I noticed when a new editor was appointed to The Royal Gazette that some people commented that at last they could see a return to investigative journalism.
For some time this had me wondering whether people really understood what investigative journalism was about and what resources and time it takes to pull off truly investigative reporting.
Here is an abridged list of things you need:
* You have to have cast iron sources, people who a journalist trusts implicitly because over an extended period of time they have proved to be always (key word, always) correct.
* The journalist must have proof. (We live in a writ happy world.)
* The journalist must have their facts right and the evidence to back them up (proof).
* The journalist must have to ability to think laterally and to ask questions accordingly.
* The journalist must have the ability to interpret statistics and information correctly.
* Ideally, the journalist should have unfettered access to information (PATI anyone?).
* Above all, the journalist needs time and the unqualified support and direction of their knowledgeable and experienced superiors.
* It is absolutely not about going with a gut feeling from one source ‘because you know it makes sense’. It is about checking, checking and then rechecking.
Given most newspapers’ dire financial states and the need to restore profit margins by cutting costs (and the biggest cost in newspapers are people), the increasing use of press officers to ‘manage the message’, the lack of PATI in Bermuda, the lack of access to the people who really matter (think PR people and press officers), the need just to fill space on a daily basis and the need to get everything on the web first to satisfy the demands of a ‘must have it now’ society, is investigative journalism as described above likely to happen?
No. At least not for local papers.
So how can it happen?
Newspaper owners and/or boards have got to go back to the roots of newspapers and understand what they are really about, why they are here, what their purpose is – and most importantly to give the editor their unqualified backing over content.
An editor looking over his or her shoulder or seeking approval is a weak editor and nothing much can be accomplished.
There must be a recognition that a paper conducting good investigative pieces is a friend of its readers and therefore can help build or maintain circulation and web hits, but most importantly it can build a concrete connection to readers because the newspaper is their champion, their friend and ally.
There must also be a recognition that good investigative pieces of journalism add to the credibility of the publication. Think Washington Post and All the President’s Men. With credibility comes loyalty.
I cannot see any of this happening.
For Bermuda, at least, where there is a limited number of media outlets, that is a crying shame and boards/owners need to look at their priorities and their perceived responsibilities.