Journalism’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

rachel_maddowBy Peter Galuszka

“Investigative reporting, R.I.P. In-depth reporting is dead. If not dead, it’s comatose. Reeling from declining revenue and eroding profit margins, print media enterprises continue to lay off staff and shrink column inches.”

Err, maybe not. James A. Bacon Jr., meet Rachel Maddow.

The quote comes from advertised “sponsorships” in which an outside entity can help fund reporting and writing on this blog. It’s a morphed form of traditional journalism and there’s nothing wrong with it, provided the funding source is made clear.

But what might be jumping the gun is the sweeping characterization that in-depth reporting is dead. That is precisely the point of Maddow’s monthly column in The Washington Post.

She notes that it was local traffic reporters and others who broke the story about Chris Christie’s finagling with toll booths to punish a political opponent. She shows evidence of other aggressive reporting in Connecticut and in South Carolina, where an intrepid reporter got up early one morning, drive 200 miles to the Atlanta airport and caught then disappeared Gov. Mark Sanford disembarking from an overseas flight to see his Latin American mistress when he had claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Closer to home, it was the Post, which has seen more than 400 newsrooms layoffs over the past years, that broke GiftGate, the worst political scandal in Virginia in recent memory. The rest of the state press popped good stories, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch that has been somewhat reinvigorated despite nearly 10 years of corporate cheerleading and limp coverage under publisher Tom Silvestri. The departure of the disastrous former editor Glenn Proctor, Silvestri’s brainchild, helped a lot as did the sale of the paper by dysfunctional Media General to Warren Buffett.

To be sure, there are sad departures. The Hook, a Charlottesville alternative, did a great job reporting the forced and temporary ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, but it has folded.

Funding, indeed, remains a huge problem, even at Bacon’s Rebellion where we all write pretty much for free. One solution, Maddow notes, happened in a tiny Arkansas town that found it was located over a decaying ExxonMobil fuel pipeline. The community raised funds to help hire more reporters to break through the news.

She suggests: “Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.”

Hear! Hear!

There are currently no comments highlighted.

16 responses to “Journalism’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

  1. I haven’t subscribed to the Post for 7 or 8 years. The paper writes for itself. In other words, the reporters and editors write articles about what they are interested in, rather than what readers want to know. It’s cut back on local reporting, which is what most people want to read. There are many other sources of information on national and international news. I don’t need the Post for that.

    The Post reporters tend to be quite good even with their general leaning-left bias. I’ve been interviewed by them a few times. Their questions show preparation and generally seem to probe all sides of the questions. The are generally pros.

    The editorial board is — well — a piece of _____. The staff is arrogant, ignorant, biased, dishonest and lazy. Lee Hockstader lives in D.C. and doesn’t know anything about Virginia. Yet he is permitted to write editorials — generally ignorant. I don’t believe any member of the editorial board lives in Virginia. Hockstader must be blackmailing Fred Hiatt, who tolerates this crap. And, unlike national and international issues, the Post will not publish op-eds on Virginia issues that contradict the editorials. Moreover, a reporter once told me that, despite the policy to the contrary, the editorial board put pressure on the reporter to tone down any negative reporting about then-Governor Tim Kaine. Hockstader is a whore for the Democratic Party, and Hiatt is his pimp. I’ve stated the same to Hiatt on a couple of occasions. His response — silence.

    The Patch does a much better job on local reporting, as do local papers like the Post’s Fairfax County Times, the Connection, and the Sun Gazette. People still read them. Big Journalism brought itself to its current pitiful position by holding its readers in contempt. When you write for yourself instead of for your audience, you will fail. Metro D.C. would survive just fine were Jeff Bezos to shut down the Post.

  2. well geeze Peter – FOX News has “investigative journalism” every night – all night long!

