Journalism in the Public Interest

Why We’re Publishing Advertising, and Where We Stand on Funding

ProPublica will begin publishing advertising on its web site, and likely soon we’ll include it as well in our daily email, on our mobile site and in our iPad app.

Starting tomorrow, ProPublica will begin publishing advertising on its web site, and likely soon we’ll include it as well in our daily email, on our mobile site and in our iPad app.

We’re doing this for the usual reason: to help raise revenue that can fuel our operations, promoting what people in the non-profit world call “sustainability.”

ProPublica, as you probably know, has been funded almost entirely by philanthropy. Much of that has come from our founding donors, the Sandler Foundation, and from other foundations. More recently, some has come from people able to make large gifts. And important support has also come from readers who have contributed what they can. (You can click here to become one of them.)

We’re delighted to report that we had more than 1300 donors in 2010, up from just over 100 in 2009. Funding from sources other than the Sandler Foundation came to more than $3.8 million, or more than 38 percent of all the money we raised last year. In 2011, we aim to increase that to $5 million, 50% of the total. Advertising will help us get there.

We’ve become part of an ad network called the Public Media Interactive Network, and have arranged to be represented for web ad sales by National Public Media, an offshoot of NPR and PBS. But if you’re interested in advertising directly, especially on our daily email newsletter that currently reaches more than 40,000 people—triple the number of a year ago—please let me know.

In connection with the decision to take advertising, we’ve also crafted an Advertising Acceptability Policy, which is principally intended to avoid reader confusion and bad taste. It can be found here.

Parallel Foreclosure

Jan. 4, 2011, 5:03 p.m.

I would like to advertise.  I have several studio based classes on film, video, sound, and lighting that I will be offering in the Los Angeles area. The classes are limited to 1-3 students.

If you can create zip code targeted advertising options for me, and don’t charge too much for, you could actually reach the same people that read your website.

And suddenly, you might actually reach main street and main street’s work address, rather than the national advertising corporations that are constantly scheming on how to cut their work force so they can justify more executive bonuses.

Dick Brandlon

Jan. 4, 2011, 5:53 p.m.

I fear for your journalistic independence since accepting advertising generally includes accepting influence. The immense dumbing-down of NPR attests to this.

I fear I’ll have to depend on foreign sources for my news as it’s easier for me to discern governmental influence than the insidious hand of the bottom line.

You have always maintained a high standard of integrity up to now but how can we be sure that you will not soft pedal issues pertaining to those who advertise. Imagine if a drywall manufacturer had advertised with you?Would you maintain the high standard of dilligence on this subject as you have with the toxic drywall issue? As the old saying goes,“When you deal with the dane,you must pay the danegeldt”!

Parallel Foreclosure

Jan. 4, 2011, 6:27 p.m.

Pat makes a good point. And sometimes the ads are auto targeted and will actually look for drywall ads when a drywall article comes up.

Propublica might be an excellent platform for offering zip code based advertising for the smaller businesses out there.

Brady J. Frey

Jan. 4, 2011, 9:42 p.m.

Although most of us will crow about it, very much understandable. It’s hard to fund an online business, especially one bent on publication, without advertisements.

I’d suggest publishing a static page, defining your rules regarding integrity and unbiased focus. Just expect us to call you out on it should you fall of the wagon.

Jerry Arguello

Jan. 4, 2011, 9:55 p.m.

Oh boy,. not good! good bye pro-publica.

Want to assure Dick B., Pat and others that nothing is more important to us than preserving ProPublica’s journalistic independence.  I think we’ve been diligent—and successful—in this respect with regard to donors these last 2+ years, and we’ll make sure we are no less diligent with advertisers as well.  If need be, we’ll decline particular ads.  And we count on all of you to call us out if you see specific situations that strike you as troubling.

I like the idea of you getting more money from disparate sources. For those readers worried about possible slant, here is a good article from Slate investigating the current funding situation for Propublica.

I think the more differentiation there is the less power any one source can exert.

The current funding structure is sponsored by banking professionals who felt they were burned by the press in previous financial ‘meltdowns’, and set out to correct that wrong through establishment of unbiased investigative journalism.

