ProPublica, Investigative News Leader, Spent $30 Million Last Year

ProPublica, one of America’s leading investigative news media, and a nonprofit, spent $30 million to create and distribute content last year. The sum is fairly small compared to large media companies like The News York Times, but it left a large footprint among readers nevertheless.

ProPublica was founded in 2007, which makes it a new company by traditional news organization standards. It raised $10 million to get off the ground. In 2020, according to its annual report, ProPublica had revenue of $35,696,000. Most of that came from donors who gave over $50,000 each. Revenue from that source reached $19,985,000. Money from board members and “other grants” totaled $6,229,000.

ProPublica spent $29,826,000, of which $21,754,000 went to news personnel salaries and benefits. Another $3,241,000 went to non-news salaries and benefits. ProPublica employs a number of people who are described as “Administrative Staff.”

What were the results of the money ProPublica spent? The annual report shows 9 million page views averaged per month over the course of 2020. Another 10,200,000 were mostly via apps, which included Apple News, Microsoft News, Google News and SmartNews. It ended the year with 396,000 email subscribers and 906,000 email followers. These figures are very modest measured against America’s largest media properties.

To offset limited reach to its own sites and apps, ProPublica has established 228 partner publishers over 13 years. These range from large traditional news organizations like The New York Times to local media like Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting. It is not entirely clear how it picks its partnership media.

Among the most notable things about ProPublica is its nonprofit status. As news media have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in aggregate over the past several years, and media personnel layoffs ranged into the tens of thousands, the move from for-profit to nonprofit has begun in earnest as a means to save news organizations. The efforts have had very little success.

ProPublica has the distinct advantage of its list of deep-pocket backers. Notable among these are the foundations of some of America’s richest families and individuals, some of which must give gifts into the six figures, based on ProPublica’s revenue.

ProPublica’s journalism is widely considered among the highest quality in America. It has accomplished this on a relatively small budget, and with backers large enough that it does not have to rely on the traditional media revenue sources of paid advertising and paid subscribers.