Monday, January 18, 2010

Can muckraking survive?

Posted By on Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 5:04 PM

It's my experience that some people don't know what the word "muckraking" means, so let me explain. You see, in a time when celebrity journalism sells papers and drives Web page views faster than the scoop from City Hall, it's easy to assume "muckraking" is something negative — but it's not. It's actually a critical task that's in danger of going the way of the dinosaurs.

According to Dictionary.com, muckraking means: "to search for and expose real or alleged corruption, scandal, or the like, esp. in politics."

While any citizen can uncover the stories investigative journalists (aka muckrakers) dig up, most don't, won't or can't. It takes time to sort through the files at City Hall, to endure the public meetings, to make the phone calls to witnesses in-the-know and to write an understandable story for mass consumption. Every step in the process takes time and, as we all know, time is money.

With corporate newspapers slashing their staffs and print advertisers fleeing for the Internet, many traditional newsrooms are short on people-power and working with ever tighting budgets. That's why nonprofit investigative newsrooms, like ProPublica and the Center for Investigative Journalism are popping up. Those organizations are attempting to fill giant coverage gaps found in most newsrooms today. But in order to survive, they need support.

And, frankly, we need them. Without watchdogs keeping tabs on the big dogs, their packs are apt to run wild ... and right over all of us.

Nonprofit groups that specialize in investigative reporting have had some big scoops, cracking the front page of such newspapers as The Washington Post and forcing officials out of their jobs. Now the question is whether these organizations can stay afloat on donations.

As financially strapped newspapers have scaled back, charitable foundations have poured tens of millions of dollars into nonprofit watchdogs in hopes of keeping politicians and businesses in check. These groups figure to do a bigger share of the investigative legwork in the coming years.

But philanthropy probably can't maintain all of these groups forever. And some are still struggling to come up with a financially sustainable plan - just as old-school media are.

Read the rest of the Associated Press/ Charlotte Observer article here.

Where do investigative journalists get their information? Bob Woodward, from The Washington Post, explains:

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