We have yet to see an article on this site that examines the culture of borrowing at the individual level that assisted the greed and fraud of Wall Street. In the last four months there has been an almost exclusive focus on the misbehaviour of bankers, and a blind eye to any sort of miscalculation of the people.

There already is a bias forming on this site and I think gaining revenue from across the spectrum will help fight that.

Parallel Foreclosure

Jan. 4, 2011, 11:21 p.m.

Is the idea of zip code advertising that “out there”?

If you want to break existing paradigms that create replication of existing problems, reach out to the little guy.  There are literally tens of thousands of zip codes out there.

If you found just five advertisers for each zip code out there, you could easily raise several million dollars while keeping your prices very very reasonable.

Is it more work, sure, its a LOT MORE WORK.  But guess what, that’s where the JOBS COME FROM.

Please note the disappointment of one of your “more than 1300 donors in 2010.” It appears that you’ve accepted a business model under which independence is not possible. NPR and PBS prove the point.

David, just wondering why you think the relatively smaller amounts likely from advertising necessarily undermine independence more than the larger amounts from donors we’ve already managed well enough to merit your support?

As regards endeavors such as ProPublica I believe that contributions from foundations and individual donors are based principally upon shared values, the values you have so brilliantly demonstrated and which I desperately support, while advertisers are by definition contributing for the sake of their own profit. It is not possible to avoid conflicts.

We struggle with revenue generation in the nonprofit organizations I am a part of. The key question I ask is:

How does the revenue generating action (in this case either displaying an advertisement to a visitor, or a visitor clicking it) further the mission of the organization beyond the revenue itself?

This means you will now be competing directly with the media clients you’re serving for ad dollars. Can’t imagine that will work out happily for you. Instead, perhaps some of your very well compensated managers could take pay cuts. Or you could just change the name to “ProPecunia” and forget about the nonprofit stuff.

I’m a bit concerned to hear this, but not overly concerned. You guys are on a roll and are doing groundbreaking work - I don’t think the ads will make a bit impact there. Just don’t get too attached to that advert cash. Always have a plan ready to pull the plug on it if things go screwy. Once it represents >20% of your funding, you’ll be hard pressed to live without it.

As to NPR’s lameness - I don’t think it’s as much about underwriter money as it is 30 years of entrenchment - and an entitled sense to their own ‘specialness’. What they actually need is a healthy competitor to shine a light on how badly they fumble their mission. It’s their internal culture that’s stale and sick - which is a problem independent on funds sourcing.

Which is why I LOVE PP! You are stripping back all the lifestyle branding bullshit of NPR, eschewing the institutional arrogance and keeping laser focused on YOUR mission.

Congrats on the decision. Keep up the good work - and hey, can you start up a internet radio project so I DON’T have to listen to NPR any longer?? :-)

Michael Andersen

Jan. 5, 2011, 11:42 a.m.

Huzzah! This will be an important way to stave off my great fear for PP: that it becomes an outlet people praise but don’t read. An incentive to maintain audience will be good for its soul.

I am still concerned in light of some of the corporate sponsers of PBS particularly the Koch brothers, and may I ask, how an organization such as Consumers Union manages. Perhaps, as another commenter suggested,some of those running the organization should reduce their incomes to show support. I speak of those in administrative and executive positions, not reporters and investigators,who, in my opinion, are the heart of your organization!. We would not want to see ProPublica go the way of the Wall Street Journal.

Parallel Foreclosure

Jan. 5, 2011, 1:55 p.m.

A significant portion of internet advertising is either “scammy”, or, promotes offshore commerce. I’m not against offshore commerce, I am for MORE local commerce. If the internet does not support MORE local commerce, then nothing changes.

I’ll share an example of a “scammy” web ad (and I found the ad on a consumer site). The ad said it was giving out something for free. (I have since forgotten what it was that was free.)

The ad required I answer questions on several pages about what my interests in regards to taking classes are.

When I got to the final page, just when I was about to get my “free thing”, the ad “asked” that I click on several of the link banners of different universities on this final page before proceeding to my free thing.

