Six-Figure Salaries: A Win for Nonprofit Journalism?

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Paul Steiger's salary is $571,687.Photo: Mark Von Holden/Getty

Despite the need for a group of individuals willing to speak truth to terrorist bird power, publications find themselves unable to finance their reporting operations. Welcome to the battle of business models to replace (or at least provide an alternative to) advertising and subscription-based revenues.

There's the donation model from Spot.us, where reporters post projects they would like to pursue and the community donates. But that seems difficult to scale since it's not always tied to a particular newspaper or magazine, and relies on consumers choosing to pay for something they've been trained to consume for free (whoops — our bad!). There's the crowd-sourced approach. But that still leaves the matter of who is going to cull and curate all that good man-on-the-street (or man-on-Twitter) data. Micro-payments has gotten a lot of bluster, but few, if any, viable platforms.

Lately, it looks like the nonprofit model is taking the lead, especially with newcomers like investigative site ProPublica (the first online publication to win a Pulitzer) and the Bay Area Citizen. Consider ProPublica's 2009 Form 990, which it's made public on its website. The website has spent $6.4 million in salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits in 2009, up from $4 million in 2008. And here are the base salaries of its eight highest-paid employees:

Paul E. Steiger, president and editor-in-chief, $571,687
Richard Tofel, treasurer and secretary, $320,978
Stephen Engelberg, managing editor, $343,463
Dafna Linzer, senior reporter, $205,455
Susan White, senior editor, $160,011
Tracy Weber, senior reporter, $176,309
Charles Ornstein, senior reporter, $172,282
Thomas Miller, senior reporter, $168,479

As weird as it sounds, there is real money to be made as an individual in nonprofit journalism! It seems fair that dedicated people that provide a valuable, award-winning public service should be well-compensated. Of course, we'd be more impressed if the $700/week internships they provide were still open to reporters and not just social-media interns and computer-assisted reporting. But yeah, still no money to be made as an enterprise: They lost $2 million last year.

ProPublica's Top-Paid Employees All Made Six Figures in 2009 [Fishbowl NY/Mediabistro]