Will investigative journalism be like opera? Not in the sense that journalists act like divas. Nor in the sense that they play to an effete and aging audience (I hope not!). I mean in the sense that opera has always been subsidized, has always depended on wealthy patrons for its sustenance. This idea has been getting credence in the U.S. recently, as it becomes clear that American newsrooms can no longer afford to invest the resources they used to in accountability reporting.
The presumption in the U.S. is that profitable news organizations are the natural home of investigative reporting. After all, the monopoly profits that newspapers made allowed them to invest in watchdog reporting. The worry now is that if for-profit media can no longer live up to that name, then accountability journalism will wither and die.
Elsewhere, that has certainly not been the case. Muckraking journalism has emerged under a variety of market conditions. For sure, it has thrived most successfully in the heyday of American newspapers. But then many countries that have thriving newspaper markets — India is a good example — don’t have an investigative tradition.
It sometimes feels that I inhabit parallel universes.
In the United States, where I teach nine months of every year, there’s much agonizing about the future of investigative reporting. Especially since Watergate, American newspapers have been the keepers of the investigative flame. With many papers in their death throes, there’s a great deal of worry that flame would be snuffed out.
But elsewhere, it’s a different story. In Southeast Asia where I come from and go back to regularly, as well as other places beyond North America and Western Europe, democracy and technology are prying open previously closed societies and providing citizens with information previously unavailable to them. Read the rest of this entry »