ProPublica expands their regional coverage to the South and Southwest
Following the success of their Illinois unit, ProPublica is adding distributed hubs that will cover North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee in the South, and New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and possibly Colorado in the Southwest. They’re also expanding the Illinois coverage to the rest of the Midwest.
ProPublica does fantastic work and this is decidedly great news, even as it’s also indicative of the broader media landscape shift. Not that long ago, there were excellent local and regional news outlets that most folks living outside of those areas had never heard of, doing the grinding work of journalism. Most of these were not only self-sustaining businesses but wildly successful thanks to owning a natural monopoly on local coverage.
The massive realignment wrought by the internet over the past twenty years has meant consolidation at best, and often shuttering of these institutions. Google and Facebook captured most of the revenue that used to go to local news without providing any of the services that people, businesses, and a functioning democracy relied on. ProPublica’s success is in some ways a strong counter to this, albeit at a scale that doesn’t fully replace what’s came before; it’s also funded — very generously — by philanthropy.
One of the interesting things to watch about this move is how ProPublica will (and won’t) be able to fill in those gaps in their regional expansion. It’s somewhat similar to how the New York Times and the Washington Post have grown in stature, and succeeded after some lean years, while so much of the rest of industry struggled or died. All are doing incredible work, but there are inevitable gaps that scale won’t ever be able to fill. There are, of course, innumerable blogs and newsletters filling in at micro-scale of varying degrees of quality. I don’t mean to sound defeatist or grim — there are lots of opportunities here! — but also opportunists who use this institution gap to dark purposes.