How will investigative journalism survive in the digital age?

    by Mark Glaser
    April 25, 2008

    With the daily drumbeat of cutbacks at newspaper companies, there is less room for investigative reporters who can take weeks or months to do one in-depth report. If their future isn’t secure at mainstream media outlets, then where will investigative reports come from? TV news? Non-profits like the Center for Public Integrity or ProPublica? Online-only outfits like TalkingPointsMemo or The Smoking Gun? Do you think investigative journalism will survive in the digital age or not? If you think it has a future, how do you see it being financially supported? Share your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll run the best ones in the next Your Take Roundup.

    • joe

      Yes, it will survive, and it will be better, as long as corporations don’t buy up all the good websites.

      As for the financial model, three ways: 1) non-profits 2) privately-held companies 3) selling the online behavior of a site’s readers to advertisers. The third option should raise serious questions about privacy, but I think there’s a way to protect consumer privacy and still monetize online news. I don’t mind it if TPM sells some of my clicking habits to advertisers if in return I get to read TPM for free.

      I also think investigative reporting in magazines will continue to thrive. People will still pay for mag subscriptions.

    • As one of the journalists at ProPublica (and one who’s going to be helping oversee the Web site), I think investigative journalism will not only survive “in the digital age” but it actually has the potential to prosper.

      It will no doubt look different from the kind of investigation journalism we’ve grown used to. (I suspect that 10,000-word pieces aren’t exactly the way forward. And indeed we’re focusing on new ways of presenting reporting.) But what investigative journalism does–uncover new information–is something that I think is *gaining* in value in the digital age. That’s because as the daily news turns increasingly into a commodity–where everybody knows and has access to the basic the outlines of events soon after they happen–the potential value added by news organizations falls largely into two areas: 1) offering a fresh view or perspective on the news 2) giving readers/viewers information they didn’t already have.

      That’s what investigative journalism does, it uncovers things. And that’s what we hope to be doing at ProPublica as well. Shining a light in previously unexplored domains.

    • Doug Fabens

      NOT necessary to post this… just wanted to contribute that a type of ‘investigative journalism’ – local video investigative reporter confronts someone with his camera/videographer and asks double-bind questions for his viewers’ entertainment – is still alive and financially highly rewarding. (It bothers me when PBS investigative reports resemble that model… )… But, can online investigative reporting compete – either or both as a matter of meaningful content, or reward for reporters getting the story that’s really there vs. the story that sells best? Again, feel free to decline to post this if it’s not a point you want to address.

    • Yes, it will survive and possibly for the better. Empowering people who have the info in their hands to share it online themselves or with people who are already covering the subject online in greater depth than the main stream media can lead to a lot of info coming to the forefront – info and facts that may not have been uncovered by historical investigative journalism.

      It is a great question though Mark. I shared my thoughts in depth as it pertained to lawyers doing investigative journalism through blogs. How’s it financially supported? Passion and an enhanced reputation. You can read more here: http://tinyurl.com/5qg79h

    • Digital age or not the issue of survival of investigative journalism will depend on the training prospective practioners get in college and on the job. The typical path of taking a fresh out of school reporter and putting them on the night crime beat may sound like something out of a novel, but it won’t necessarily teach the reporter about economics, politics, technology, or power and its misuse.

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