Losing investigative reporting — negative or spin?

Dan Gillmor references a Howard Kurtz commentary lamenting the potential loss of investigative reporting in the wake of newspaper financial woes and reminds everybody that traditional media sources aren’t the only people doing investigative reporting.

One, which has been around for a while, is the Center for Public Integrity, which does brilliant investigative journalism. It relies on grants and donations, a business model that has supported terrific stuff.

Another, newer project, is Jay Rosen’s budding NewAssignment.net, which has a chance to help redefine the nature of the investigative project in a networked age.

And let’s not forget that the best reporting on government spying on Americans has been done by that famous journalism organization (not), the American Civil Liberties Union. A new report, based on information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, is an example.

Dan’s absolutely right, and I agree with him that those of us in the news business need to be moving forward with the assumption that deep cuts in mainstream media will continue.

There has been an endless stream of commentaries lately that point to the loss of investigative reporting as dangerous for our culture, and I’m not sure the complaint is much more than wishful thinking disguised as a scare tactic. Consider what new media pioneer Rob Curley told Fast Company last week, “I think newspapers lost their way and started focusing on big investigative stuff and forgot to cover the prom or 10-year-olds playing baseball.”

Big‑J journalism is addicted to Watergate gotcha-ism, and there’s a fine line between watchdogging government and career furtherance through talk shows. While I hate that people are losing jobs (got the T‑shirt), we have to be circumspect in our automatic (and nostalgic) reaction that budget cuts for newspapers (and TV networks) translates to an uninformed public.

If there’s a market for investigative reporting (and there is), then the market will find a way to fulfill itself. Going quickly, however, is this idea that only a “professional” news organization can adequately investigate anything.

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