ProPublica kickstarts its internship investigation

Investigative journalism site experiments with crowdsourcing and crowdfunding

On May 28, David Dennis wrote in the Guardian that the prevalence of unpaid internships and their increasing role as a gateway to full-time jobs were ruining journalism, because it restricted job access to people who could afford to work for free. This kicked off another round of discussions about the pros and cons of the unpaid internship and internships in general. That same day, ProPublica launched the next part of its internship investigation: a Kickstarter campaign to hire a (paid!) intern.

ProPublica has always relied on donations to support its Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism — it doesn’t run ads (Update: ProPublica started running ads in 2011), and it’s a nonprofit funded largely through foundations. Now it’s turning to crowdfunding.

The project has been in the works for some time, says community editor Blair Hickman. ProPublica’s been looking for a way to do more open journalism and for a project to fund through Kickstarter. An internship investigation series gave it the chance to do both.

With millions of people working in internships in many industries, there are plenty of stories ProPublica can draw from to help inform its work. Over 300 people have given ProPublica information about their internships via its website so far; if successful, the Kickstarter campaign will raise at least $22,000 to pay for its own intern (at $700 a week, the standard ProPublica intern salary) who will travel across the country collecting information from as many people as possible — current interns, former interns, employers, and career counselors, for example. Since its launch, the project has raised over $4,750 from 216 backers. It ends June 27 at 9:32 am.

All this will then be used to construct a “microsite” featuring multimedia and visual elements; Hickman says ProPublica will be able to “experiment with storytelling in addition to telling the story.” They’re not entirely sure what this will all entail — much depends on the skills of the intern ultimately hired and what he or she finds out — but it’ll definitely be a new look for ProPublica’s often word-heavy fare. The intern will also tell the story of his own internship along the way. The end result, Hickman hopes, will add a human layer to the watchdog pieces on internships it will accompany.

The Knight Foundation will also provide some funding based on how many people back the campaign, as part of its own experiment with journalism and Kickstarter.

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Sara Morrison is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @saramorrison. Tags: , ,