Posts Tagged ‘investigative journalism’


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.



From “Eww” to Action

October 9, 2009

By now, I think everyone has read the NYT article about E. Coli in ground beef.  And it seems that anyone who either is a vegetarian, isn’t a vegetarian, or is trying to convert someone else one way or the other is talking about it (that covers everyone at least once, right?)

One of my first thoughts–once I finished unproductively fuming–was that we really, really need investigative journalism like this.  And I started to worry, along with lots and lots of other folks, that the information age is on the edge of becoming less informative (more on that next).

But, interestingly, that hasn’t remained my strongest takeaway from the story.  My strongest takeaway is that the majority of the folks around me seemed to miss the point.  Conversation in the office was about bleaching cutting board and kitchen counters.  Phone conversations were about whether or not someone should eat at Five Guys.  But almost no one was talking about food safety standards.  

Everyone was asking: how can I keep myself safe from this?  No one seemed to be demanding: why aren’t our regulatory agencies keeping us safe from this?

No one seemed appalled that Tyson refuses to sell to Costco lest they be caught supplying contaminated meat.  No one seemed astonished that someone within the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA would say “I have to look at the entire industry, not just what is best for public health.” 

It’s a case in which we have the information.  We just can’t seem to find our way to using it very well.