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Subject: What will it take to bring back investigative journalism? rss

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Junior McSpiffy
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Got into this discussion with a passenger of mine this evening. We were talking about how Uber and Lyft are quickly displacing the taxi industry which isn't keeping up. The comparison to print media was made, and we then started talking about what purpose print media would still have or if it needed to die completely. I just came to think that the one thing print journalism still has in its favor is the aura of validity. Blogs are quick and can be impactful, they are little more than opinion pieces with morsels of facts used as window dressing. Print media still has the sense of propriety about it. And I made the observation that what we've lost and that I think print media can do in a way modern media couldn't is investigative journalism.

So let's start off with the premise itself. Am I wrong in presuming that investigative journalism is dead? I don't think so. (Duh. If I did think so, I wouldn't have had the thought, would I?) I just don't see a lot of stories on my radar that scream of months or years of research and chasing down sources. It all seems beholden to the 24-hour news cycle. That's where the money is.

So the two thoughts I had about this was it would take 1) an altruistic owner and 2) a fair balance of items that were on both ends of the political spectrum as well as a share of apolitical stories. The first item is that a company won't get immediate return on its dollar investing in the long game. Clickbait gets its money right away. It's all about the immediate return so you can use those dollars to chase more dollars with stories geared to feed into the short-term news cycle. For someone to start this, they would have to be willing to take losses, especially up front. Paying journalists to ferret out leads for months before getting anything to be published will be a drain. And there's no guarantee that the story will pan out. While that's true of modern journalism, if something doesn't pan out, there's always tomorrow. But with this, we would need something bordering on philanthropy. The willingness to lose money for the good of journalism.

The second part would be that it wouldn't be left- or right-leaning. We've seen here way too often the discrediting of a story on its face alone just because of the source. If this revival begins with a source which is favoring one side, then the other side will just dismiss it with claims of "They're just out to get us." Then they'll just dismiss it out of hand like everything else. But if this could act as a sort of clearinghouse for journalists, a place where their work is vetted for journalistic integrity, and that was the primary focus rather than trying to skew public perception one direction or the other, then I think it could rise above the "other guy" syndrome.

Anyhow, this is just me rambling, thinking out loud after a long night shuttling drunken concert-goers. Drunken concert-goers and one businessman catching a red-eye flight who seemed to not mind getting philosophical with me.
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Printed for-profit newspapers have been dead for a while, although I'll admit that their funeral will probably be going on for a while.

For the record, I used to work at a newspaper publisher until 2007. When I quit, the freebies that were given to subscribers exceeded the cost of the subscription; about 1/3 of the print run was literally given away for free in "test copies"; and when a customer discontinued their subscription, their sub wasn't actually cancelled but instead got donated to a clinic, elderly home, or the like instead. All so the publisher could hold on to the pretense of a high print run to convince companies to run ads in the newspaper.

So, printed newspapers don't work as a for-profit endeavor, and they haven't worked that way in a long time. That's why, at least in Germany, the only two newspapers that continue to actually employ an editorial staff of journalists are run as a non-profit foundation (FA) or as a registered co-operative (taz). Those two - incidentally one politically right-leaning, the other one a leftist paper - are the last remaining bastions of journalism... and yes, that they're non-profit companies is the main reason that allowed them to continue their work despite the fact that internet news - or, hell, even TV news - are much 'newer' than a printed newspaper could possibly hope to be.

All other German newspapers are run by a marketing department for other marketing departments. Most of their articles are written by freelancers because they've reduced their editorial staff to a bare minimum, and since the freelancers don't work full-time as journalists, many have other jobs on the side - often in the PR departments of the companies they're reporting on. Of course, that makes their respective articles also advertisements... so much for the "aura of validity".

