But Who Will Do Investigative Reporting Without Newspapers?

from the someone-will-find-a-way... dept

Pat was the first of a few of you to send in this amazing investigative report done by the folks at The Smoking Gun, outing a bunch of "griefers" who go by the name Pranknet and who have caused a tremendous amount of trouble and damage throughout the US with their phone-based pranks. The story is fascinating for a variety of reasons, and well worth reading, but it (once again) highlights the fact that detailed deep investigative reporting isn't something that only newspapers can do. The reporters from TSG went well-beyond your typical investigative report as well. Rather than just outing the "leader" of the group, they tracked down numerous accomplices (many of whom insisted they couldn't be found) and outed them all. Apparently police and the FBI had been trying to track down members of this group for a while, but some good old investigative reporting -- from a website -- beat them to it.
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Filed Under: griefers, investigative reporting, pranknet
Companies: the smoking gun

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  1. identicon
    Jon Healey, 12 Aug 2009 @ 11:20am

    Re: Re: The medium is irrelevant

    I hope you're right about the proliferation of new ways to pay for investigative journalism, Mike, and I'm not saying that out of self-interest. I'm not an investigator. I would point out, tho, that the expense is considerable. Throw a couple people full-time at a project for three months, and even if there's no travel cost you're already spending upwards of $60,000 in a big market. But that isn't the full cost -- you also need to have people generating content to compensate for the productivity gap created by the investigators. With investigators, you're paying full-time wages for folks who deliver fewer goods than a freelancer would produce.

    Big news organizations can afford that kind of inefficiency (or at least they could back in the day) because they have a large staff of folks producing stuff on a daily or near daily basis. Investigative work is just one element in a stream of content. My hunch is that investigations will continue to be subsidized, rather than being a self-sustaining endeavor. That ties into the larger question of how companies will be able to afford to generate content that is unusually expensive to produce if the monetization models for journalism online are weak. If you attract as much or more traffic by breaking a story about the Octomom than you would by spending four months studying the declining health of the world's oceans, and everything revolves around traffic, why would you invest in the latter? It enhances the brand, true, but is it worth the money? I really want the answer to be yes.

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