This is clever click fraud. The ad was in essence a ponzi scheme. My one upfront click would then require my downstream clicking of as many as 10 different links before I got what was promised in the ad, assuming there was anything to get because I refused to click and never found out, and I got nothing but my time wasted.

The ponzi scheme is that for every click the ad gets, it is able to generate 10 clicks before honoring what the promise of the ad was. One click in, 10 clicks out.

I reported the ad and I never saw it again on that consumer site.  When I researched what it cost to advertise on that consumer site, the MINIMUM one needed to pay was at least $2,000 - 2,000 dollars!

What is YOUR ad minimum going to be?

The higher the minimum cost that is needed to advertise on your site, the more scammy the ads, or, the more ads will be about outsourced products because those are the ads that can create enough profit margin to afford the advertising in the first place.

What you are about to do, is do what many local governments have done to screw over their own constituents. To make ends meet, a local government will outsource tax dollars to save a few bucks, such as Los Angeles allegedly outsourcing the processing of their tickets to Mexico.

Pension funds sometimes do the same thing.

The result is, money goes out of the local economy and into the hands of the digital sleight of hand wall street banksters who create phony schemes of their own while pocketing all of the upfront real money.

Don’t be afraid of offering your very own readers an opportunity to advertise on your site. The key is if someone has a local business in Arizona, they may only want to advertise to people who reside within 30 miles of their location.  Make that happen and you begin to serve the very people who frequent your site.

The fact that your own readers may want to advertise on your site will generally mean they will be dealing with customers of a higher standard when it comes to customer service and awareness, your advertising readers know that, and they accept that higher standard of accountability.

Unless ProPublica’s goal is to find future consumer stories from the upset propublica ad responders who will then complain back to you about the typical, generic, scammy ads that already proliferate on the internet?

One more thing, there are lax ethical standards in place for how advertising is placed on a webpage.  The result can be computers that bog down while different ads are being loaded up.

It used to be one ad loaded in at way too high of a resolution bogging down a comuter. I’ve lately seen THREE ADS being simultaneously loaded onto a web page.

I notified a large Los Angeles area news service that their thumbnail size still images were being automatically loaded at such a high resolution that the pages would not load on my computer.

A few months later, with no changes to my computer, the site loaded much easier and I noted that the thumbnail images were loading in an instant. (they had agreed with me when I contacted them that they were loading high resolution images into such a tiny area of the computer page). If the image is that small, ultra high resolution should not be necessary. (although all the hand held gadgets that go ultra high resolution because they are so small maybe changing that paradigm as well).

Because of the hit deception that constantly goes on on the internet, there is a drive to put more and more advertising content on the page to make up for poor results. NOBODY is watching over this and the end user is forced to “upgrade” their computer specifically because of the increasing bandwidth that computers are requiring.

It’s the ultimate catch-22.  The less money ads generate, the MORE ads we are seeing on each and every page load.

Parallel Foreclosure

Jan. 5, 2011, 2 p.m.

In response to Logan, who said…“The current funding structure is sponsored by banking professionals who felt they were burned by the press in previous financial ‘meltdowns’, and set out to correct that wrong through establishment of unbiased investigative journalism.”

You don’t really expect me to take that comment seriously do you?

As for “examining” the greed of the people…

The greed of the people was inevitable because the banksters figured out how to make money out of thin air.  Every home sold could magically generate so much profit (that didn’t actually exist) that the banksters were just going to keep upping their offers.

They bankers in a bank with deposits insured by the government, and consumers are to blame for accepting their offers?

David Collado

Jan. 5, 2011, 9:41 p.m.

This might not be a complete answer to the problem, but it could help (and is designed for this very purpose)...


How would you characterize this statement from the link I posted in reference to said comment.

Begin Quote
The Sandlers’ enthusiasm for journalism and journalists is late in arriving. Back in April 1992, at the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ annual convention, Marion ascribed partial blame for the savings and loan disaster to the press. “Where were you when it was happening?” she asked, according to a story by the Chicago Tribune’s James Warren. Her husband accused the press of making “stars out of bums and charlatans” like swindler Charles Keating. “The press is susceptible to the Big Lie, no matter how patently nonsensical,” Herbert said.
End Quote

The Sandlers did not do admirably during that crisis, as mentioned in that link.