That said, there's actually a new breed of online journalism on the horizon, one that began when crowdfunding became a thing. Especially when it comes to investigative journalism, crowdfunding investigations that are of public interest seems to be a promising approach, and over the last two years or so, the first independent online editors have successfully established a reputation that allows them to hire an editorial staff of full-time journalists once again (Correct!v is currently the biggest one in Germany, I believe).
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John Oliver is an investigative journalist. He represents his results through comedy so that he will have an audience in a world where news must first and foremost be entertainment.
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jeremy cobert
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GameCrossing wrote:
Am I wrong in presuming that investigative journalism is dead?


No it's alive and well, you just have to look for it. You will have to wait for a Republican president for any political journalism to pop back up.
 
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Lee Fisher
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I'm not sure why you mix investigative journalism with print journalism.
 
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whac3 wrote:
John Oliver is an investigative journalist. He represents his results through comedy so that he will have an audience in a world where news must first and foremost be entertainment.


First thing that pops to mind. And he makes it look so easy with a reasonably small budget show too.
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Steve Cates
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gotnews.com has outsourced investigative journalism to the people. They post bounties on questions that drive public curiosity. People can send evidence and if it's good, they'll pay them for it and run a story.

They crowdfund to get the bounties for bigger stories as well.

Interesting model to say the least.

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Chief Slovenly
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1. True investigative journalism, the real muckraking stuff I love, bites the hand that feeds it, and disturbingly often.
2. The art of the aggressive, incisive followup question, long lost on this side of the pond, is alive and well in the UK owing to very strong press traditions over there. It's wonderful to see. Over here, followup questions are usually deployed in the "have you stopped beating your wife" framework of modern political journalism. (Fuck that.)
3. PBS is the lone holdout, probably trending slightly liberal, but decent at getting to the meat of things. I'd single out something like The Economist for great journalism on the conservative side.
4. The screamfests, and the LIBERALS EAT ALL THE BABBIES virulent network of conservative bullshit sites, is not where we need to go as a country. (You can thank Roger Ailes for that.)
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Drew1365 wrote:
jeremycobert wrote:
No it's alive and well, you just have to look for it. You will have to wait for a Republican president for any political journalism to pop back up.


To be clearer, "political journalism" today is about most of them being propagandists for the Democrats. But yes, if we really want the journalism profession to get back to being watchdogs instead of lapdogs, Donald Trump will have to become president.

Sad, but true.


So The Drudge Report et al isn't journalism. I'm glad you cleared that up.

If there's blood in the water the sharks will come. Even if it's Democrat blood.
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whac3 wrote:
John Oliver is an investigative journalist. He represents his results through comedy so that he will have an audience in a world where news must first and foremost be entertainment.
For the most part I like John Oliver, but even he has a tendency to oversimplify and cherry-pick facts to back-up an already established narrative. It's what happens when comedy writers attempt to put on the costume of "investigative journalist."

But at least he gets people who would not normally engage in talking about certain things to think about them.
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whac3 wrote:
John Oliver is an investigative journalist. He represents his results through comedy so that he will have an audience in a world where news must first and foremost be entertainment.


John Oliver's journalism isn't really investigative, though. It's research journalism, which is still valuable but not quite the same thing. Research journalism is about collecting facts that are publicly available from a wide variety of sources and presenting the story that those facts form. Investigative journalism is about collecting facts that aren't easily available, generally from a smaller set of sources.
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Drew1365 wrote:
maxo-texas wrote:
First thing that pops to mind. And he makes it look so easy with a reasonably small budget show too.


And he's another dishonest British douchebag in the tradition of Piers Morgan or Martin Bashir, beloved by the American left for being an anti-American scold.


You think everyone on the left is an anti-American scold.

Having watched many of his segments I think Oliver makes quite a bit of effort to emphasise with the American cultural side he lacks personal experience with.

The constant anti-British jokes (besides being pretty funny) are also there to soften the sometimes nagging tone.
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Drew1365 wrote:
And he's another dishonest British douchebag in the tradition of Piers Morgan or Martin Bashir, beloved by the American left for being an anti-American scold.


Speaking as part of the Left, we loathe Morgan as much or more than the Right does, on account of his constant low-key racism and class snobbery. Also, you know, he's an asshole.

