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Some thoughts on just how we’ll manage

October 13, 2009

As I alluded to in my last post, the NYT article on E. Coli in ground beef got me thinking about investigative journalism.  I find it tempting to join in the panicked chorus asking who will do the kind of investigative journalism we need to be well-informed and make socially-responsible decisions when print newspapers die.

Luckily, there are a handful of folks out there rolling their eyes at the panic (and scheming about innovative ways to turn the death of print newspapers into opportunity).

Last week, Kate and Amanda over at Wronging Rights started a ruckus by questioning whether “The New York Times, the Associated Press, and Reuters have all published quotes misleadingly attributed to a Darfuri “refugee representative,” who is in fact (a) fictional, and (b) part of the PR operation of the rebel leader Abdel Wahid Al Nur?”

The back and forth has been illuminating and raises some important questions about the authenticity of the quotations that fill out the narrative of so many international news stories.  More importantly, it has gotten a whole lot of people stirred up.  And there isn’t a single print media institution on the light-shining side of this investigative journalism series.

It reminds of this Huffington Post piece and its good-sense ending:

When papers say, “if we’re gone, who will keep government honest?”, the answer is, every other media outlet that covers city, state and the federal government. There is nothing inherently inky about investigative journalism.

Sounds about right to me.  Consistently good investigative journalism seems to require a good number of elements: relationships with folks inside systems and institutions who are willing to pass along information and tips, the ability to ask hard and insightful questions, persistence.  Then there are the skills that help one sort through lots of information, find the relevant pieces and put them together into a big picture story.  Some kind of God-given instinct, I’d imagine.  And access to email and a phone.  I’m sure a travel budget would make things easier.  But the point is, as far as I can see, none of those elements are outside the reach of emerging media forms.

I’ll end this post by saying: I don’t know anything about this subject, but several of you readers do.  And I’m very open to being completely wrong.  Comment away.

Jonas

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