Did you read the link? Slate is a fairly well regarded online publication similar to ProPublica. Obviously the author in that article has a slant, but the info provided does explain the personalities behind the foundation primarily responsible for spawning ProPublica.

I think ProPublica is a great channel for news.

I think they should aggressively pursue funding from both sides of the political spectrum, as well as advertising. I have faith that they will execute the strategy professionally and not fall prey to low brow internet ad tendencies.

As far as the greed of the people being inevitable, you as well continue to excuse them. They were sold something every person new was too good to be true. I personally know people who shrugged and said I have no idea why they are giving me this money, but I will take it.

If those poor defenseless greedy consumers who couldn’t control their desires spent that cash, then they should suffer the consequence for poor financial planning.

If someone had held onto the cash from a home refi or sale, and used that during the crash to invest, they would be an investor. But because they squandered that money on consumer items that they now can no longer afford, we are to excuse them? Out of their own ignorance?

The spirit of perseverance and American exceptionalism is clearly being lost. Our own citizens cannot even be held accountable for their own decisions.

Our country is founded upon property rights and law. Property rights are governed often times by contracts, written agreements. That is what a mortgage is, yes? Why should we not hold adult citizens to a contract which they signed.

Because everyone else was doing it? Because they couldn’t possibly be expected to control themselves in the face of a high risk investment in which they had not educated themselves in?

Absolutely the consumers are to blame for accepting their offers. The offers would not have continued unless there was a market for them. The consumer is just as complicit as the fraudulent financiers.

Parallel Foreclosure

Jan. 6, 2011, 10:07 p.m.

Logan, your comment “Absolutely the consumers are to blame for accepting their offers. The offers would not have continued unless there was a market for them. The consumer is just as complicit as the fraudulent financiers.” endquote

looks backwards to me.

The banksters would have simply kept upping their offers because they were making unrealistic profit on each mortgage they transacted.

Additionally, you walk into a bank, you see people in suits, educated, and signs that say this bank is insured by the FDIC.

The banksters shouldn’t be selling anything that is a fraud.

The other issue you are not considering is that if mortgage notes had never been securitized, which was something most homeowners did not agree to,
the banks would have worked harder to work with those struggling, to keep their homes, not take them away to hide the illegal activities the banksters have and are engaging in.

Banksters simply recombine “things” and then scrape ever increasing UPFRONT fees and bonsuses.

Until the banksters are stopped and contained, they will keep doing and escalating what you blame homeowners of doing.

Parallel Foreclosure

Jan. 7, 2011, 3:16 a.m.

One more thing about internet advertising. Many of the advertisers require an email submission, sometimes before one can even see what the ad is entirely about.

This can present problems if that email list is then resold over and over and the person is spammed.

I RARELY respond to internet advertisements, yet some of my worst experiences have come from responding to internet advertisements.

Several years ago I replied to an offer for a free digital camera and first spent around 20 to 30 minutes answering dozens of questions, never finished the “survey”, and then got hit with so much spam that I think it caused my email system to crash and I accidently agreed to a rebuild that wiped out almost all of my emails.

good luck whatever you decide.

That’s like saying a person isn’t responsible for their own fatness because McDonald’s has good marketing, and then accusing McDonald’s of malicious intent for seeking to satisfy shareholders with profits.

Yes, what the financiers did was unethical. But to encourage ignorance on the individual by excusing their part in the transaction is an invitation for folly.

The consumer is never once forced to spend or purchase.

Business lives and dies on that fact.

Parallel Foreclosure

Jan. 7, 2011, 2:10 p.m.

McDonalds isn’t quite the same thing because they are not guaranteed by the U.S. Government and the employees don’t dress in suits.

McDonald’s also doesn’t sit down with you while you have your meal to go over your diet the way a banker is supposed to review a prospective loan applicants record.

Parallel Foreclosure

Jan. 7, 2011, 2:10 p.m.

I guess we’ve gone off topic, I am curious what is happening with the advertising.

I think they should use your suggestion of zipcoded delivery for small business and aggressively court larger entities from both sides of the political spectrum for larger sums.

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