Saturday, September 25, 2010

Brody's Notes... Investigative Shortfall- The Rapidly Shrinking World Of Investigative Journalism

By Brody Levesque (Bethesda, Maryland) SEPT 25 | A complaint echoed around the United States and in fact globally recently, is that there appears to be an increasing dearth of good old fashioned investigative articles, detailing subjects and issues that need badly to be exposed. There's an apparent lack of accountability on the part of news media outlets to produce those pieces informing the public on these critical subjects.
Veteran correspondent and author Mary Walton, who reported for the Philadelphia Inquirer for twenty years, has published an article in the American Journalism Review, that gives substantial reasons for this shortfall in this month's AJR Journal.  The article, which was funded by a grant from  the Open Society Institute, explores the diminishing world of the 'Investigative Reporter,' and the resulting negative impact.
The article also contains several embedded video interviews that detail why many news outlets are doing far less accountability reporting than in the past, bad news indeed for the public. New nonprofit investigative ventures have emerged, but they can’t pick up the slack by themselves.
Mary Walton is the author of several books including her latest effort entitled; "A Woman's Crusade- Alice Paul The Battle for the Ballot" published in August which U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described as; 

"A visionary and a pioneer. . . . She went where most men and women would not have gone."
Mary Walton  Photo By A.M. Stromberg
By Mary Walton (Ocean Grove, New Jersey) SEPT 25 | On her last day at Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel, Mc Nelly Torres knew another round of layoffs was in the works. She went out for coffee, came back and said a prayer. The phone rang and a familiar name flashed on the screen. It was the editor they called the "Angel of Death." Earlier in the day, Torres learned she had won a Green Eyeshade Award in consumer reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, her second in as many years. Now she was out of a job.
Roberta Baskin, director of the investigative team at WJLA, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., was waiting to take the bus back from New York City, where she had collected her third duPont-Columbia Award. Her cell phone rang. It was her news director telling her she had been let go, along with 24 other employees.
Tom Dubocq didn't wait for the ax to fall. At the Palm Beach Post, an era of fat budgets was dissolving like lard in a hot frying pan. In a single month in 2008, the staff of roughly 300 was reduced to 170, greased by a buyout offer that included health benefits for life. Dubocq's prize-winning probes of local corruption had put three county commissioners and assorted others in jail. He had his eye on a fourth commissioner, but instead signed up for the buyout. He was, he says, making too much money. "I knew ultimately I would get laid off. It was time to make the move."
What happens, I ask Dubocq, when people like him vanish from the newsrooms of America?

"The bad guys get away with stuff."
Kicked out, bought out or barely hanging on, investigative reporters are a vanishing species in the forests of dead tree media and missing in action on Action News. I-Teams are shrinking or, more often, disappearing altogether. Assigned to cover multiple beats, multitasking backpacking reporters no longer have time to sniff out hidden stories, much less write them. In Washington, bureaus that once did probes have shrunk, closed and consolidated.
The membership of Investigative Reporters and Editors fell more than 30 percent, from 5,391 in 2003, to a 10-year low of 3,695 in 2009. (After a vigorous membership drive, this year the number climbed above 4,000.) Prize-seekers take note: Applications for Pulitzers are down more than 40 percent in some investigative categories, a drop reflected in other competitions.

"There is no question that there are fewer investigative reporters in the U.S. today than there were a few years ago, mirroring the overall loss of journalists at traditional media outlets," says IRE Executive Director Mark Horvit
While he concedes that the situation is alarming, Horvit points to positive developments. New organizations dedicated to investigative and watchdog coverage have sprung up, and some mainstream news outlets are renewing a commitment that had been lost.
In July, a major investigative project underscored the importance of journalists as watchdogs of democracy: the Washington Post series "Top Secret America," on the nation's bloated security establishment. Would that more journalists had been on duty when subprime mortgage peddlers were running amok and the federal Minerals Management Service was sitting on a potential oil disaster.
"Eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty," Andrew Jackson declared in his 1837 Farewell Address. But what if the people don't know what's going on? "All citizens have a right to petition the government for redress of grievances," former Newsday Editor Anthony J. Marro, a onetime investigative reporter and a champion of accountability journalism, told a gathering of the Vermont ACLU last year, "but, as simplistic as it sounds, without a strong press they often don't know what the grievances are."

Continue reading & watch videos from 'Investigative Shortfall ' here: [ Link ]


Trab said...

Surely the old tradition of getting in investigative scoop and thereby selling more newspapers is part of the deterioration. With people not buying the papers, and with the news supposedly 'freely' distributed online, there is no gain to be had by investigative reporting.

Deregulation in favor of letting the market settle the issues has proven to be a disastrous for some industries, particularly from a safety perspective. This is really no different, but with a twist. When anyone can say anything without needing to tell the truth or the whole story, and they can do it for fame or infamy, with no thoughts to making a profit, those who need that profit in order to exist will slowly die away. The market will always settle for the cheapest lowest common denominator, so we are doomed to a slow decline, in just about everything.

Desmond Rutherford said...

Trab is correct, but I think the free market system suffers from not appreciating human needs over profit.

Contrary to what many perceive, Man needs to work, not slave, but actually work, feel useful in his work, not used, and certainly not abused.

The situation is not unrelated to the demise of unions which were originally formed to protect the rights of workers and have since become a toothless tiger for political manipulation and corporate profiteering, or perhaps I am being too cynical?

It seems to me that whilst we are distracted with fabricated threats dressed up as moral issues, the real degradation of our society is being concealed, and we are losing the ability to even know about it without those investigative reporters and those like them.