Most of us would consider winning a Columbia DuPont Silver Baton to be a sign we’d reached the top and would be enjoying more good years ahead.
Instead, my good friend Roberta Baskin told me that at the same time she won a DuPont this past year, her station management informed her they were shutting down the investigative unit, saying , “‘Investigative reporting is a luxury’ the newsroom can no longer afford.”
Across the country the news is the same. Newsrooms are cutting news staffs, especially investigative teams.
When I first wrote about this issue for Electronic News early this year I knew of a half dozen investigative journalists who’d lost their jobs.
Now, I know of more than two dozen who’ve been laid off or had their units dissolved.
What does that mean to those of us who are left?
Last December, Megan Garber argued in The Columbia Journalism Review that in these tight economic times, with different media outlets competing for the public’s eyes and ears, investigative and in-depth, value-added journalism is the ONLY way to stand out.
I think she’s right.
I believe that serious journalists who exist to break significant enterprise news, who dig up truth to hold the powerful accountable, who write stories that those in power don’t want the public to know, those investigative and value added journalists must fight the perception that we are expendable.
We need more investigative journalists, not fewer.
Because without the things that make investigative journalists who we are, there’s no reason for the public to pay for what we’re selling.
Without independent, aggressive journalists to set independent outlets apart, the media merely become the acquiescent mouthpiece for those with the power to feed us press releases and spin.
As my news director here at WFOR-TV, Adrienne Roark, puts it, “Investigative journalism is the only way to stand out from everyone else. It costs money. It can cause headaches. But it’s worth it.”
WFOR-TV is making a name for itself with its I-Team and its unique 4 Your Money Team, a team of people devoted to covering the economic crisis.
So how do other journalists convince their bosses the value of investigative reporting?
- Think like a bean counter as well as an investigator.
- Learn to promote how much investigative journalism contributes to rather than takes away from the bottom line.
- Learn to work across media platforms, even if that means giving up old prejudices about what “the guys in the newspaper” or “on the web team” do which, in the past, we couldn’t be bothered with doing.
In times where our government is spending billions to “fix the economy,” where Wall Street continues to hemorrhage money, where the nation’s troubles are a direct result of a lack of oversight by nearly everyone, serious investigative journalism is more in demand than ever.
As Roark says, “To me, this is the kind of journalism more stations should be doing. Right now it’s more important than ever.”
Yes, it is more important now, than ever before.
We must keep fighting to convince those who think that what we do is “too expensive” to realize that not doing it will cost even more.
Stephen Stock is an investigative reporter for Miami’s CBS4 I-Team. Stock’s investigations uncovered tax fraud by Florida prison inmates, the exact cause of Ford truck fires and system-wide problems in day cares. He’s won a Peabody, duPont, 2 Edward R Murrows, 3 Green Eyeshades, including Best of TV, and was named a 2004 Poynter Ethics Fellow.
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