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    State of Investigative Reporting at Newspapers, Broadcasting

    by Mark Glaser
    April 26, 2008

    i-83b4b0ce09474696be1b672e9fa0af92-UC berkeley logo.JPG

    BERKELEY, CA — I am blogging live from the conference, “Crisis in News: Symposium on Investgative Reporting,” at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. It is perhaps the most beautiful day outside here, with glorious blue skies, but investigative journalists are like vampires, hiding out in dark spaces when it’s warm and sunny outside. So here we are in an auditorium talking about the very serious subject of what’s going to happen to investigative journalism with newspapers cutting so many jobs.

    The first panel is about newspapers and print, and includes some heavyweights: Bill Keller, New York Times executive editor; Len Downie, Washington Post executive editor; Laurie Hays, deputy managing editor at the Wall Street Journal; David Boardman, executive editor at the Seattle Times; and Clara Jeffery, co-editor of Mother Jones. Here are some highlights from the panel:

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    Bill Keller: There aren’t that many people doing exclusive web stuff, there’s Josh Marshall and Smoking Gun, but you need lawyers to help you. There can be great reporting done by one great reporter on a mission. I don’t see it as a threat I see it as a good thing. We will treat them as partners.

    Larie Hays, WSJ: Our new owners are intensely interested in beating the sites and doing investigative stories. The investigative things are great, because stories can go on the Internet and newspapers don’t have to wait for the presses to run.

    i-200b49dfcf6d0318eb0f9ff21f349160-Downie and Keller.jpg
    Len Downie and Bill Keller

    Len Downie: We’re getting much better at linking to outside sources, including competitors as well.

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    Bill Keller: We’ve come to take journalism schools more seriously. [audience laughs] No, we used to hire people according to clips and the academic background isn’t as important. I didn’t go to journalism school, there used to be a grizzled editor who would help young reporters figure it out, but those grizzled editors are gone now so the schools are more important.

    Clara Jeffery, Mother Jones: There used to be more beginning positions at newspapers and smaller magazines have scaled down their staff jobs. All these places that feed the Pulitzer winners at bigger papers — those sources are drying up, and I find that worrisome.

    Q: How willing are people on the Internet to read long-form 7000 word pieces? How do we do these long features?

    Len Downie: Pew found that people will follow to the end of stories online. The story has to be compelling enough to get people to keep going, and we found that was the case with Walter Reed. We did a 27-part series on washingtonpost.com about how a lobbying firm operates. It wasn’t our most read piece on the web, but in the community of lobbyists it was intensely read, and people argued about them in comments. We have another experiment like that coming that will be even more read.

    You can do other things on the web, we did a series on IEDs, and it included video interviews with soldiers in Iraq, very dramatic, how you approach buildings and not get blown up.

    David Boardroom, Seattle Times: I think longer stories actually are better in print. We want people to read the story in print and then to go online to the web to read more, to read the whole thing.

    Len Downie: Getting people to go back and forth between the mediums is hard to do. We have a lot of print-only readers who resent it when we send them to the web. But we do have the opportunity to get web readers to start reading print again.

    Q: Investigative reporters have to be very enterprising. What happens when they spend a lot of time on something that doesn’t pan out. Can that continue in this day and age?

    Bill Keller: It is continuing. People who do this drill a lot of dry holes. The economic forces and dismissive attitudes about attention spans of American readers, and they hit you saying ‘Can we afford to have that staff?’

    Len Downie: It is a problem now because you need to figure out whether to keep going on a story or not. This tension was always there. I remember as a young investigative reporter in the ’60s I had to convince my editor to keep going on something.

    David Boardroom: It does require us as the leaders of newsrooms to impose more discipline. We have to pick our spots. We have a relatively small group of people who specialize in this and we make a discipline of picking the right stories.

    Clara Jeffery: We wanted to do 24/7 coverage on the web, but you might go down rabbit holes and the story might not materialize, and that was a crucial decision for us adding more staff reporters.

    *****

    Interestingly, the big newspaper editors (NYT, WaPo, WSJ) didn’t seem to think there was much of a crisis in investigative journalism at newspapers — at least in their houses. I’m not going to make it a drinking game, but Keller did throw out the first comment about there not being very much investigative journalism online. He must have missed my post yesterday with the big honking list of what’s happened online.

    Again, I’ll be one of the questioners for the web panel here, so if you have burning questions to ask, I will pass them on the panel. Drop the question in the comments below.

