Since it began publishing just two years ago, the independent newsroom ProPublica has acquired a certain stern, and sterling, reputation. An outlet for increasingly endangered investigative pieces—and a non-profit, no less—this is accountability journalism at its finest, most civic-minded, and most altruistic. When it won a Pulitzer for Sheri Fink’s deeply reported piece on deadly choices made at a hospital during Hurricane Katrina, ProPublica cemented its reputation as a source for selfless journalism in defense of the downtrodden.
So it was with some apparent surprise today that mediabistro.com reported that the top employees of this non-profit all made over six figures. In fact, ProPublica’s top eight employees drew a total of $2.1 million, plus $181,181 in other compensation; the president and editor in chief alone drew almost $600K. ProPublica’s staff members, in other words, are not only compensated with the satisfaction that comes from speaking truth to power.
Did mediabistro.com engage in a bit of investigative work of its own for this tidbit? Far from it—it turns out that ProPublica, in keeping with its belief that sunshine is the best disinfectant, posts its tax information annually to its site. Anyone can click over to look at its recently posted Annual Report on Form 990 from 2009, a document interesting in its mix of soaring and banal prose. "OUR WORK FORCUSES EXCLUSIVELY ON TRULY IMPORTANT STORIES, STORIES WITH MORAL FORCE. (SEE SCHEDULE O)," reads one line.
In fact, comparing the 2009 report with that from 2008 shows that the company was open about its generous compensation practices last year as well. Comparing those two documents generates new interesting questions. Possibly ProPublica’s most altruistic financial act of the year was the change in the managing editor’s salary, which in fact dropped from $451,972 to $343,463.