  3. I remember the day when even second-tier newspapers like the Roanoke Times & World-News, where I worked five years, cut reporters loose for weeks at a time to do in-depth and investigative reporting. Investigative reporting by traditional media isn’t totally dead, but it’s on life support. For the most part, public-policy reporting locally consists of covering meetings, summarizing official reports and recapitulating press releases with maybe one or two quickie quotes from an outside source. Reporters simply don’t have time for more.

    The Washington Post did lead reporting of the GiftGate scandal, but how much did its reporters really dig up themselves — and how much was simply leaked to them by prosecutors? Perhaps you can refresh me — I don’t want to overlook something you might have written in a Washington Post blog!! — but what information did the Post bring to light that prosecutors didn’t already know?

    One last observation: Personal scandals, the more salacious the better, still do get coverage. But the real scandals — how multibillion-dollar transportation projects get funded, for instance — get only the most superficial coverage. Bob McDonnell leaves office in semi-disgrace for accepting gifts for which (as of this point in time) there was no significant quid pro quo. Yet the inner mechanics of the Charlottesville Bypass, the U.S. 460 deal, the Rail-to-Dulles project and the Bi-County Parkway, among others, go largely unexamined. Virginia can squander billions on transportation projects and nobody looks into the particulars to see if it is money well and fairly spent.

  4. Gerry Connolly worked for SAIC as a vice president while serving as Chairman of the Fairfax County BoS voted to put an additional Metrorail station (now the Greensboro Stations) in front of SIAC, with the county attorney saying no conflict of interest, right before he left his job to go to the private sector.

    The Silver Line did not meet any federal standing for funding, but was approved anyway after a massive lobbying (and who knows what else) effort by Republicans and Democrats alike. What caused the Bush administration to cave? This event had all the possibility for a Pulitzer Prize. Where were the investigative reporters? Campaign contributions? Gifts? Bribes? We shall never know. And then there are the cost overruns. What about the change orders that have benefited Bechtel?

    If the media were to understand that public money belongs to the public, instead of those who appropriate or spend it and reported accordingly, we’d see a big uptick in public interest in the media. But they are so busy focused on what they want to write about (heavy rail and urbanization are good per se, so they should be protected), the death spiral continues. Sometimes extinction is good.

  5. On life support? There you go again. What the hell is that supposed to mean? It is dying? Really? Another example of gross overcharacterization!

    As for my “blog” the piece we recently discussed wasn’t a “blog.” It was in print.

  6. One more push back from Bacon’s rather snarky observations. He’s trying to diminish the Post’s role in breaking GiftGate by claiming that they merely had a source.

    Hey, Jim, buddy! That’s called JOURNALISM or maybe you have forgotten. We need more of it here at the Rebellion and a little less telling us what a great freaking place Richmond is!

  7. We certainly don’t have journalsm here in Charlottesville. If we did, we’d have heard that the so-called “bypass” might affect the property values through the seven neighborhoods; we’ve have heard that there are over 700 studies tying children’s health to auto exhaust and that this highway is wthin a quarter mile of six schools; we’d have heard that the whole Southern Terminus is a bait asn switch and will boosts costs by at least $50 million; we’d have heard that VDOT’s analyses consistently say to deal with congestion and traffic speeds build two overpasses on existing 29N for about $80-$90 million instead of spending $300 million on the so-called “bypass” which doesn’t bypass the area’s growing neighbhorhoods or largest shopping mall. NONE of these major aspects have been covered at all in our so-called newspaper. Why? The only real proponents for the highway are the advertising community who are scared that the two overpasses will cause them lost drop-in traffic during construction and…

    Mr. Galuszka, if you want journalism to be alive, please come down here and do this great story. Real journalism is totally lacking in Charlottesville VA.

  8. re: “cut loose for weeks at a time”…

    but who was paying?

    in reality – reporters were being paid by automobile and furniture, retail store companies…

    At one point in my past, I had occasion to talk with the local paper on how much a full or half page ad would cost and had the wind knocked out of me!

    thousands of dollars for one Ad on one page for one day!

    but truly – this is where the money came from to pay reporters…and investigative journalism.

