Investigative Journalism Done Better, Faster And Cheaper Without Newspapers

from the let's-get-real dept

There have been a series of ridiculous articles lately claiming that, with the collapse of some newspapers recently, somehow investigative reporting and local coverage won't work, meaning an era of corruption and the collapse of democracy. Fortunately, some are demonstrating the fallacies underlying these proclamations of doom.

Jay Rosen has been running an interesting experiment trying to find out just how many truly local stories an average newspaper includes in its paper, between all the national wire service stories. A look through a recent Seattle Times issue showed a grand total of seven locally produced stories. And a look at an issue of the Chicago Tribune found a total of eight locally produced stories. We're not talking about huge numbers here.

And, in fact, the finding of eight stories in the Trib comes from Geoff Dougherty, a guy who created quite a stir in newspaper circles when he claimed he could provide the equivalent (or better) local coverage of the Chicago Tribune for just $2 million a year, and provided the spreadsheet to back it up. And he's not just talking in theory. He's doing it. Today. For much less than the Tribune (which is bankrupt).

He's not the only one either. Talking Points Memo has been quite successful with its investigative reporting, which does a lot to leverage its community to help out in the process, while still employing full time journalists who are doing tremendous investigative reporting -- which should only improve as better tools are created to enable more to be done. The first link in this paragraph also discusses another example, the Voice of San Diego, which does local investigative reporting, and was funded by a bunch of local businesses that felt there wasn't enough investigative reporting locally.

Those who say that this can't be done apparently aren't looking around. Sure, some of these experiments may fail, but it's about time we got rid of two myths:
  • Myth 1: Newspapers put tons of money and resources into investigative journalism. They don't. And never have.
  • Myth 2: Only newspapers can do investigative journalism.
Not all of the new business models will work out, but some will, and we'll likely find the new models actually work much better than what we have today (which, let's face it, hasn't been that good in investigating things like corruption).

I was on a panel recently for journalists and PR people, and someone raised their hand to ask how people could "put the genie back in the bottle and charge for information again." The problem is that the question itself is wrong. There's no genie and there never was a bottle. People have never paid for the news. Newspapers never spent that much on investigative reporting, and they rarely did a particularly good job of it, other than an occasional big story in an attempt to win a Pulitzer. People can pine about that mythical genie and bottle, or they can start focusing on all the opportunity out there that will be coming out of some of these (or other) experiments.

Filed Under: investigative journalism, journalism, local news
Companies: chi town daily news, talking points memo, voice of san diego


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  1. identicon
    Weird Harold, 18 Mar 2009 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Journalistic Standards

    The problem isn't it techdirt is right or wrong (or just packed full of opinions that support certain corporate client's positions) but the rapid echo of misinformation online.

    One of the things if you watch Mike's posts here is that his supporting evidence is often other people's opinion columns and even his own posts. Now imagine 200 sites quoting techdirt, and 200 other sites quoting each of those sites, and so on. Mike's information is a mix of fact, opinion, and a chosen perspective on copyright. If that gets spread around enough, people may actually take it as fact rather than the personal point of view it really is.

    Mike doesn't have to submit his posts to an editor, or a fact checker, or have someone make sure that the story is balanced or fair. Anyone who reads the blogs knows it. But there is strong chance he is quoted elsewhere, and that site may lead it's readers to think it is fact.

    Repeat a lie often enough, and people will start thinking it is the truth. Repeat an opinion often enough, and people will start thinking it is reality.

    Oh yeah, all those things about the robbery can already be done on broadcast video. Nothing new there.

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