    Broadcasting Panel

    Up next: Broadcasting Panel, with Jeff Fager of “60 Minutes”; David Fanning of PBS Frontline; Brian Ross of ABC News; Daniel Zwerdling of NPR; and Anna Werner of KPIX in San Francisco.

    Intro for David Fanning: He won 41 Emmys among other awards. Wow.

    Google CEO Eric Schmidt is in the house? Why? He was out in the hallway talking to Bill Keller of the New York Times, bad-mouthing Microsoft, from what I overheard (and Twittered as well). I wonder if Schmidt is hoping that by being friendly with investigative types they won’t go after Google? Hmmm.

    Now the Broadcast Panel:

    Q: We’ve all heard the woes of investigative reporting. What is the biggest hurdle? Financial? Political?

    Jeff Fager, CBS: It’s amazing how many less people are doing this at other networks. There’s Brian Ross at ABC and I don’t know who’s doing it at NBC. It’s very expensive and very hard. It takes a long time and there’s not a lot of patience or money in TV news. It’s amazing how much celebrity and crime has become part of the news. We are doing less celebrity coverage now [at “60 Minutes”] because it’s being done everywhere else. A lot of broadcast investigative reporting, if it isn’t done well, it doesn’t keep the viewers. I think the risk involved is huge as well. Every network has been hit with a mistake.

    It’s amazing what happened with Lowell Bergman at CBS [with the tobacco report being smothered]. I haven’t had that experience at CBS.

    Brian Ross, ABC: The biggest obstacle for me is legal. The investigative reporting is what sets us apart and gives us value.

    Daniel Zwerdling: Investigative reporting has not been a big part of NPR, but my bosses, I’m happy to say, now want to do more investigative reporting. So far it’s been the exception to the rule. I was often in my cubicle, going off doing my projects, but there’s been pressure for me to fill the airwaves. When I was gone for a month, there was pressure building for me. Then the VP of news said he was getting rid of my position about 5 years ago, and they wanted to become the CNN of radio.

    There was a staff rebellion. They hired a new VP of news, and then he got fired, and finally, for the first time, my boss, Ellen Weiss, told me I could take off for five months. And when the stories came out, they used them to make money, it was a profit-making venture. Oh, I forgot! And then Joan Kroc gave us a quarter of a billion dollars. [audience laughs] We’re taking baby steps, but it’s an exciting time at NPR.

    It was a cultural and financial problem at NPR.

    i-9e4da969016e0fb92fe4dc4ab25a1c9d-audience shot.jpg
    The audience at the symposium

    David Fanning: The difficulty for us is we haven’t been as good of an investigative unit as we could be. The commitment to do the long haul reporting in TV is very hard to do. It’s financial, and we have a reportory company and they have to turn around and do more films, so we’ve been aware that we’re reaching a crisis point and the budget for individual films has dropping. So we set up an enterprise fund so we can go drill wells [go for deep stories], and we can partner with regional newspapers who can spend a few months digging then come back and do the film.

    Jeff Fager: The tobacco story [by Lowell Bergman] was the lowest moment in the history of CBS, but I don’t see it happening now with the current ownership. No, it couldn’t happen now. We are incredibly independent. We don’t ever get a call about content. And we do tough stories about our own advertisers.

    Brian Ross, ABC: If you tell a source you will keep them confidential, you can’t really back that up. We have confidential sources and you can make the promise to keep them confidential, but you won’t be able to keep them. The Federal Shield law, now John McCain and Obama and Clinton all say they would support it, and that would be a great day if it happened.

    Q: More people get their news from local television. I looked at the top stories, and they were about UFOs, bank robberies and underaged stripper spurs national interest. [audience laughs] News directors around the country are hit with this kind of data. I know the issue is time. When you ratchet it down to 3 minutes, trying to tell a complex story, how do you get that up to 4 and a half minutes?

    Anna Werner, KPIX: It’s a process of negotiation, and you have to show that you have the goods. Fortunately our news director was the former managing editor at the SF Chronicle, so he likes real news. He likes investigation and has kept the investigative unit despite the financial pressures. You have to have a good story told well. Some stories, follow-up stories, are 2 and a half minutes, even shorter if it doesn’t merit the time.

    Q: NBC has a series called “To Catch a Predator.” What do you think about that?

    Jeff Fager, CBS: It’s disturbing on many levels. There are legal issues, and there was a case involving a suicide. I think the problem is that they are doing police work, and it would be a problem for us.

