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Hello, Corruption, My Old Friend
How Craigslist is Killing Democracy
Many people tout the power of crowdsourcing, Craigslist, Google, and suchlike to replace the role of the newspaper. I have confidence these can supplant almost all aspects of the local newspaper — EXCEPT for one highly critical function, and possibly their most important single function: Local investigative journalism.
The common thinking runs much like this quote, "We don't need reporters, when we can get the news directly from the source." (Comment#86) Alas, I don't have that much faith in governments / corporations / criminals / etc. to give me news about their wrongdoings.
The "watchdog" role is one of the key elements of the press. It's critical to a healthy democracy and open society. Yet investigative journalism requires a lot of time & effort. Amateur, part time blogging doesn't cut it here. "How HBO And Gawker Tricked Us Into Reporting An Ad Campaign As News" is a pathetic example of the quality of journalism you get from this system. When "check your facts" means, basically, "ask the people who told you in the first place," (which is what these allegedly "professional" bloggers in this instance did, googling and clicking on the links that were essentially provided to them by those who alerted them) — then lord help us with real watch-dog roles. This poor methodology is bad enough when it's just an ad campaign masquerading as real news, but consider how this "in-depth" journalism works when applied to keeping democracy open: "The governor told me he wasn't taking bribes, and he isn't, because I verified it by clicking on the governor's web site!"... Um, right.
The problem, unfortunately, is that investigating wrongdoing doesn't seem to be something people will pay for in and of itself. The watchdog aspect of journalism has traditionally been subsidized by newspapers — paying full time salaries to reporters who write other kinds of articles, all paid for via advertising revenues, in a nutshell. Newspapers have often had budgets specifically for court challenges — but as The New York Times notes Shrinking Newsrooms Wage Fewer Battles for Public Access to Courtrooms." We all know those budgets are withering, not to mention the newspapers themselves. TV news is facing a similar problem. We aren't willing to pay for it, yet this role is essential.
The large size of media companies also affords a certain degree of protection against retribution from those being investigated. It's harder to pressure the NYTimes Company to squelch a story than it is to pressure Pat Microblogger.
This is even more true at the local level. While, as the New York Times notes in the article above, "the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups have taken the leading role in trying to shake loose information about the Bush administration's policies and actions," who will fill this role at the state, county, city and town level? The ACLU doesn't have the funding to investigate allegations of bribes taken by your city councillors or the allegations of tainted milk from the local dairy you're buying at the grocery store for your kids to drink. Without the media who is there even to hear the allegations, let alone check them out? Government is notoriously bad at being its own watchdog, and almost as bad at overseeing others. Government watchdogs often only bark when the media is hounding them.
Sadly, a bunch of amateurs twittering won't have the time, money, diligence, and cojones to uncover corruption and keep shedding light on our democratic, capitalistic, and other institutions. It's a function we absolutely need, and history has already shown we aren't willing to pay for specifically. I'm curious to see if there's some new model that can replace this critical function of the "free press."
For our sake, I sure hope there is.
Okay, let's open up the phone lines — Realistically, how are we going to replace the local investigative journalism aspect of dying newspapers? Add your comments here:
[ 15 comments | Add a comment ]
[Reposted from old comment system, from Jvanstry@nyx.net on Fri, 25 Feb 2011 03:50:39 0000]
I have to disagree with you. We are seeing now, just how much the traditional news services (like the NY Times you mentioned above) will totally refuse to report on something, if it goes against their political beliefs, or even outright lie. Main Stream journalism is very left of center. It refused to do any investigative reporting on a person who no one knew anything about, and now that person is president and they still refuse to be critical about him, even though there is a lot to be critical about.
Investigative Journalism only works when there is no 'special' relationship between the investigator and the investigatee. However most media these days is firmly in the pocket of the political parties. They haven't lost their share because of the internet, they lost their share when people started finding out how much they were being misled.
[Reposted from old comment system, from Craig on Thu, 08 Oct 2009 00:56:30 0000]
Have you read Clay Shirky (especially "Here Comes Everybody"), and if so, what do you think of this take on this? I am reminded of his coverage of the lost cell phone in the begining of the book. The thesis that journalism is more changing than going away is interesting, especialy in how he discusses the Trent Lott affair (where Lott was uncovered as approving of the politics of segreationist Thurmond).