I had to google Martin Bashir to remember who the fuck he was so I dunno if he qualifies as "beloved." Just because he pissed off conservatives a couple times doesn't mean we lefties adored him.
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myopia wrote:
Drew1365 wrote:
maxo-texas wrote:
First thing that pops to mind. And he makes it look so easy with a reasonably small budget show too.


And he's another dishonest British douchebag in the tradition of Piers Morgan or Martin Bashir, beloved by the American left for being an anti-American scold.


You think everyone on the left is an anti-American scold.

Having watched many of his segments I think Oliver makes quite a bit of effort to emphasise with the American cultural side he lacks personal experience with.

The constant anti-British jokes (besides being pretty funny) are also there to soften the sometimes nagging tone.


Sorry we let our troll get out of its pen; we kindly ask you don't feed it.
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Drew1365 wrote:

Such a neutral source!

COMMENTARY is America’s premier monthly magazine of opinion and a pivotal voice in American intellectual life. Since its inception in 1945, and increasingly after it emerged as the flagship of neoconservatism...

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/about/
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GameCrossing wrote:

So let's start off with the premise itself. Am I wrong in presuming that investigative journalism is dead? I don't think so. (Duh. If I did think so, I wouldn't have had the thought, would I?) I just don't see a lot of stories on my radar that scream of months or years of research and chasing down sources. It all seems beholden to the 24-hour news cycle. That's where the money is.


The old business model of journalism is we sell (or give) you stuff you want to read - news stories - to deliver your eyeballs to advertisers. Google and Craigslist (by taking away lucrative classified ads) have destroyed that business model. The nonprofit model is the only real way to go - you can see that in how the BBC, Guardian, and NPR/PBS adapted much better to the internet than the for-profit media sector.

All I can say is that if you're a local politician, now's an excellent time to do shady business deals, because the local ad money that used to go to your local paper to pay someone to do that kind of journalism is now going to Mountainview, CA.
 
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mightygodking wrote:
whac3 wrote:
John Oliver is an investigative journalist. He represents his results through comedy so that he will have an audience in a world where news must first and foremost be entertainment.


John Oliver's journalism isn't really investigative, though. It's research journalism, which is still valuable but not quite the same thing. Research journalism is about collecting facts that are publicly available from a wide variety of sources and presenting the story that those facts form. Investigative journalism is about collecting facts that aren't easily available, generally from a smaller set of sources.


So like... traveling to russia for a one on one interview with Snowden (which I haven't seen anyone else do) and puncturing Snowden's balloon on how big a difference he made?

And similar trips/interviews with other people for many key stories?

I think you underestimate Mr. Oliver.

And for Drew.. Oliver's bite turns in all directions. Frequently, it's target isn't political at all (Police confiscation, Tobacco influence, excessive fines as revenue in small municipalities, FIFO bribary and corruption) over other countries) and transcends in a bipartisan way. While I'm sure some issues he and I think are problems are not problems to republicans- I think many of the problems he highlights are simply problems and have no political ax to grind.

Here's a list of his top 10 2015 segments.

https://www.inverse.com/article/8446-oliver-2015-segments
10. Online Harassment (June 21, 2015)
9. Prisoner Re-entry (November 8, 2015)
8. Infrastructure (March 1, 2015)
7. The NCAA (March 15, 2015)
6. Mandatory Minimums (July 26, 2015)
5. Televangelists (August 16, 2015)
4. Torture (June 14, 2015)
3. FIFA II (May 31, 2015)
2. Tobacco (February 15, 2015)
1. Government Surveillance (April 5, 2015)

Of these only Torture and Mandatory Minimums could be seen as anti-republican. And the torture is marginal when you consider McCain and the fact Oliver is covering an Obama run CIA.
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For me investigative journalism was about finding truth's that were hidden away from the public.

Today, we are inundated with ALL the truth's, nothing is hidden anymore, but now they are skewed and morphed into doubts by commentary and editorial opinions. They are lost in the fray.