    David Fanning: It’s voyerism it’s not journalism. And they are using an outside group to do the work. The issue of predators turns out to be a tremendously exaggerated threat. The real threat to teenagers is among themselves, bullying and other things. The whole premise of the NBC show is built on a false assumption. Teenagers are the ones who say that they rarely pursue these [enticements].

    Brian Ross, ABC: NBC could not sell it, the advertisers didn’t like that. They were so close with law enforcement. The correspondent had done some good work, but he doesn’t identify himself as a reporter, he waits 15 or 20 minutes. When we watched that, we thought our people could never do that, we would identify ourselves. It was the arrangements for the raid, and who was calling the shots, and it appeared to be the correspondents as much as the local police. And NBC wanted to get the arrest done quickly so they could get out of town and lower costs.

    *****

    Check out my continuing coverage of the “Crisis in News” conference in my next blog post, “Are Veteran Media Execs the Ones Who’ll See the Future?”

    Tagged: conferences investigative reporting journalism skills logan symposium newspapers
    • Thanks for this – I’m speaking at a conference on investigative journalism myself in the UK next month, having written a book chapter on blogs and investigative journalism for the 2nd ed of Investigative Journalism (blogged at http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2007/10/24/blogs-and-investigative-journalism-draft-first-section/). – as the panel is on global investigative journalism it’s very helpful to have a US perspective. If you can add any comments to the blog posts that would be great too.

    • Mr. Ash Israni

      Hi Ash , if you use Google for Irish Star Newspaper ..Irish independent..Irish Daily Mail . Irish Daily Mirror and Irish Sun all newspapers and Irish Legal Aid Board you will get all the information you will need.
      Regards
      Anne

      ashok israni wrote:
      I desperately need help in spreading this word and finding a lawyer. Anything I win I will give away to you, to your cause or lawyer fighting for me except for lost wages & getting my job back. My dignity will not allow me to put any numerical value ($) on my pride. A man of my class and caliber now has to come out and ask for help from strangers which is not my style. It is my sincere wish to relocate farthest away from here.
      In US getting away with crime against Asian and humanity since 911
      I have heard pen is mightier than sword. I have heard in US we have fair democracy and freedom to speak the truth. Fair democracy and capitalism are only for people with efficient moral, mental and ethical integrity. There was a recent uproar over physical capture of Maziar Bahari and again Shane, Sarah and Josh in Iran. In contrast to it this is what is allowed on US soil. I was terminated on 051809 while away on approved leave from Broward County government-job (S. FL) in retaliation for progressively writing email to county administrator Bertha Henry on Feb 9, 2009 about racial and bizarre reverse discrimination and “staff receiving kickbacks from vendors” ( Scott’s guilty conscience made him say these words) getting paid without doing the contracted job and I was under pressure to process the invoices. In Feb 22, 09 emails I documented the threat of termination for blowing whistle. My pay scale in recognition of my excellent work was revoked & I was reprimanded. I was assaulted by self-proclaimed “white FMD butch” Lori Vasello with remark “this is for writing that email you sob………….and now we have to live with nigerette”. She was referring to black county administrator Bertha Henry who replaced Pam Brangancchio, white administrator, allegedly as a result of my meeting with the commission in 2006. I am withholding horrendous statements and comments that I have heard for now. Nevertheless, how often I have been asked if I am Muslim and what is my country of birth? I have answered numerous times. I am not Muslim. I am Hindu from India. I requested audio and video surveillance, administering lie detector tests to all and it was denied.
      Attorneys have refused to take my case and clearly informed me that county has deep coffers and acts like mafia. You can ask me for their numbers to verify. I have contacted different agencies, state and US senators, congressman, state attorney’s office and local police to report threatening phone calls with gunshots in the background. I strongly feel that I am being shadowed. Everyone has shown helplessness. County declined invitation to radio show and press from Jerry Newcomb in Coral Ridge church which can be verified again. I went to commissioner Jacobs meeting on 101509. Promises were made but none kept. Nov 17 meeting was cancelled. I made copies of this and handed out in town hall meeting on Dec 10, 2009. In recent years” fewer than 10 percent of students from India have been American bound compared with 75 percent in 80s Newsweek reports. It is obvious fewer people want to or need to uproot from their country and culture” when American assets of merit based system, justice and fairness are not being honored anymore. If you face injustice from mafia like government; you can’t get any attorneys, congress shows helplessness. When Rome was burning Nero was playing fiddle. My question; is Broward county a sovereign state in US and US laws are not applicable to it? Shane, Josh and Sarah’s helplessness is visible and mine is not. I guess Shane, Josh and Sarah are in better position in the sense that they have supporters and I have none. Getting reminded of Barry Goldwater’s words “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue”. Have you ever heard of ex-mayor of Fort Lauderdale in Florida who after receiving numerous complaints from citizens tried to stop gays and lesbians from using public bathrooms on beach and had little success except for little press coverage? He ultimately left the office in 2008?
      Broward County encourages and awards the contracts to minority business owners and vendors. Just a little thought to that money stolen! Is that money ending up in the streets of Afghanistan and Iraq? Ever wondered why Iraq war has already outlasted WWII by 8 months & 23 days (as of 12/14/09) and in March 2010 Afghanistan war will become the longest American war? Who are fighting for us? Are President Obama, Mr. Holder, and Supreme Court listening? Is anyone else in this world listening? I have this like felony on my record and that is why I have trouble getting the smallest job. No unemployment, no job prospects and my pay scale adjustment in recognition of my excellent work was revoked; all this for speaking the truth. I happened to be at wrong place wrong time and had the courage to pen the TRUTH.
      I conclude that in fair democracy unfair majority wins. In democracy strength lies in numbers so let us get together and call our respective commissioners, congressman and senators to stop some pockets in our good old US from turning into some deviant mafia group. In John chapter 7 verses 6 and 7, then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil.”

