In Which I Have a Moment of Inspiration

31 July, 2008

I was reading Nick Davies’ excellent Flat Earth News a while ago and I came across a mention of an American not-for-profit that researches big, public interest stories. It’s called ProPublica and it seems like a great idea.

Profit-margin expectations and short-term stock market concerns, in particular, are making it increasingly difficult for the public companies that control nearly all of our nation’s news organizations to afford—or at least to think they can afford—the sort of intensive, extensive and uncertain efforts that produce great investigative journalism.

Lead funding for this effort is being provided by the Sandler Foundation, with Herbert Sandler serving as Chairman of ProPublica; other leading philanthropies [are] also providing important support.

Of course, we suffer from exactly the same squeeze on this side of the Atlantic. You see surprisingly little investigative journalism in UK papers at present. Why isn’t Private Eye given away at train stations instead of Metro? That’s what ought to happen, instead of having the Guardian occasionally run with one of their secondhand stories.

So, I started thinking, why don’t we have a ProPublica in the UK? Surely there are charities and individuals that would be willing to fund such an initiative? Where does the Media Standards Trust get its money?

But wait.

This is Europe, not the US. We’re nominally further to the left, so why would we have to rely on charity to fund an impartial body that pursued investigative reporting? We don’t rely on charity to provide our health service, do we?

So why shouldn’t we fund public interest journalism through some form of taxation?

Then came the depressing realisation.