Up to now, InvestigateWest, one of several P-I alumni web sites, has been a work in progress since its July launch, consisting mostly of blog items and pitches for public support. But, like another non-profit journalism site, Crosscut.com, did yesterday, InvestigateWest today says it has gotten much-needed funding from a wealthy benefactor and will commence to produce those long-promised investigations. The contribution from Seattle's Bullitt Foundation comes to $40,000. That's less than half of what the Gates Foundation gave Crosscut, but, says IW's editor Rita Hibbard (left)
, a former P-I assistant managing editor, it will allow her site to "do the stories that would otherwise go uncovered." Bullitt and IW have a mutual admiration for preserving the environment so it's a natural teaming.
But, again like Crosscut, IW will need reader contributions to sustain its public model. And there's that nagging question of a supposedly silent partner. Media critic Jack Shafer, writing in Slate, applauds charity journalism. "But before we get out the party hats and noise-makers..." he says, "here's the bad news. In the current arrangement, we're substituting one flawed business model for another. For-profit newspapers lose money accidentally. Nonprofit news operations lose money deliberately. No matter how good the nonprofit operation is, it always ends up sustaining itself with handouts, and handouts come with conditions" - the appearance, at least, that the recipient might pull its journalism punches at the behest of the donor. Can we exepct a hard-hitting probe by Crosscut into the Gates Foundation, for example? The "rise of nonprofit journalism comes at a price," Shafer cautions. "Be prepared to pay it."