Self-Made Philanthropists

Joe Nocera in the New York Times Magazine:

Screenhunter_02_mar_09_2249“They told me they were thinking about spending $10 million a year on investigative journalism,” Steiger recalls. The Sandlers didn’t know precisely what they wanted to do, but they knew they wanted to do something big. “They said they were talking to a bunch of people, soliciting ideas,” Steiger says. “What advice would I give them?”

Steiger drew up a proposal for a nonprofit that would employ around 25 reporters and editors and would conduct the kind of ambitious investigations that only a handful of the country’s most prominent news organizations do as a matter of course. Although the Sandlers solicited plenty of other ideas besides Steiger’s, his was the one they loved. They told Steiger that they would finance it, but only if he would run it. After a little soul-searching, Steiger agreed. ProPublica — as it is called — opened its doors in early January and in recent weeks has made its first few hires and named a star-studded advisory board (which includes Jill Abramson, a managing editor of The New York Times). It intends to begin producing investigative articles by the summer and then give its biggest exposés, free, to major news outlets like “60 Minutes.” Although there have been nonprofit investigative efforts in the past, nobody has ever proposed a model quite like this before.

More here.