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ProPublica and Texas Tribune joining forces to create new investigative unit


ProPublica is widely thought to be the gold standard of nonprofit investigative journalism.

And The Texas Tribune has the same reputation on the local level, with coverage of the Lone Star State that is commonly cited as a model for nonprofit news startups.

Now they are coming together to launch a co-branded investigative reporting unit. And they are hiring eleven people to do it.

“Texas is a target-rich environment for the investigative journalism of the kind we plan to do for the next five years,” Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith said in a telephone interview with CNN Business.

“We know Texas better than anyone. ProPublica knows investigative journalism better than anybody. In the commercial jingle, candy sense, this is two great tastes that taste great together,” Smith said.

In an era of near-constant cutbacks at local newspapers and other news sources, the collaboration is likely to be cheered by fellow journalists.

ProPublica is known for its partnerships with scores of news outlets on a variety of stories, mostly one-offs. But this deal with The Texas Tribune is different because it is “envisioned as a permanent step, and it starts with a five year commitment,” ProPublica president Richard Tofel said.

The long-term commitment is made possible by a $5.75 million donation from Arnold Ventures, a fund run by John D. and Laura Arnold. He is a billionaire philanthropist who formerly traded for Enron and ran his own hedge fund.

Arnold Ventures has made grants to both ProPublica and Texas Tribune in the past.

​In a statement about the new initiative, Laura Arnold said, “Texas is a big state and it needs big journalism to look under each cactus and behind every skyscraper.”

Along with Arnold Ventures, several other donors have also made initial contributions that give the collaboration a $6 million launchpad. Smith said the plan is to raise another $3 million. One of the eleven staffers will be charged with fundraising.

“Investigative journalism is expensive and time-consuming,” Smith said. “It’s not that other news outlets don’t have the desire to do it, but they don’t have the resources to deploy. We will now have the resources to deploy.”

Smith and Tofel are planning to hire a lead editor, seven reporters, a producer and a researcher. Most of the positions will be based in Austin at The Texas Tribune offices.

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