretty substantial money in this…
Mr. STEIGER: It is. It is very robust. With $10 million a year, you can do a lot of investigative reporting.
BLOCK: Paul Steiger, thanks very much.
Mr. STEIGER: I'm delighted. Thank you.
BLOCK: Paul Steiger will be president and editor-in-chief of the investigative news service Pro Publica. It's scheduled to launch in January.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.