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
    Recovering Journalist, 18 Mar 2009 @ 9:25pm

    Good God, you guys are worse than Fox News

    Seriously, Weird Harold is making valid points. Fox News is slanted and lame yet many people swear by it, as is that Web site that Michele Malkin writes for (I'd say Weekly World News but it's not that....too interesting.)

    It seems like most of the people bitching here don't a) read newspapers or b) understand how journalism works.

    Matt Drudge didn't break anything, he just went with a story without getting additional corroboration. It's a choice, but also one that could have backfired and been wrong. But then again, if he had been wrong, "Hey, I'm just a Web site ...

    As for people fleeing places with wrong information -- nope, they stay if they like their slant. Hence people reading Masick's stuff. I mean, he really hates the MSM. Why? Heck if I know. Maybe the j-school kids wouldn't let him play their reindeer games.

    But there are at least 13 or so people who agree that the MSM is evil, biased, elitist and anything else that sounds interesting.

    Yes, "news" will become more opinion masquerading as fact because that's easy to do. Spending all day calling, digging, reading through SEC filings, takes time and effort, it's not easy to post more than once a day. (And to not be paid for it except by 5 cent clicks? Not a lot of takers.) As a full-time journalist I could do once a day, twice a day on light days -- but it definitely takes up time.

    Then the fact-checking, the constant calls to make sure everything's correct before it goes live ... it's not for everyone. Everyone who has a blog cannot do it. Some may be able to, those that are well-funded or have a sugarmama/daddy....but we'll see.

    The only good thing I see out of this, once journalism goes down to BlogTown, is that eventually there will be a desire for real journalism again and $$$ for it.

    It's all evolution, Weird Harold. Plus, hard times are innovative times.

    Anyway, mediawhore that I am, I now work at a bloggityblogblog -- which, I can honestly say, is way less work for the money -- but I'm riding this gravy train.

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