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Is investigative journalism still feasible in the face of 21st century industry upheaval?

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World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Is investigative journalism still feasible in the face of 21st century industry upheaval?

David Kaplan, Executive Director of GIJN spoke to the World Editors Forum's Angelique Lu about crowdsourcing, hackers, and the role of investigative journalism has to play in a digital society.
 
Despite its often dramatic results, investigative journalism receives relatively little funding. How does changing revenue models affect investigative journalism? What are you trying to achieve? 
 
KAPLAN: Investigative journalism is routinely under attack, and funding it has become a major challenge.  During better financial times for the media, we did not have to make a public case for investigative reporting. But with news organisations increasingly using a variety of funding models - nonprofits, crowdfunding, foundation funding, cooperatives, government grants - it's imperative that we demonstrate that investigative journalism is a public service. The materials that we are assembling (as part if the Investigative Impact project) - the videos, interviews, data, the case studies - are there to help increase support to GIJN's 107 member organizations in 50 countries, and to investigative journalists worldwide. 
 
Is there enough public interest in investigative journalism to sustain crowd funding models? Are people willing to pay for such journalism? 
 
KAPLAN: Crowdfunding is still in its infancy and it has enormous potential. We will undoubtedly see more of this. In a sense, crowdfunding has already helped sustain investigative journalism nonprofits for more than 30 years. The more established US-based nonprofits like the original Center for Investigative Reporting or Center for Public Integrity have mailing lists with tens of thousands of people on them. In the old days we used direct mail. We didn't call it crowdfunding back then, but in a sense that's what it was. We've just updated the technology.
 
Still, there are plenty of challenges. Traditions of philanthropy and economic incentives vary widely country to country. Some nations, like the US and UK, give sizable tax breaks for donations to nonprofit groups, but others do not. 
 
Crowdfunding is only one tool for generating revenue by investigative news organizations. GIJN's membership is made up entirely of nonprofits, and they use a broad range of ways to generate revenue -- foundation and government grants, individual donations, memberships, staging events such as conferences and talks, teaching and training, selling services such as research and data. The membership-model has real potential. The Korean Center for Investigative Journalism has 70,000 fee-paying members. 
 
Based on your research and case studies - what are advice or tips can you offer investigative journalists to boost funding chances?
 
KAPLAN: Journalists engaged in running an investigative news enterprise need to recognize that they're running a business. Too many good reporters do start-ups thinking that they just want to do quality journalism. You have to think about a business plan, revenue streams, editorial systems, fundraising and development, marketing, legal protection, IT and more. Who is your audience? Where will your funding come from? How will you sustain yourself? How will you document the impact that your stories have? Reporters are not always the best managers, so you need people who know how to run - and build - an organization. GIJN has a resource center in which we address some of these issues. 
 
From your experiences and observations what kinds of investigations styles (e.g. print, video, data-driven, interactive or immersive models?) and themes (Corruption? Tax scandals? Espionage?) appear to have greatest impact ? 
  
KAPLAN: Investigative journalism has an extraordinary range of impacts across society. We feature 10 case studies from around the world, from places as diverse as Brazil, Ghana, Pakistan, and Ukraine. There are famous examples, like presidents resigning after exposés of dirty tricks and corruption (Watergate in the US and Estrada in the Philippines).
 
There are lesser known reports like the chilling Spirit Child investigation, which stopped the ritual killing of disabled children in Ghana; Taxation without Representation, which revealed that 70% of Pakistani MPs failed to pay taxes; and the appalling Why Frere's Babies Die, which forced reforms after revealing hundreds of needless neo-natal deaths at a city hospital in South Africa.
 
Most of these case studies were originally in print media, but increasingly we're seeing multimedia, multi-platform approaches. Given today's 24/7 saturation media environment, I think a great story will eventually catch on regardless of its initial medium.
 
Look at the kinds of projects being done today by our members: Offshore Secrets by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, for example, or YanukovychLeaks by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. These are the new standard -- journalists from different outlets and different media banding together to take on tough targets. We'll see a lot more of this in the near future.
 
Can you tell us more about the role of global collaborations between investigative journalists - have we moved from domestic political impact to the global domain? How important is international collaboration? 

 
KAPLAN: We're at the start of a golden era of collaboration among investigative journalists. The bad guys went international a long time ago. They can move millions of dollars, contraband, and people with a phone call or a computer key. We muckrakers are just catching up, but we're doing it quickly. We're sharing data, documents, and techniques as never before. 
 
In terms of impact, how important is source protection in order to sustain investigative journalism e.g. shield laws?
 
KAPLAN: Security and source protection are high on the list of our concerns. Protecting sources has always been a worry for our community, but with the increase in digital surveillance, this has become a constant threat. Fortunately, we have some very good allies in this fight. The hacker community, public-interest NGOs, and others understand how important it is for investigative journalists to do their jobs. In the end, it's one more challenge we have to overcome -- along with legal harassment, physical threats, difficult owners, a lack of resources... and a lack of funding. But we're growing, not shrinking, so expect to hear a lot more from global investigative journalism. 

 
EDITORS NOTE: Please take our UNESCO-commissioned survey on protecting sources in the digital age to help support investigative journalism 

 

See video

Author

Angelique Lu

Date

2014-11-17 12:30

The World Editors Forum is the organisation within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.


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