This weekend I’ll be attending “The Crisis in News: Is There a Future for Investigative Journalism?” hosted at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. There will be a lot of old school journalism types who have been plying the trade of investigative work for decades. Most of these folks work at big news organizations such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, PBS Frontline and ABC News. But very few of them are digital natives.
I am going to be a “questioner” on a panel titled, “Investigative Reporting on the Web?” (Funny that every panel’s title and even the conference’s own title has a question mark in it, as if there are more questions than answers.) My gut feeling is that this will be a room full of skeptics when it comes to doing investigative journalism online. “Is anyone really doing that, and how can they support it?” they will grumble and harumph.
My panel will include: Paul Grabowicz (UC Berkeley and Idea Lab), Jonathan Landman (NY Times), Sharon Tiller (Frontline/World), Jeff Leen (Washington Post), and David Washburn (Voice of San Diego). If you have a burning question you think I should ask them, please leave it in the comments or drop it in the Feedback form and I’ll try to ask them at the conference tomorrow. I’ll report on how they answered you, too.
In response to the expected question — “so who’s doing investigative journalism on the web?” — I’ve decided to put together a big honking list of all the investigative reports that have happened online. I will include mainstream media reports, as long as they started online or are completely contained on the Net, as well as citizen journalism or ad hoc crowdsourcing efforts. I invite you to help me update this list with anything I’ve left out — again, use the comments below or the Feedback form.
Examples of Online Investigative Journalism
> Murray Waas did a five-part investigative series in Salon in 1998 called False Witness, about how indendent counsel Kenneth Starr was misled by corrupt witness David Hale in his Whitewater investigation.
> The Center for Public Integrity has done numerous online-only reports on the influence of money in politics, and won a Polk Award for its series, The Windfalls of War, about the influence that contractors have had on military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.
> The Center for Public Integrity just recently released a five-part series, Stealth Campaigns, about the influence of independent committees such as 527 groups on the presidential campaign.
> The Smoking Gun followed the paper trail to find out that author James Frey had made up most of his best-selling work of “non-fiction” titled “A Million Little Pieces.”
> NewWest dug into the seemy underworld of meth and prostitution in Montana in a six-part series called Sex, Money and Meth Addiction that won an Online Journalism Award.
> TalkingPointsMemo helped expose the scandal of various U.S. attorneys being fired, leading to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and a Polk Award for TPM for its investigative work (a first for a blog). And TPM had its audience help sift through documents at one point, a great example of crowdsourcing. (Hat tip to Jay Rosen for providing the link in the comments.)
> ABCNews.com’s The Blotter blog ran a story about a teenaged congressional page receiving inappropriate text messages from Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), eventually leading to his resignation.
> The DallasFood.org blog ran a 10-part report on the high cost of Noka Chocolates, finding that they mark up the price 1,300% without good reason.
> Entrepreneur Mark Cuban launched Sharesleuth, a blog dedicated to investigative reports about fraudulent companies. The site has only done a few reports so far, including one on the corporate malfeasance at energy company, Xethanol. Cuban actually shorts the stock of companies covered on the site in order to fund the work.
> Matt Foremski, along with various bloggers and the L.A. Times, helped track down the real identity of videoblogger Lonelygirl15 as actress Jessica Rose.
> ePluribusMedia, a citizen collective, ran a four-part series about the politics of post-traumatic stress disorder called “Blaming the Veteran.”
> An ad hoc coalition of bloggers created Porkbusters to try to eliminate wasteful spending in Congress. The group joined with the Sunlight Foundation and TPM to find out who was putting a secret hold on the Coburn-Obama bill to create an online database of earmarks. The bill eventually was signed into law.
> Wikileaks.org has been an anonymous database of sensitive documents, and now includes 150 censored photos and videos from the recent Tibetan uprising in China. The site has secret documents from Guantanamo Bay, Scientology and from banks that provide safe havens for tax evaders.
> Newsweek.com produced a special six-part series called Voices of the Fallen, telling the story of the Iraq war through the voices of soldiers who had died. The multimedia online includes slideshows of their pictures as well as their voices.
> At the prompting of skeptical bloggers, Stinky Journalism investigated whether a Reuters photo during the Southern California fires was staged in a home, with the photographer possibly entering the house without permission.
Two from Paul Grabowicz:
> There was the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press investigation of the huge bills homeowners got for new utility lines, in which citizens drove most of the story. Here’s a Wired story on this.
> The infamous Kaycee Nicole hoax (a girl who supposedly died of leukemia) back in 2001, which was exposed by the work of online communities and bloggers. Here’s a Guardian story summarizing what happened.
From Kyle in comments:
> Justin McLachlan (also a contributor to the last Sharesleuth piece) does investigative work at Where Doubt Remains looking at wrongful convictions.
From Jay Rosen in comments:
> The Smoking Gun recently did a report refuting documents in an L.A. Times story about the shooting of Tupac Shakur. The Times ended up retracting the story. As Jay says: “Of course, the Smoking Gun guys would say they are merely doing document-based investigative journalism of the old fashioned kind, and that there is nothing new media or bloggy about it.”
From Ellen Miller at Sunlight Foundation:
> Is Congress a Family Business, in which Sunlight Foundation tracked down which Congressional spouses are on their payroll and why. They found that 19 spouses were on payrolls, making more than $600,000.
> Sunlight Foundation also did an investigation of the content of Congressional websites. With help from citizen journalists, Sunlight found that “372 congressional websites failed to provide basic information on what the member does in Washington, from providing the name or names of committees served on to the bills they sponsor.
> Sunlight also did “Where are they Now” http://wherearetheynow.sunlightprojects.org/ to find out if former Congressional staffers were now working in the lobbying industry.
Also, a big hat tip to NYU’s Jay Rosen for pointing out many of these reports in his great piece in the L.A. Times about bloggers doing journalism.
Any others? Please share in the comments, and be sure to check back over the weekend for my live reports from the conference.