    I give money right now, today – to VPAP, Coalition for Open Govt, Wikipedia (yes) .. and a few others … and I’d pay for news but on the order of $5 not $20 a month.

    but the newspaper industry is frozen in their tracks and still apparently prefer to deny the realities rather than change their business models.

    I feel for the reporters… but an industry that refuses to change is at the root of this – in much the same way we see education refusing to budget even as disruptive technologies are simply going around them.

    News has value for many of us but we seriously cannot subscribe to 20 different papers at the paper monthly rate!

    I’m betting that not even the Peter Galuska’s of this world pay for 20 different subscriptions!

    easy for all of us to blame – institutions – public and private – harder to re-invent ..and adapt…

  9. Here is a great opportunity for the Post, et al. to dig deeper. It took a first step. There is likely lots more dirt under the rug. Will it? http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dr-gridlock/wp/2014/01/16/audit-questions-whether-mwaa-is-properly-managing-silver-line-funding/

  10. a filthy liberal rag that did a piss poor job of reporting on Va issues.. and taking it easy on Kaine and MWAA?

    make up your mind here TMT!!!

    • Let’s see where this goes! Will there be a lot more articles on the Silver Line? How about Phase II? Will the editorial board discuss? Will it complain about how taxpayers and DTR drivers are being screwed? Will id discuss the fact the Silver Line provides no net reduction in traffic congestion? Will the Post put the same effort into this “scandal” as it did to George Allen and Maccaca? I doubt it.

      Here is a great development that could produce lots of in-depth articles and could help increase readership. But it would also raise questions about holy things to liberals — government spending, mass transit, urban density, higher taxes and fees. I bet this matter has likely reached its high water mark with a Dr Gridlock column. I’d like to be proven wrong.

  11. and here is the other thing.. both a newspaper thing and a governance thing..

    look at what is going on with the bridge issue in NJ.

    do you know the actually name of the institution?

    MTA = Metropolitan Tranportation Authority

    now look at this one – MWAA

    Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

    now look at what happened to the MTA – uber investigative news by a variety of papers including the major papers in the state

    as well as – local and state elected leaders convening an inquiry ..

    now go back to MWAA – and tell me what local and state elected officials have called for an inquiry into MWAA ?

    ad what does the RTD have to say about the MWAA?

    and yet.. we do what? we blame the POST !!!!!

    good grief!

    • The Post is moaning about its dearth of subscribers. It’s trying to win back readers. As I recall, one of the reasons we have freedom of the press is to have a strong investigating press to expose bad conduct by government – the entity to which the people have given coercive power and tax revenues. The press should be digging irrespective of the Politics or the politics.

      The Post help expose the George Allen stupidity on Macacca. It was certainly appropriate. Yet the incident boiled down to stupidity on the part of George Allen. It was not a crime. It did not involve the improper use of government power or public money. But we saw story after story after story. Here with MWAA we see audited evidence of misuse of public money. I don’t see coercion. How many articles will we see on this misuse of public money? I like to see members of Congress from this area hold hearings on MWAA. I’d like to see the DOJ open an investigation. I think what is going on in New Jersey is appropriate, but what about the misuse o tens of millions of taxpayer dollars right here in Virginia? In the grand scheme of things, our “scandal” is much bigger than the asinine closing of highway lanes. Here we have a combination of the Virginia way and the biggest media outlet taking it easy on a misuse of public money, likely because it at least is government spending on a holy thing – heavy rail.

      There is more substantive reporting on this blog on these types of issues than the Post provides. Jeff Bezos’ problem is internal.

  12. From agonizing, frustrating, personal experience, I would tend to lean toward the perspective that hard-hitting investigative journalism, if not dead, is rare, and trending more so. I have not always lived in my current domicile, Central Virginia, having grown up in Chicago and gone to school in Upstate NY and Downstate IL. I recall some pretty engaging political writers along the way, and old Mike Royko of the SunTimes and a young George Will of the National Review — though neither investigative journalists per se, they had a gift for exposing corruption with levity and humor and element of precision sorely lacking today.