Investigative Journalism is dead. What we need Objective Journalism.
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Tall_Walt wrote:
Drew1365 wrote:

Such a neutral source!

COMMENTARY is America’s premier monthly magazine of opinion and a pivotal voice in American intellectual life. Since its inception in 1945, and increasingly after it emerged as the flagship of neoconservatism...

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/about/


Obviously your commentary is wrong all journalism is in the tank for the DNC... ALL of it, now hush!
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GameCrossing wrote:

So let's start off with the premise itself. Am I wrong in presuming that investigative journalism is dead? I don't think so. (Duh. If I did think so, I wouldn't have had the thought, would I?) I just don't see a lot of stories on my radar that scream of months or years of research and chasing down sources. It all seems beholden to the 24-hour news cycle. That's where the money is.


I think there are two related but distinct dimensions to this issue:

(1) Investigative journalism is no longer mainstream; it has been replaced by the much cheaper and vastly more popular model of talking heads voicing their opinions.

(2) Investigative journalism is expensive, so as a result of becoming less mainstream it is facing an existential crisis over funding.

I think the ship has sailed on (1)- now that the cat's out of the bag, the sensationalist 24-hour news cycle will always be more popular than investigative journalism the same way Honey Boo Boo will always be more popular than PBS documentaries. You can't force people what to watch.

On the other hand (2) is an issue that can be addressed with innovative approaches to funding. I'm sure investigative journalism will survive; the question is how effective it will be as a watchdog for the public interest when there are less resources behind it and fewer eyes on it.

You could make a cogent argument that investigative journalism should receive no-strings-attached government funding, but if no one cares to watch does it really make a difference? Now that more viscerally appealing "news" is out there and available for consumption, can Pandora's box really be closed?
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MWChapel wrote:
For me investigative journalism was about finding truth's that were hidden away from the public.

Today, we are inundated with ALL the truth's, nothing is hidden anymore, but now they are skewed and morphed into doubts by commentary and editorial opinions. They are lost in the fray.

Investigative Journalism is dead. What we need Objective Journalism.


Not true. Being inundated with information isn't the same as being inundated with all the truths; uncovering "truth" often requires money and labor that aren't being spent like they used to.

Plus, even if I conceded that all we need are curators for the existing smörgåsbord of information out there, how can you force people to consume "Objective Journalism" instead of the more viscerally appealing 24-hour news cycle?
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Drew1365 wrote:
Tall_Walt wrote:


But quite right about the premise, wouldn't you say?


So Drew, seeing as you're such a fan of the ex-Trots at Commentary, doubtlessly you agree with this story:

John Podhoretz wrote:


or this:

John Podhoretz wrote:
 
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Junior McSpiffy
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lfisher wrote:
I'm not sure why you mix investigative journalism with print journalism.


Because for me, there is still a validity and gravitas to print that blogs and random online sources just don't have. When I see something in print, I feel much more confident in trusting the journalistic integrity of the piece. The immediacy of blogs and such, while having its own value, has far less guarantee of the demand for journalistic ethics. There is no editor there to make sure sources are vetted and that opinions don't readily leak in disguised as facts.

With access to having your voice heard so readily available unlike before, how many people will turn to journalism as a major in college? How many people will learn the ethics and standards for responsible reporting? Or how many people who would have otherwise learned that will simply jump online and fire up their blog, doing so at the expense of true journalistic standards? How many will settle for becoming another in the exponentially expanding morass of opinionists dressing themselves up as journalists?

For me, print journalism still has a place, but that place needs to evolve. That's why I am reflecting in the twin demise of investigative journalism and print media, and seeing if there is a way for the two of them to turn to each other for their mutual benefit.
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Junior McSpiffy
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Drew1365 wrote:
tmcvey wrote:
Drew1365 wrote:
Tall_Walt wrote:


But quite right about the premise, wouldn't you say?


So Drew, seeing as you're such a fan of the ex-Trots at Commentary, . . .


