The following piece is based on interviews I conducted in February/March 2011, and is obviously disadvantaged by not having the Leveson Inquiry to reference or the full revelations regarding NotW phone hacking.
I am unable to understand how a man of honour could take a newspaper in his hands without a shudder of disgust. – Charles Baudelaire
Journalism has forged a strange and unique reputation within society. Without a doubt an efficient and functioning independent press is the keystone of an open and honest democracy. Over the decades journalists have effectively saved lives, exposed corruption and toppled a President. But in the public consciousness, journalists are demonised and lionised in equal measure. With its own retellings and representations, Hollywood has further promoted the idea of the ‘investigative reporter’ as wielder of ‘truth’ against the tyranny of injustice, but also the invader of privacy and the destroyer of lives. This duplicity is standard stuff, and not entirely incorrect. As journalist Roy Greenslade would put it, “in the public estimation of our worth, we rank alongside politicians and estate agents. It always seems to have been the case, since the dawn of newspapers onwards.” (2010)
It can be argued that journalism itself is in some way investigative, but the differences between standard and investigative journalism appear to be vast, not least for those who practice the latter. However, those with a romantic sensibility always look backwards. Many journalists cite ‘Watergate’ as a crucial influence upon their career choice, and a benchmark for the power of the press and investigative reporting. It is nearly 40 years since Woodward and Bernstein and Watergate, and there have since been many significant investigations, but none which garners such affection as the probe into President’s Nixon’s crooked machinations.
Times were different in the 70s. The modern news industry is plagued with an increasing assortment of destructive forces: the decline in sales and revenue; the increasing online imperative; the rise in public relations; libel laws and injunctions; and shortages in newsroom staffing. And although investigative reporting in the current age sets itself apart from (or in opposition to) day-to-day news reporting, it is nevertheless shackled to the same sinking ship.
WHAT ISN’T INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM?
Defining investigative journalism in a broad sense rarely poses much of a problem. Those with an opinion on the matter tend to agree on the fundamentals: that investigative reporting sets out to uncover that which, for whatever reasons, is concealed. But, ‘what’ investigative reporting is does not take us very far. To begin to get a more accurate picture requires a bigger focus on ‘why’: why there needs to be a culture of journalism that by its nature is much more in-depth. Read more of this post