[Reposted from old comment system, from Guest on Sun, 20 Sep 2009 17:54:14 0000]
I don't think there's much investigative journalism going on locally. I live in San Francisco, and still read the daily paper for local news, but it's really "print whatever they say" news. The standard seems to be interview someone, interview someone from the other side, sling a slanted headline on it favoring one side or the other, and print it.
They don't even do as much investigation as an amateur could manage with an hour or two of Googling. How can they afford it? They HAVE to get out a daily paper; they must report all the events, whether firestorms or festivals; they know people don't read them for the news, which they will already have heard or seen. The best investigative journalism seems to come from the freebie local papers which I suppose are sustained by advertising to the non-online audience and maybe by grants. But none of these papers, paid or free, are neutral; they all slant their articles, either by what they choose to print or how they phrase it.
I don't know if bloggers will do better, but they might. I'd love to find sources that are like a Snopes.com for the news.
[Reposted from old comment system, from Colum Page on Mon, 14 Sep 2009 16:08:45 0000]
Reading your post about the state of the online
media, I thought you might be interested in the
thoughts of 'Dan Carlin', who has also pointed out
this problem, but actually thinks it started (in the
sense of people 'reporting' each others news) before
google and craigslist.
Podcast on this topic:
http://dancarlin.libsyn.com/media/danca ... wdcb51.mp3
[Reposted from old comment system, from Guest on Sun, 13 Sep 2009 01:07:09 0000]
After the deafening silence of "Watchdog" journalism, during the Bush presidency and after 9/11, I'm not so sure we need to return to the way things were. As to how things might change online to supplant this "watchdog" role, I believe there are plenty of people out there eager to uncover hidden conspiracies. The problem is, how can we trust any source to be reliable, when individuals are so eager to sensatiionalize and so often in error? I suppose we can start by establishing internet sites citizens can trust. The main problem might be: how to earn such trust.
[Reposted from old comment system, from aburt on Sat, 12 Sep 2009 21:36:43 0000]
Craiglist and ebay are often cited for slashing the classifieds in newspapers, which newspapers relied on for a lot of their income. Now newspapers have a lot less money coming in because of craigslist, so they can't pay as many reporters, etc. (Advertising paid for journalism, in other words. People seem unwilling to pay directly for newspapers at their true cost. Thus less advertising dollars means less journalism.) Sad, but it is what it is. So the question becomes how to replace the journalistic role, since it's essential to democracy.
[Reposted from old comment system, from Guest on Sat, 12 Sep 2009 20:51:08 0000]
Question: What does this article have to do with Craigs List? Last time I looked, Craigslist was a buy / sell site for posting jobs, items for sale, wanted, or free things. It has nothing to do with journalism, news or reporting.
[Reposted from old comment system, from Terry on Fri, 11 Sep 2009 15:23:56 0000]
You are correct. I've covered public meetings where editors and publishers tout the value of their publications while admiting they just can't afford investigative journalism. The ownership of the media by large corporations has made the marketing and advertising departments the "deciders" of news content. Editors always say they never tell reporters what to report on - but reporters learn in their first days what will fly and what is a waste of their time - what will never be published. Editors don't have to say a thing. There are exceptions but those publications are up against the wall. A study recently showed news hungry TV viewers prefer the Daily Show to straight TV news. I suspect the Onion also fills this role.
Information to educate and inform can be had on the web, but it requires effort and investigation on the part of the searcher. Do most people want to get this involved? I doubt it.
[Reposted from old comment system, from tmso on Thu, 10 Sep 2009 19:58:56 0000]
I agree with just about everything you stated here Andrew. But, my slant is more hopeful. I have no idea how ivestigative journalism will live on, but it will. One reason: someone with enough cajones will get angry enough about something and do what they can about it - like form an entirely new industry! Maybe it will take the form of blogging coops or some bastardization of the current newspaper model. Either way, I have _faith_ it will live on.
[Reposted from old comment system, from W.L.Lyon@kent.ac.uk on Thu, 10 Sep 2009 12:05:28 0000]
It's not just the local investigative journalism that will be lost. International reporting relies on journalists in the field - journalists whose reports are not dictated by international business interests, to whom a newspaper is just another aspect of a business empire, and if the Chinese are offended, forget the reports. Places like the Huffington Post don't do original research - they rely on people that are employed by places like the NY Times and the BBC. Even these are interested almost exclusively in North American and European news and stories that impact on these areas. Al Jazeera - English is probably the only cable news organization that reports on subSaharan Africa and South America in depth. BBC World News (radio) is comparable.