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'This award proves that online media are not killing the press'

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2010-04-14

ProPublica.org on Monday became the first independent online publication in history to win a Pulitzer Prize. Stuart Allan, author of the book “Online News,” explains the significance of this feat.


F24: The venerable Pulitzer Prize has been awarded to an Internet site. What does this mean for online media as a whole?


Stuart Allan: It’s a very encouraging recognition of online media. The prize bestowed upon ProPublica proves that a certain form of journalism – collaborative journalism – offers new perspectives for a profession full of doubt. ProPublica worked hand in hand with the New York Times for the investigation [on allegedly murderous medical practises in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina] that picked up the award. This demonstrates that online media can complement traditional publications and that the former do not kill the latter.

It is also surprising that the prize is for the category of investigative journalism, whereas the common assumption is that online news is full of rumours and puff pieces.

I would like to believe that those days are behind us, and that this award will finally allow online media to get past this cliché image. It’s important to understand that traditional media are less and less able to conduct the kinds of investigative journalism that ProPublica is doing. The article took two years of work! What newspaper today can afford to let an employee work on a single story for two years? This prize shows that in order to do quality journalism today, you have to use your imagination because diminishing ad revenues make it hard to publish long investigative pieces. And this idea of journalism – one that does not depend solely on ads – is very new in the US.

Couldn’t it be argued that ProPublica is a unique exception, because of the large donations it receives from, for example, the Sandler fortune?

Of course ProPublica benefits from large donations, but the model on which it is based could run equally well on a much more modest scale. One example is in the scientific press. When journalists look for points of view and specialists, they can turn to the blogosphere to find a good number of scientists who can each bring in their own experiences and points of view to the table.

Another peculiarity of ProPublica is that its articles are in the realm of creative commons [can be used without special permission], which is very different from what the traditional press does.

Yes, in a sense this Pulitzer is a recognition of a different approach to journalism, of which ProPublica is one of the most prominent examples. The site promotes free circulation of information, without any restrictions. The fact that the site could conduct an investigation like this and be rewarded for it proves that this total freedom can be synonymous with great quality. It’s also a lesson for the types of media who feel obliged to cover crowd-pleasing subjects just to get ad revenue, which, in the end, just leads to celebrity gossip and piffle.
 

Date created : 2010-04-13

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