The concluding part of this draft book chapter sums up some of the key points and looks at the future paths of investigative journalism in a new media age. I would welcome any corrections, extra information or comments.
Blogs and new media have undoubtedly changed the landscape of investigative journalism. In terms of its form, journalism as a whole has become more conversational, and iterative, as readers seek to contribute to the story, and journalists open more of their processes to public view. The time and space offered by the internet has provided opportunities for these conversations to take place, and for journalists to make raw material available to fuel them. And the networked nature of the Web has facilitated coordination of contributors across borders and industries, along with a now global distribution of material.
The current period offers both significant threats and opportunities to investigative journalism. The sheer quantity and accessibility of information means that quality is becoming a precious commodity. Technological tools have made the investigative journalist’s job of gathering and analysing data, and identifying and contacting sources, easier, but when the source of information is a blog, journalists face the challenge of evaluating both the information and the source, sometimes without knowing what partisan, ideological or commercial affiliations the blogger may have (Friend & Singer, 2007). The protection and access afforded to journalists – in particular, access to certain areas or people, and the ability to protect a source – are not routinely offered to those working outside mainstream media (Gant, 2007), while at the same time the past two decades have seen courts being increasingly reluctant to offer protection even to journalists working for large publishers (Henry, 2007).
The use of blogs for investigative journalism raises a number of challenges and ethical issues. Investigative journalists may find it hard to protect their sources in an age where so much is recorded. There are useful tools that help – such as Invisiblog.com for free anonymous blog hosting and The Online Policy Group (OPG) for privacy-protective domain name registration, while the likes of Tor and Anonymizer.com allow bloggers to hide their IP address (location) and Pingomatic allows bloggers to quickly broadcast an entry while making the poster untraceable (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2005) – but there are always concerns about weaknesses in such technologies emerging in the future.
Equally, for journalists going undercover there are new issues around invasion of privacy – particularly when the distinction between private and public spaces becomes blurred online. Lee Wilkins notes that
“the Web provides journalists (and others) with ways to invade privacy on a worldwide scale … Most journalists don’t hide in bathrooms to get stories – because hiding in the bathroom means we can’t ask follow-up questions or seek multiple and other points of view … So lurking and then quoting without first identifying yourself seems, to me, to be a pretty easy call.” (in Friend and Singer, 2007: 85)
Furthermore, new media technologies allow the subjects of investigations to tell their stories, too – as demonstrated by the video released by Scientologists of BBC journalist John Sweeney “losing it” while conducting his investigation into their activities (Sweeney, 2007).
Economically, the traditional support structures for investigative journalism – large news organisations – are, at least in their own terms, struggling, and investigative journalism is having to look elsewhere for funding. While BlogAds and AdSense have allowed some bloggers to operate through traditional advertising-based models, others have relied on reader donations facilitated by technologies such as PayPal and ChipIn, while foundations are playing an increasing role in supporting investigative journalism – but few have found a reliable revenue stream.
The future of investigative journalism is likely to lie along at least three paths. On the one hand, in a new media world of information overload where ‘anyone can be a journalist’, investigative journalism offers a way for the mainstream media to provide a distinctive product and prevent the readership migrating elsewhere online (Bradshaw, 2007). News organisations with declining budgets but a commitment to public service may be inclined to outsource part of their investigative work, taking advantage of their brand and experience and using crowdsourcing approaches to pursue investigative journalism. Finally, and perhaps more realistically, it is likely that foundations and reader donations will increasingly support investigative journalism as an important contribution to society. For investigative journalists themselves, the biggest concern is lack of job security - or at least an increasing requirement for new skills in managing volunteers or enterprises. For readers, however, the latter two routes, dependent as they are on active public support, offer some assurance that investigations will be undertaken in the public interest rather than the media’s own self-interests. For this to happen, however, requires a change in the cultures of news organisations. As journalism becomes less a product – ‘what sells’ – and more a service – what people want to use – the need for that change will become increasingly pressing.
Have I missed something? Included an error? If you want to make changes directly, this section is available as a wiki at http://blogsinvestigativejournalism.pbwiki.com/Conclusion. Click on ‘Edit page’ and log on with the password ‘bij‘.