About Second Rough Draft

The newspapers are making morning after morning the rough draft of history.”— George Fitch, The State [South Carolina], 1905

“A reporter is the man who blocks out the first rough draft of history.” — Fitch, The Daily Quill, 1914

“News is only the first rough draft of history.” — Alan Barth in The New Republic, 1943

“So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never really be completed about a world we can never really understand” — Phil Graham, to staff of Newsweek, London, 1963

Second Rough Draft is a newsletter about journalism, usually about it today, sometimes about its future, often reflecting on its past. Thus, it is also often about history, frequently history as it relates to journalism, sometimes just American history for its own sake.

It is written by Dick Tofel, whose other writing on journalism is collected here. It picks up on the newsletter “Not Shutting Up” which he wrote for ProPublica from mid-2019 until mid-2020, and which is collected here, although Second Rough Draft has always been independent of ProPublica.

Tofel was the founding general manager (and first employee) of ProPublica from 2007-2012, and its president from 2013 until September 2021. In this role, he had responsibility for all of ProPublica’s non-journalism operations, including communications, legal, development, finance and budgeting, and human resources. Tofel retired from ProPublica in the Fall of 2021, and launched a consultancy, Gallatin Advisory LLC. He also teaches a course on “Engaging With the US Press” at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

During the period of Tofel’s business leadership, ProPublica won six Pulitzer Prizesseven National Magazine Awards, five Peabody Awards, three Emmy Awards and nine George Polk Awards, among other honors. Also during this time, ProPublica grew from an initial staff of just over 20 to more than 160, and raised more than $225 million from other than its founding funders.

Tofel was formerly the assistant publisher of The Wall Street Journal, with responsibility for its international editions and U.S. special editions, and, earlier, an assistant managing editor of the paper, vice president, corporate communications for Dow Jones & Company, and an assistant general counsel of Dow Jones. Just prior to ProPublica, he served as vice president, general counsel and secretary of the Rockefeller Foundation, and earlier as president and chief operating officer of the International Freedom Center, a museum and cultural center that was planned for the World Trade Center site.

He is the author of “Elements of Nonprofit News Management” (2022); “Not Shutting Up: A Year of Reflections on Journalism” (2020); “‘A Federal Offense of the Highest Order’: The True Story of How the Joint Chiefs Spied on Nixon, And How He Covered It Up” (2019); “Speaking Truth in Power: Lessons for Our Sorry Politics from Our Inspiring History” (2018); “Home Run Revolution: Babe Ruth in His Time, 1919-1920” (2015); “Non-Profit Journalism: Issues Around Impact” (2013); “Why American Newspapers Gave Away the Future” (2012); “Eight Weeks in Washington, 1861: Abraham Lincoln and the Hazards of Transition” (2011); “Restless Genius: Barney Kilgore, The Wall Street Journal, and the Invention of Modern Journalism” (2009); “Sounding the Trumpet: The Making of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address” (2005); “Vanishing Point: The Disappearance of Judge Crater, and the New York He Left Behind” (2004); and “A Legend in the Making: The New York Yankees in 1939” (2002).

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Journalism in our time


Dick Tofel was the founding general manager (and first employee) of ProPublica, and its president from 2013 until September 2021. He is now the principal of Gallatin Advisory LLC. The views here are entirely his own. https://dicktofel.substack.com/