I had a chance to spend the past few days at the annual conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), the national membership organization for the good people out there doing investigative reporting. I saw a lot of terrific work being done, learned some new tricks I plan to use here on WorkforceDevelopments, and had some time to reflect on the value of serious journalism.
The good news is that despite record layoffs of reporters and shrinking newsrooms around the country, reporters and editors are still trying to find ways to keep doing public interest journalism. One big new trend is establishing nonprofit centers to produce investigative journalism. Three very notable success are
These and outfits like them are running on grants, donations and creative collaborations with unexpected partners. As Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith put it quite bluntly, "The for-profit model can't support public interest journalism."
But getting into the nonprofit game in 2010 is tough. Competition for limited funds from big philanthropies to individual donations is tighter than it's ever been. Many of the folks founding these centers are investigative journalists with great skills, but they've never had to manage a board of directors, create a budget or or beg for money.
Welcome to our world. They face another fundamental challenge that we in nonprofits and government understand all too well. The product we provide is a public good. It's not like a chair or a shirt. The benefits are often intangible or so very long-term that it can be difficult if not impossible to set a fair price. Journalism that provides in-depth analysis of issues and agendas, asks tough questions, digs deep and speaks truth to power is vital to our democracy. It's not cheap, and how do you get people to pay for it?
Seriously - blogging is not going to save journalism.
We have a role to play in keeping high quality investigative journalism alive. Toward that goal, here are a few things I suggest:
- Read more investigative journalism
- Don't worry about keeping up with Lady Gaga's latest antics
- Donate to a nonprofit that's doing investigative journalism
- Consider a paid subscription to your favorite source of investigative reporting
- Talk to your friends and colleagues about the importance of serious journalism
If you have other comments on the state of journalism today, add your comments below.
Photo by Lee Bey: Pulitzer Prize-winner Chuck Neubauer in the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom, 1998