    Since moving to semi-sleepy C’ville, I have watched our local rag gradually slide into near irrelevance as a Reliable Source for the news — any news — except possibly the weather — and I’d be willing to bet that if the local Chamber paid them for it, the Daily Progress would comply with a daily forecast of sunshine and moderate temperatures. After all, anything less would discourage indulgent spending — which, unlike chronic homelessness and embarrassing poverty amid wealth — is deemed worthy of focusing public attention.

    As Mr. Salzman notes above, there is no reliable, objective, fact-based coverage of sensitive news issues. In fact, I take exception to someone else’s characterization of The Hook — they most assuredly did NOT lead the way to exposing what really happened in the deposing of President Sullivan, rather, Hawes Spencer routinely engaged in yellow journalism as a way to “sell” a faux story of what was happening behind the scenes, later exposed as 10 percent fact and 90 percent fantasy. He unabashedly stepped into the breach left by the no news Progress, only to invent his own. It is that lack of credibility that ultimately did his enterprise in, aided by exceptionally poor business management (not that running a paper is easy).

    I don’t regularly read the RTD — not in a long, long time anyway. If Being acquired by Mr. Buffet has improved the product, I am all for it. Just color me skeptical, because such change in ownership has brought about almost no positive change to the Progress.

    I can’t explain the mechanics behind shoddy journalism, I just know — too intimately for my personal taste — what it look like. It is a very rare day that our local flagship news source does much more than regurgitate in stylized form what other people — select other people — have to say. This is journalism? Of any kind? Not the kind I was taught in High School, back in the ’70’s — admittedly a very dated perspective.

    Call me old school, but it is reprehensible that news media has taken upon itself, almost universally, to produce two kinds, and just two kinds, of content: apolitical (obituaries, recipies, travel tips, sports), and politically correct, filtered, biased, stenographic accounts of centers of influence stated as fact. Such is the case in Charlottesville — with the Progress and its “partner” Charlottesville Tomorrow.

    Needless to say, if anything remotely like “giftgate” occurred in C’ville, it would take someone form outside the circle to break that story — and I am not referring to a partisan circle, rather one of privilege, and power, and yes, money. Now the Progress (or one of its affiliates) did blow the cover off the ABC scandal — a huge, unique departure from the staus quo that suggests resources for investigative reporting DO exist, if not the will. Perhaps because it was “safe”, the victims here being some lovely UVA coeds. This is an example where someone did some serious digging, exposed all kinds of chicanery and mismanagement, AND had a profound impact, hopefully for the public good, on the agency involved.

    Yet what of the VDOT/CTB/Connaughton/McDonnell scandal? The story ought to have legs here, given how it has played out locally, with two BOS members unseated and two more open seats filled — a hint that people are getting wise to the tactics employed by a small but powerful group of pseudo-businessmen/politicians.

    Nature abhors a vacuum. If you silence the news through regurgitative reporting, highly selective non-reporting, and routinely failing to vet what you report for its factual basis, you might as well be traded as fiction. THAT is your Daily Progress. THAT is your Charlottesville Tomorrow. And those are two markers that investigative journalism is on life support in Central Virginia.

  13. well… the nostrum that the blogosphere would take over local and investigative news… obviously has not been 100% complete.. although more and more “news”… “breaks” on blog sites … and twitter…

    I think the way that information gets mined and discovered and transmitted is changing from one-man quests to many folks trickling data and others becoming “aggregators”.. and I point out that that is Rachel Maddow is doing as she is more entertainer than a dyed-in-the-wool veteran investigative reporter.

    Part of the interesting part of watching her – is listening to how the various parts and pieces were discovered and then added to the timeline and.. this part is important – almost all of it found on the internet – not by sitting in an archive somewhere going through paper or microfilm or transcripts.. etc.

    I think the day of the investigative journalist funded by a large rich publisher may be changing.. in ways that we’re not going to go back.

Leave a Reply