Saturday, March 7, 2009...12:05 pm

Investigative journalism? Not really…

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Regional magazine Leeds Guide flags up a “major investigation” into the death of print newspapers
Well – it’s 1,250 words, which is hardly the Sunday Times Insight exposé of Israel’s secret nuclear programme we saw in 1986 (around 3,250 – and, you know, I think it probably took longer to research).
Also, while it’s nice to see author Simon O’Hare looked up his figures (profit, loss, chief executive payoff etc), his interview sources are a BBC Newsnight editor quoted on the NUJ web site, and a former Leeds Guide deputy editor – hardly pushing the boat out in terms of “investigative” sources.
This is the problem with journalism. It’s so expensive to do the investigative kind that no one can afford to do it any more. And many younger members of the media won’t even remember what real investigative journalism is like – which is why they might mistake this piece for it.
In conclusion, O’Hare argues:

People will continue to use the internet for social networking, but they will still want to obtain authoritative news.

Really? I wonder. Actually, I think people don’t care half as much about news as people in old media think they do. What they care about is entertainment and connectivity (a subject for a later post). 
In fairness, O’Hare is paraphrasing Rupert Murdoch, who he then goes on to quote (from a published speech in 2008, not a phone interview, of course): 

Unlike the doom and gloomers, I believe that newspapers will reach new heights. Readers want what they’ve always wanted: a source they can trust. That has always been the role of great newspapers in the past. And that role will make newspapers great in the future.

Guess what? On the evidence, I don’t believe him…


  • Thanks for your interest in the article and for your positive remarks about my presentation of the facts. However, I would like to defend the piece in view of your other comments.
    It may not match a 3,000-word nuclear weapons expose, but then it doesn’t seek to do so! Don’t forget the article is for the readers of a leading regional magazine (Leeds Guide) – so it explores an issue of significant local interest and raises legitimate questions about how the readership’s much-loved newspapers are being run. It puts the dispute in the context of the problems facing print media and the economy as a whole – all important issues for the readers of the publication.
    And when people are losing their jobs in any industry, I’d say it’s important to question whether those job losses are solely the result of the extremely difficult economic climate (and in this case changing consumer habits) or whether those of us in less well-paid jobs are paying a disproportionate price for the downturn.
    In terms of your criticism of the sources, both sides of the specific dispute were approached but neither provided a comment. I feel the quotes used did add value to the piece.
    As I say I’m grateful for your comments. Do clarify your opinion though: on the one hand you speak with sadness about the decline of serious journalism, but on the other you say people don’t really care about news anyway! Given the success of newspapers’ websites, surely that doesn’t seem to be the case?

  • freelanceunbound
    March 11th, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Thanks for such a measured comment to my slightly snarky post. In light of your comment, I’ll try to expand on the post a little here.
    I think my point is really that the content of the piece doesn’t match the way it is introduced. It’s not really “A major investigative feature” in the way that it is described in the standfirst. [Of course that could be a sub’s thing, if you still have one]. I certainly understand that the Leeds Guide is not the Sunday Times. But I think that even under the remit of local investigative journalism, this piece doesn’t quite cut it. There’s nothing wrong with the writing – don’t get me wrong. And it has sourced differing views and some actual statistics, which lifts it above quite a bit of media coverage these days. But it’s more a desk-based analysis piece. [Does it matter that it’s described in different terms? I think so].
    As to the last point, well – I don’t think there’s a contradiction actually. It is sad in some ways that “serious” journalism seems to have had its day – but economics, technology and demographics have all moved against it. SOME people have an appetite for serious news – but not enough to maintain the kind of news media we have been used to. Most people are less interested in traditional news now. Especially as you go to the younger age groups [I know my journalism students spend far more time on Facebook than they do on “real” news media].
    Many thanks for taking the time to respond though – I welcome the feedback.

  • Sorry, but I’m going to have to disagree. I guess I’m one of the naysayers. I think the printed newspaper is going to die out. People are going to get their news online, and for free. That is my prediction. Wait…that’s happening already… 🙂

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