ProPublica announced today that Richard Tofel, its founding general manager and president since 2013, will retire from the company when a successor is in place, and that its Board of Directors has launched a nationwide search to fill the post.
Tofel, who was ProPublica’s first employee in 2007, has led the business side of the investigative newsroom since its inception, and is responsible for all of ProPublica’s non-journalism operations, including communications, legal, development, finance and budgeting, and human resources. Blinkhorn LLC has been selected to guide the search, with Ann Blinkhorn as the lead recruiter.
Under Tofel’s leadership, ProPublica has grown from an initial staff of fewer than 25 people to a projected staff of 175 by mid-2021, with an initial target annual budget of $10 million growing to nearly $36 million this year. During this period, the company has raised more than $210 million from donors beyond its founding funders, and amassed a cumulative reserve of $36.5 million. ProPublica had more than 43,000 donors in 2020, while recording record traffic to its content, and record revenues. It employs the largest staff in the nation devoted to investigative reporting at both the national and state and local levels, as well as coordinating its pioneering Local Reporting Network.
Along the way, it has won six Pulitzer Prizes, including the first ever awarded to a digital news organization and the first for material that appeared only online. In 2016 ProPublica shared the Pulitzer gold medal for Public Service, the highest honor in American journalism, for a partnership with the New York Daily News. The same award in 2020, to the Anchorage Daily News, was also for a series published in partnership with ProPublica.
Like Tofel, the next president of ProPublica will serve as co-CEO along with editor-in-chief (and founding managing editor) Stephen Engelberg, who directs all of ProPublica’s editorial operations. Both Tofel and Engelberg report to the ProPublica Board.
Richard Tofel said, “As our Board and I have been discussing for more than two years, I believe that this is the time to begin a transition to new leadership. Leading its business has been the greatest joy of my professional life, and while I will miss the work, I am confident that this change will best position ProPublica for long-term sustainability and even greater success.”
Paul Sagan, chairman of the ProPublica Board, said, “We are embarking on this search for ProPublica’s next president with a clear appreciation of the critical work the organization produces, speaking truth to power and holding people and institutions accountable when they abuse that power. We are confident we will identify an excellent leader to help guide ProPublica through its next stages of growth and development. At the same time, the Board of Directors joins me in thanking Dick Tofel for his service and dedication to the mission of ProPublica. We will be very sorry to see him retire, and we recognize the organization’s success is a testament to Dick’s tireless efforts and commitment to journalistic excellence.”
Stephen Engelberg said, “When the history of non-profit journalism in America is written, Dick Tofel will surely be among the titans. Way back when everyone began talking about the search for sustainable business models, he was among the first to recognize a brutal truth: That much of the journalism we depend on for democracy would survive only if readers came to view it as a philanthropic priority which deserved their support as much as the local library or hospital, university, museum, symphony orchestra or dance company. There will be a successor, but it’s hard to imagine any single person replacing everything Dick does for ProPublica.’’
Tofel was formerly the assistant publisher of the Wall Street Journal and, earlier, an assistant managing editor of the paper, vice president, corporate communications for Dow Jones & Company, and an assistant general counsel of Dow Jones. Just prior to ProPublica, he served as vice president, general counsel and secretary of the Rockefeller Foundation, and earlier as president and chief operating officer of the International Freedom Center, a museum and cultural center that was planned for the World Trade Center site.
ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. With a team of more than 125 dedicated journalists, ProPublica covers a range of topics, focusing on stories with the potential to spur real-world impact. Its reporting has contributed to the passage of new laws; reversals of harmful policies and practices; and accountability for leaders at local, state and national levels. Since it began publishing in 2008, ProPublica has received six Pulitzer Prizes, five Peabody Awards, three Emmy Awards and eight George Polk Awards, among other honors.