Those aren't the articles I linked. What about the article I linked?



Drew, with the follow-up question.

Drew, with the demand that what he said be answered in context.

Drew, insisting that what he asked be answered rather than just used as a springboard for some weird diversionary tactic.

Screenshot.
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J.D. Hall
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I used to do this kind of work. Actually won a couple of awards for it. So let this old ex-journalist tell why investigative journalism in particular and journalism in general sucks these days:

You assholes. You finally got what you wanted. Fluff, crap, and things that only -- again ONLY -- confirm what tiny bit of information you stuff into your empty heads.

The stupidity began with television. At first TV newsrooms were staffed with old radio and print journalists -- people (mainly men) who had been WRITERS long before they shoved their ugly mugs on the TV screen. At first, this seemed to work well -- why wouldn't it? Hell, you've got Edward R. Murrow on CBS. Murrow! The guy who told Joe McCarthy to go fuck himself and the horse he rode in on. But eventually, the news programs committed the mortal sin -- they became profitable for the networks. And there's where things went awry.

When you have profits, the first inclination is "how can we grow our profits?" Great idea if you're selling candy or cars. So how is TV journalism now, eh? You see, they started doing for the news programs what they did for the entertainment programs. They'd get panels of "typical" viewers together to parse through the different aspects of news programming, and worse than that, they did telephone surveys. Usually in the early afternoons. Look, I don't want to be snobby or belittle anyone, but even these days, if you're home in the afternoon, you're not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. So they ask these people questions, and the surveys come back with:
1. Need attractive people on the news who you would feel comfortable with in your home.
2. Need more positive stories that are uplifting -- the news is such a downer!
3. Need stories that have a direct impact on MY life, like what kind of shampoo will kill my kitten.
See anything about investigative journalism in there? See anything about JOURNALISM in there? Nope and nope.

(Sidebar here: the last paper I worked at had done the surveys. When I arrived as the new managing editor, I was told not to worry about sending a reporter to cover the city council meetings, county commissions, murder trials, the Legislature. My mind reeled. And then I left the business)

What happened to TV news bled over into every other area of journalism. And then ... the Interwebs happened. Google happened. Cell phones that could take video and transmit it happened. And suddenly, everybody thought they were journalists. People were blogging (95% of which was non-news crap, but that's okay), people were posting, people were arguing on bulletin boards. And, as was pointed out above, the Internet stole the classifieds from newspapers. What wasn't pointed out was that the Internet also stole 90 percent (maybe) of advertising that went to newspapers and a smaller but still significant amount of ads from TV/radio. Journalists may be lazy, worthless, ignorant morons, but they do like to get paid. All the above took away the money.

But hey, this is what the people wanted: crap, nonsense and noise, given to us on our Facebook prompts or delivered by blow-dried failed fashion models who are on TV. And let's be honest -- a lot of old-school journalism was partisan crap churned out by barely-literate hacks. It's never been the shining beacon that old guys like me tend to think it was.

But really, this is what all those people told all those surveyors and poll takers what they wanted.

So now, I'm not on call 24/7 for a wage that is competitive only if you are taking about vs. Wal Mart. I'm not insulted when I go to the grocery store. I'm not estranged from my daughters or trying to stave off a divorce from my wife. And best of all, I don't get phone calls anymore threatening to "blow yer fuckin' haid off!" because I wrote something controversial that pissed off somebody.

You people did this. Not me. You want journalism for free on the Internet, well, you get what you pay for. These days, reporters are told to watch what comes out over Twitter or Instagram or Snapchap or whatever. Nobody has a "beat" any more. Nobody (well, damned few of them) work a beat every day, meeting with low-ranking functionaries who are a treasure trove of inside information then walking up to the people with power and talking to them.

Yeah, investigative journalism is all but dead in America. Newspapers, pretty much the same. TV journalism...ain't. Radio journalism is talk, talk, and NPR. Internet journalism, which has so much promise, is junk.

Enjoy.
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