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The Inner Workings of ProPublica

Two recent stories reveal some of the inner workings of ProPublica.

Yesterday, Nieman Journalism Lab’s Megan Garber took a look at how we strike a balance between publishing fresh daily content and doing long-form investigations. She explains, “For ProPublica, often, the answer involves a kind of daily hybrid of investigation and curation: aggregation in the public interest.”

Garber notes:

That strategy is partly about platforms but much more about mindset; Twitter and Facebook play a key role in it, but it’s also about constantly thinking, [Director of Online Engagement Amanda] Michel told me, in terms of the audience—and then in terms of being responsive to that audience. The outfit’s popular explainers and reading guides came out of a kind of empathy with news consumers: How do you make sense of the day’s news? The point of that kind of content isn’t (just) traffic—"it’s not doing a slideshow," [Senior Editor Eric] Umansky points out—but relevance. And it’s not (just) about keeping an audience on your site; it’s also about sending them elsewhere, in the direction of good information.

Ultimately, our work remains focused on accountability journalism. “The outlet’s daily efforts may ‘feed the beast’ of the web, but they also, just as importantly, create an environment that accommodates attention for the longer, deeper work its newsroom produces.”

Earlier this week the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) sat down with our Editor of Online Development Scott Klein to discuss what his team of programmer journalists is doing with news applications and how these interactive web pages are making more creative storytelling possible.

In the Q&A, Klein says that designing a news application is much like writing any news article. "You need to know what your story is, you need to know what your nut is, what point you're trying to make ... it's still journalism," he explains.

But while journalism is all about helping people figure out how to live their lives, Klein says news applications help people see what's relevant to them. For example, with ProPublica's latest news application, The Opportunity Gap, Klein and his team focused on giving users not only the ability to find data on their local schools, but also to compare their school to others and share this information easily on Facebook and Twitter. "I like to say that the news graphics tell a story, the news apps tell your story," adds Klein. "You'll be able to come to a new understanding not just of a national trend, but of exactly how it relates to you."

You can read the full interview here and see all of ProPublica's news applications on our Tools & Data page. For more on our news apps team, go to the ProPublica Nerd Blog.

Mike Webb

Mike Webb was the vice president/communications of ProPublica. He is a veteran communications specialist with experience in public relations, marketing, sales and campaign work at media companies, think tanks, political organizations and in the entertainment business.

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