Oh Look, Investigative Journalism Still Isn't Dead

from the it-keeps-going...-and-going...-and-going dept

We’ve already discussed a few times how silly it is to claim that investigative reporting somehow “goes away” if newspapers go away. There are still plenty of sources of journalism, and the ability to make use of new online tools, including things like Wikileaks, suggests that corruption should be a lot more difficult to get away with in the future, rather than easier. But, still some old school newspaper folks insist that investigative journalism will die. And yet… we keep hearing of new investigative journalism operations. The latest is that the Huffington Post has put together an initial $1.75 million from some donors to create an investigative journalism arm. It’s hardly the first, either. There are a growing number of online-only outfits focused on investigative journalism — and it’s likely that many will be a lot more efficient and better at what they do than newspapers who never put all that much money towards investigative journalism in the first place.

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Comments on “Oh Look, Investigative Journalism Still Isn't Dead”

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19 Comments
inside source says:

From 1980 – 1985 I worked in city government in a medium sized city. I went through a lot of city desk reporters in that time. Usually they just showed up with a news release to collect a quote or two. A few times I pointed them to some low-hang fruit about dirty deals that looking at a couple of documents or talking to the right person would have broken a good story. In that time the only person that bothered to look was a TV reporter.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Think of it this way, when newspapers were first published, way back in the 17th century, was their purpose to expose local corruption? The answer to that is no.

Newspapers at the time were focused on foreign events. As time went on local news was added. Local information, such as train schedules, were added. And over more time, reporting on local corruption was added. And then after that, newspapers actually started investigating corruption.

But that was neither the initial purpose nor the focus of the newspaper. However, because a need for such investigation was recognized, the newspaper developed to meet that need. If the need exists, investigations will continue.

Every city has a few rabble-rousers, who despite not being paid a penny, make it their lives to keep an eye on government, file FIOA requests, attend all city government hearings and functions, to take copious notes, and now, blog about it.

And lets face it, with the bare-boned budgets most newspapers are facing, the first thing to cut was local reporting. I actually laughed in the face of a local newspaper reporter who decried the fall of investigatory journalism. I asked him, when was the last time he wrote such a piece. Of course he never did.

I reminded him of the time I told him about a local car dealership which was ripping off customers. He wasn’t interested until charges were filed. He did not want to investigate it! The rabble-rouser blogger would have been all over it like cheese on a pizza.

And think about this, exactly where were the journalists investigating all the financial shenanigans which caused our current crisis? These so called professional investigatory journalists could not even discover the simple truth that Madoff was nothing but a ponzi scam. And that’s just one simple example.

Matt Bennett says:

Ok, the problem with this though is that the Huffington Post is pretty openly a liberal activist site. (even the NYT pretends to be neutral) I suppose that could be balanced out by “investigative journalism” on the conservative side, but suffice to say the idea of in-depth reporting from such a biased organization (regardless of whether they’re liberal or conservative) doesn’t really excite me.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Investigative journalism supported by donations? I can bet the donor list is also the “don’t investigate” list.

I would have to say that I would have a little bit of a hard time taking anything coming out of such an arrangement too seriously. The very first question I would ask is “who paid for this work?” and the second would be “why did they pay someone to investigate this other group / situation?”.

The other part is that 1.75 million and a staff of 10 pretty much says this is a one year grant, maybe 2 on the outside, unless they are dilligent about creating a business model. Since they seem to be offering the content up for free to anyone who will take it, I don’t think this is really a business. I can’t help but think that the journalists will end up puppets to the people paying the bills.

Randall says:

Watchdogs?

Local, state and federal corruption is very real, and when you come face to face with it you may have a hard time believing this is the “America” you were brought up to believe in. In my experience 1 in 3 bureaucrats have been guilty of malfeasance, at least. Of course the Feds are immune to prosecution, which may exacerbate the problem. This is an area that newspapers served to help expose abuses, or at least allow victims to air their grievances. I think we need a more transparent government. The web could provide the means to make that a reality, if the people demanded it.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have worked in city and county government, too. Most corruption in state, local, and federal governments in the US does not come from traditional overt bribes from ordinary citizens In third world countries citizens have to pay a bribe to get a permit or get out of a ticket.

In the US most corruption involves sweetheart deals with government contractors. At the local level officials who award contracts, do inspections, etc. can have long-term trust relationship with contractors. Often the exchange is not for cash, but for some type of favor such as use of a hunting lodge (almost every public works director I have ever met goes hunting or on vacation with city contractors). Sometimes it is for employment after the person leaves government work.

Most employees that have been around in corrupt departments know what is going on and would probably talk about it if anyone ever asked them. But no one, including the local newspaper, ever asks.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Investigative reporting

A little history. At one time, there was investigative reporting, and it was quite valuable.
Then Ted Turner and other conservatives started buying up newspapers, and substituting opinion reporting (what used to be called “yellow” journalism) for investigative reporting, and to the surprise of many of us, the post WWII generation bought into it!
So, real journalism (ala Ernie Pyle, etc.) “went away” a long time ago, and “opinion” or “yellow” journalism is better done in blogs and hype-type pieces online.

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