ProPublica is an American nonprofit organization based in New York City. It describes itself as a nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. In 2010, it became the first online news source to win a Pulitzer Prize, for a piece written by one of its journalists and published in The New York Times Magazine as well as on ProPublica.org. ProPublica's investigations are conducted by its staff of full-time investigative reporters, and the resulting stories are distributed to news partners for publication or broadcast. In some cases, reporters from both ProPublica and its partners work together on a story. ProPublica has partnered with more than 90 different news organizations, and it has won four Pulitzer Prizes.
ProPublica was the brainchild of billionaires and major Democratic donors Herbert and Marion Sandler, the former chief executives of the Golden West Financial Corporation, who have committed $10 million a year to the project. The Sandlers hired Paul Steiger, former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, to create and run the organization as editor in chief. At the time ProPublica was set up, Steiger responded to concerns about the role of the political views of the Sandlers, saying on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer:
Coming into this, when I talked to Herb and Marion Sandler, one of my concerns was precisely this question of independence and nonpartisanship...My history has been doing "down the middle" reporting. And so when I talked to Herb and Marion I said "Are you comfortable with that?" They said, "Absolutely." I said, "Well, suppose we did an expose of some of the left leaning organizations that you have supported or that are friendly to what you've supported in the past."They said, "No problem." And when we set up our organizational structure, the board of directors, on which I sit and which Herb is the chairman, does not know in advance what we're going to report on.
ProPublica had an initial news staff of 28 reporters and editors, including Pulitzer Prize winners Charles Ornstein, Tracy Weber, Jeff Gerth, and Marcus Stern, but has since grown to 34 full-time working journalists. Steiger claimed that he received as many as 850 applications upon ProPublica's start. The organization also appointed a 12-member journalism advisory board consisting of professional journalists.
While the Sandler Foundation provided ProPublica with significant financial support, it also has received funding from the Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Atlantic Philanthropies. ProPublica and the Knight Foundation have various connections. For example, Paul Steiger, president of ProPublica, is a trustee of the Knight Foundation. In like manner, Alberto Ibarguen, the president and CEO of the Knight Foundation is on the board of ProPublica. In 2010, it received a two-year contribution of $125,000 each year from George Soros' Open Society Foundations.
ProPublica has attracted attention for the salaries it pays its employees. In 2008, Paul Steiger, the editor of ProPublica, received a salary of $570,000. Steiger was formerly the managing editor at The Wall Street Journal, where his total compensation (including options) was double that at ProPublica. Steiger's stated strategy is to use a Wall Street Journal pay model to attract journalistic talent. In 2010, eight ProPublica employees made more than $160,000, including managing editor Stephen Engelberg ($343,463) and the highest-paid reporter, Dafna Linzer, formerly of the Washington Post ($205,445).
Engelberg is a former New York Times editor who co-wrote the non-fiction book Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, with Times reporter Judith Miller.
In 2010, ProPublica jointly won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting (it also was awarded to another news organization for a different story) for "The Deadly Choices At Memorial", "a story that chronicles the urgent life-and-death decisions made by one hospital’s exhausted doctors when they were cut off by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina." It was written by ProPublica's Sheri Fink and published in the New York Times Magazine as well as on ProPublica.org. This was the first Pulitzer awarded to an online news source. The article also won the 2010 National Magazine Award for Reporting.
In 2011, ProPublica won its second Pulitzer Prize. Reporters Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for their series, The Wall Street Money Machine. This was the first time a Pulitzer was awarded to a group of stories not published in print.
In 2016, ProPublica won its third Pulitzer Prize, this time for Explanatory Reporting, in collaboration with The Marshall Project for "a startling examination and exposé of law enforcement's enduring failures to investigate reports of rape properly and to comprehend the traumatic effects on its victims."
In 2017, ProPublica and the New York Daily News were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for a series of reports on the use of eviction rules by the New York City Police Department.
ProPublica is known for their in-depth investigative reporting, particularly using data. Their team of writers and editors (including Scott Klein, Olga Pierce, Sisi Wei, Ryann Grochowski Jones, Lena Groeger, and Al Shaw) work on stories that break the traditional news cycle. Many of their pieces are built on interactive databases.
In December 2012 and January 2013, ProPublica published and reported on confidential pending applications for groups requesting tax-exempt status. In May 2013, after widespread coverage of allegations that the IRS had inappropriately targeted conservative groups, ProPublica clarified that it obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request, writing, "In response to a request for the applications for 67 different nonprofits last November, the Cincinnati office of the IRS sent ProPublica applications or documentation for 31 groups. Nine of those applications had not yet been approved—meaning they were not supposed to be made public." ProPublica reported on six of them, after deeming information within those applications to be newsworthy.
ProPublica conducted a large-scale, circumscribed investigation on Psychiatric Solutions, a company based in Tennessee that buys failing hospitals, cuts staff, and accumulates profit. The report covered patient deaths at numerous Psychiatric Solutions facilities, the failing physical plant at many of their facilities, and covered the State of Florida's first closure of Manatee Palms Youth Services, which has since been shut down  by Florida officials once again. Their report was published in conjunction with the Los Angeles Times.
In 2017, ProPublica launched the Documenting Hate project for systematic tracking of hate crimes and bias incidents. The project is part of their Civil Rights beat, and allows victims or witnesses of hate crime incidents to submit stories. The project also allows journalists and newsrooms to partner with ProPublica to write stories based on the dataset they are collecting. For example, the Minneapolis StarTribune partnered with ProPublica to write about reporting of hate crimes in Minnesota.
In 2015, ProPublica launched Surgeon Scorecard, an interactive database that allows users to view complication rates for eight common elective procedures. The tool allows users to find surgeons and hospitals, and see their complication rates. The database was controversial, drawing criticism from doctors and prompting a critique from RAND. However, statisticians, including Andrew Gelman, stood behind their decision to attempt to shine light on an opaque aspect of the medical field, and ProPublica offered specific rebuttals to RAND's claims.
In 2017, ProPublica expanded their health coverage into a broader database called Vital Signs ("Know more about your doctor"), which includes information on office visits, drug payments, prescription patterns, as well as surgical performance.
The Nonprofit Explorer is an explorable database of organizations filing Form 990 with the IRS. The tool allows users to search for and sort data on nonprofits across states and categories.Tigas, Mike; Wei, Sisi; Glassford, Alex (2017-09-15). "Nonprofit Explorer".
Bombs in Your Backyard is an interactive database of where contaminated military sites across the US are located.
T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project collaborated on this piece about the process that discovered a serial rapist in Colorado and Washington state. The piece won a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.