      With reference to that email mentioned by self-proclaimed “white FMD butch”, in August 2004 while in park I reported “people not in compliance with gods design were discriminating against people with traditional family values”. I was being discreet and dignified. Four people followed my suit. Tragic things happened to them. Some dispersed and one beautiful woman ended taking psychiatric care according to her husband when I spoke to him last. My already troubled relationship with my wife could not survive either. I persisted and after climbing up to commission in Nov 2006 and a meeting with commission I had few encounters with management and staff in park and this is what transpired. Mgmt: what kind of people do you see here moving up? I said: white. Mgmt: what else? I hesitated. Mgmt: what else? I said; they have certain life style. Open or secret. Mgmt: You are right. You are none and now get the hell out of here. It doesn’t matter if your test scores are hundred out of hundred and high nineties in some. It was chilling. In moment of anger and impulse in email on Dec 24, 2006 I asked one poignant question “are homosexuals above the law?” I used this expression “white homosexuals” for first time, more covert than overt discriminating against people living traditional family values” only after it was corroborated and verbalized by them. I had sensed it long earlier and written about it in dignified and discreet manner since August 2004.
      Is Supreme court listening? Are Mr. Eric Holder and Mr. Obama listening? Can they be made aware of moral depravity and gross misconduct that I and four others have witnessed? Never intending to mean anything other than what was implied to me. It is not right. I am not prejudiced against anyone’s way of life. In 2006 email I offered to testify before board which would raise hair on their nape. Commission declined. Commission found circumstantial evidence and legitimacy in my complaint and transferred me to FMD with promotion.
      Conduct of Lori was condoned by director Campbell calling it an accidental bump in memo handed to me. It was supported by Manager Sherie and a confirmed covert gay Tony Goble, Supervisor. In CBS evening news at 630 on 10/03/06 it was reported that in Capitol Hill DC Gays and lesbians’ staffers protect each other; discovered and reported during the investigation of Mark Foley.
      In July 24, 2006 issue in perspectives Newsweek reported “Hate language is usually the early warning signal that could lead to hate motivated violence. And before that happens we try to nip it in the bud.” Provincetown Mass., town manager Keith Bergman concerned about recent reports of gay residents slurring heterosexuals by calling them breeders.
      I conclude that in fair democracy unfair majority wins. In democracy strength lies in numbers so let us get together and call our respective commissioners, congressman and senators to stop some pockets of our good old US from turning into some deviant mafia group. Don’t hesitate. Why would you? In John chapter 7 verses 6 and 7, then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” Who owns the county? Self-proclaimed butch Lori Vasello? Scott Campbell? Sherrie Dunleavy? Tony Goble? Allen Wilson in Labor Relations? Human Resources? Are they stock holders in the county? Or tax payers, residents and voters collectively?
      Thank you

      Ash Israni 960 Crystal Lake Dr. #214 Deerfield Beach Florida 33064 USA
      Tel 954-943-5253 ashinwicworld@yahoo.com
      CC: ABC, NBC, CBS, Insider Edition, 50 Major Newspapers in the world, Bill O’Riley, Oprah Winfrey, Senator George Lemieux, Congressmen.

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