The More Viable Post-PI Effort?

By Sandeep Kaushik March 4, 2009

There was a lot of skeptical chatter yesterday on SLOG about “the Packers model” being pushed by some Post-Intelligencer staffers as a way of funding a web-based journalism effort after the P-I ceases print publication later this month. Building on a suggestion made in a recent P-I op-ed, the staffers behind the effort (led P-I reporter Kery Murakami), envision creating a cooperative venture in which a daily online news site staffed by former P-I reporters would be funded by largely by readers purchasing memberships (suggested contribution: $250). The new site “would be operated by a combination of the site’s employees and the community.”

I’m skeptical as well, for many of the same reasons cited by the SLOG writers (follow the links above), that such an effort could fund anything more than a skeleton crew operation, or that it could be sustained over the long-term.

But there is another, far more hush hush, effort afoot that may hold more promise for salvaging something journalistically significant out of the ashes of the P-I. Several higher-ups at the P-I are in the “formative stages” of creating non-profit news entity, primarily focused on investigative journalism covering the Western states, which would be funded by foundations and other major donors.

The model for such a site is Pro Publica, which bills itself as “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.” Pro Publica, which began publishing last June, is led by Paul Steiger, a former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, and is largely funded by grants from several major foundations. The site produces investigative reports for its own web site, and those pieces are also shopped around to print newspapers and magazines.

“Yes, we are looking at a Pro Publica-style reporting initiative focused on the West,” P-I managing editor David McCumber confirmed when I contacted him to ask about what I had been hearing. While McCumber believes there is a market for the output of such an operation, especially in light of the shrinking investigative budgets of traditional dailies, and that the idea merits further exploration, he stressed that no decision has yet been made about going forward with such a venture.

Others sources told me that the effort, if it gets off the ground, would provide a landing place for most of the P-I’s investigative reporters, such as double-Pulitzer Prize winners Eric Nalder and Andy Schneider, and could include high-profile P-I columnists like Joel Connelly. McCumber cautioned that it was too early to tell who might write for such a venture, but added that the site, if it moves forward, will likely include both narrative and investigative voices, including some not currently on the P-I staff.

I was also told that the Bullitt Foundation, created by the family that founded King Broadcasting Company, is potentially interested in funding such a venture. McCumber said that he and columnist Joel Connelly had only had a preliminary conversation with the foundation, primarily to seek advice, and that any formal announcement – should the venture ultimately go forward – was likely several weeks away.

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