Right now we’ve got a question from someone who wants to know if the traditional news organizations really understand the online environment citizens currently live in. The questioner asks, when will the media stop talking at us and start including us?
Panelists have said today that engaging the community in the investigative movement is so important, and should shape the investigations that get coverage. However, one panelist warns, moving toward the community journalism model can be risk. “Not everyone is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist,” Brant Houston said.
This is an important debate I think we should continue to talk about as social media is on the rise, and particularly multimedia news efforts from citizens, like i-reporting and tweets on Twitter, which are in a sense, breaking news updates from the community.
Panelists say using these new community tools is important, but also keeping journalists, journalists is important. In general, the mood is very optimistic in the room that the community news efforts going on right now can only help raise the quality of journalism, civic awareness, and ultimately if reporters follow up with what their community participants are saying, better, highly respected journalists.
Panelists are stressing the use of online databases to do investigative work, and to make investigative work a community, collaborative effort. With many documents now available on the web, like childcare inspection reports or health care facility documents, for example, citizens can investigate documents themselves. A citizen can now do a lot of the work a journalist does on his or her own, and use a blog to report. However, panelists have said that this access can most serve investigative journalists, who can post documents, do their own investigations, and engage with the public during the story building process. Investigative journalism of today, the panelists are stressing, is becoming a community-centered and community-engaging medium.
Investigative journalism is growing because there is a demand from the public, the panelists say. Even though readers aren’t demanding in surveys directly that they want more investigative work, when they see it, they say they want more of it. Just because Britney Spears news may lead, and may seem at times that this is what the public want to read, there is a higher need for quality, in-depth, investigative news that involves readers’ small communities.
Panelists say investigative journalism today can fill the lack of coverage on beats from mainstream coverage. It can also serve as a communication tool with the community, when today it can be almost impossible as a citizen to reach your local journalists.
Students can practice investigative reporting skills at student newspapers. Photo courtesy of foreverdigital.
Some advice from the pros at the conference about getting into investigative reporting:
Kate Parry: Start by learning at seminars. They teach you all kinds of skills. (Andy plugged the $20 Better Watchdog Workshop next weekend at the j-school as one such example). She also mentioned to keep digging for those good ideas.
Brant Houston: A student said “I’m young and I’m cheap, and will work long hours for little pay.” There are niche publications that are the equivalent of covering beats. He said the stimulus package will be good for investigative reporting because there will be lots of places trying to follow the money. The usual hierarchy of the media does not exist anymore with all the multimedia out there. Content and methodology and credibility will still be important.
Andy Hall: Students should do something tangible to show those editors—join college newspapers or ethnic media organizations. Editors love to see cross-cultural abilities in reporting.
Photo courtesy of Munzerr.
Robert Cribb of the Toronto Star
thinks we’re “screwed.” The cutbacks from traditional, newspaper journalism are slowly being replaced by bloggers and non-professional writers. In what he calls “Seinfeld Journalism” or writing about nothing, bloggers are simply writing about what they feel right now
. These pieces have little research and often little thought to back them up. This isn’t investigation, it’s instinct. Real investigative reporters need to think of it as more of a passion than a job.
Bloggers just don’t possess that same passion as professionals. Will they go the extra mile to get that extra information the public needs in investigative reporting? Probably not. Most bloggers have traditional day jobs and merely write their thoughts/feelings of the day after the regular 9-5. Researching and being able to contact officials in the evening hours is nearly impossible.
So will blogging and “Seinfeld Journalism” replace traditional newspaper investigative reporting? I hope not.
I am particularly interested in this segment of the conference because I think investigative journalism is so important to our democracy. As has been pointed out several times today, newspapers are losing money and shifting online. The business model of the news is changing. How does this effect investigative reporting?
Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Brant Houston, the Knight Chair in Investigative Journalism at the University of Illinois, and Kate Parry, assistant managing editor Enterprise/Investigations at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis all said they remain optimistic that funding will be put into investigative reporting despite the economic crisis. Robert Cribb, an investigative reporter at the Toronto Star, said he thinks “we’re screwed” in terms of the investment in long-term reporting.
Still inspired by Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate investigation, I hope that there is a viable future for investigative reporters. Without them, I think there will be a real issue in being able to hold the government, public institutions and CEOs, among others accountable.
Session 2 is just about to begin. The panelists are presenting tough ethical issues that they have faced in the newsroom, without any details of what they did or what the audience responses were. Moderator Lee Wilkins will be asking the audience what they think the proper, ethical responses would be.
USA Today reports on whether Barack Obama is a natural born citizen.
Owen Ullmann, editor at USA Today, is presenting the first ethical dilemma. During the 2008 presidential election, USA Today received pressure to cover stories that were circulating online and in the blogosphere. These included several “rumors,” like one that Obama was not born in the United States.
Wilkins asked the audience whether USA Today should have covered these stories. The first audience member questioned said that he didn’t see the situation as an ethical question at all. He instead said that as a reputable newspaper, there is no reason to cover these ludicrous theories because there is no truth behind them. Other audience responses were varied, with some saying these stories deserve limited attention if they are based on fact and others saying they don’t deserve any coverage because they have little to do with the actual election. Another audience member brought up a related point: why wasn’t there more coverage on how the Obama and Palin campaigns were trying to manipulate the media with these rumors?
What do you think? Does USA Today have a responsibility to its readers to investigate these rumors? Or by doing so, is it wasting resources that could be put toward stories based on verifiable fact?
Everybody loves a good ‘dirt digging’ story. There’s mystery, intrigue and scandal. The big problem here is funding — these juicy stories cost more money and time than your typical news. With newspapers tanking at an astounding rate, what will happen to hard-core, in-depth investigating?
I saw a proposed model somewhere that would have people donate money toward investigative pieces. Can you even imagine if the NYT were to fundraise to do an expose? “Click here to donate money to us so we can dig up something scandalous for you to read.” Or “Only subscribers can read the juicy details we’ve got on ______.” This isn’t the model we’re used to seeing, but what else can we do to keep the information coming?
I’ll be blogging here during tomorrow’s 4th session: The Future of Investigative Journalism. I hope our panelists have some creative ways to save the fine art of investigation. Yes, the Internet gives us new tools, but how can we use them efficiently and ethically? Mostly, I want to know what we can do now to keep journalistic standards while the media mix is changing. Dig deep, people, we’ve got work to do.