Whither Investigative Journalism?

The “Special Sauce” for news media has always been investigative journalism, ala Woodward and Bernstein.  It’s what made myself and an entire generation of young writers want to get into journalism back in the 1970’s, each of us aching to bring the mighty low, to shine lights into dark places and in the process, make our names, too, household words.

Today, investigative journalism is a dying craft.  Dying not because there aren’t reporters willing to ask the tough questions, but because media itself has rolled over and become passive.  Somewhere in the 80’s and 90’s news switched from investigating controversy to reporting on press releases. 

Why is it dying?  

  • Mega-corporate ownership – Many of the owners of major media now are not primarily media companies per se (think of NBC as owned by GE), hence their primary goal isn’t news, it’s now earning profit for the corporation.  Is it possible the GE has muzzled the news? 
  • The economy – when things are down, it’s hard to justify putting a reporter on a special assignment for a day if it isn’t going to lead to a story right away.  The best investigative journalism often takes weeks or months.

I’m sure if I thought about it, I could come up with many other reasons.  One thing I can state with certainty is this: not only has the way we get our news changed, the very fabric of what our news is has changed.  And I am not at all convinced its a good thing.

In the vacuum that has been created, we’re now getting much more news “analysis” which is very easy to produce, very cost effective, and really comes down to us listening to someone else’s opinion.  Often those opinions come with agendas, be they right or left wing.  The funny thing is that if we really want analysis, we can get if via podcasts, vidcasts, blogs, etc. There is little that big media brings to the table here that can’t be found elsewhere.

At the end off the day, we all lose without investigative journalism.

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