Recap: Empty Newsrooms, Echo Chambers
April 11, 2014 | 2010 views
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The budgets for investigative reporting have dropped across newsrooms in the United States, leading to lay-offs of reporters and fewer in-depth long-format pieces. While that may be true, the need and passion for such reporting hasn’t declined.
“It’s like mercury, it slips through the cracks and finds its way,” Paul Steiger of Pro Republica jokes.
And a few organizations are working to keep it alive – in not-so traditional ways. Al Jazeera’s Head of Investigative Programs Diarmuid Jeffreys says that investigative reporting is in every story that the Qatar-based news outlet produces. “Our motto is ‘to give a voice to the voiceless’.” And given that many of their stories look at abuse, corruption, or injustices in areas with little track record of reporting, they need to do the research and investigative work themselves.
Irina Borogona of Agentura.ru is a gutsy example of a truth-seeking journalist in Russia’s oppressive media culture. She’s had to change publications 6 times in the last 10 years after writing hard-hitting exposés, often questioning practices of the Kremlin. She says she still takes on the risk because she “loves to find the truth that other people want to hide.”
Omoyele Sowore of Sahara Reporters Media Group has given reporting a new take, by relying on decoyed “journalists” to hunt down corrupt Nigerian politicians — that too, from New York, not Lagos.
Not only has the format changed, but with it has the funding. Paul Steiger of the non-profit ProPublica says that there is no shame in turning journalism into a philanthropic-funded venture. If the markets for it have dissipated, then why not turn to foundations and philanthropic dollars? Museums, universities, cultural sites all do the same.
That may be true. But how many journalistic outlets can be funded by in-kind donations? After all, journalism is expensive work. Frontline’s Deputy Executive Producer is keenly aware of costs, given that they just produced a three-hour documentary on the Snowden case with 10 staffers devoted to the project for over 9 months of research.
So, the questions still remain the same: has the business model for high-quality journalism eroded? Will more journalists be relying on foundation support going forward? And will viewers turn to different outlets for investigative reporting now, bypassing the mainstream media outlets that no longer have the scope for it?
The simple answer seems to be “yes.” The solution to our media woes lies somewhere in between: the future model of media will be more complex and varied than before; more hybrid models will emerge; the consumer will have to turn to more niche publications to find long-format and investigative reporting; and the big media houses will have a choice to participate (if they can let go of some commercial gains for civic gain). After all, journalism is a key facet of democracy.