Previously this serialised chapter for the forthcoming book Investigative Journalism: Dead or Alive? looked at new business models surrounding investigative journalism and online investigative journalism as a genre. This third and final part looks at how changing supplies of information change the context within which investigative journalism operates.
What next for investigative journalism in a world of information overload?
But this identity crisis does highlight a final, important, question to be asked: in a world where users have direct access to a wealth of information themselves, what is investigative journalism for? I would argue that it comes down to the concept of “uncovering the hidden”, and in exploring this it is useful to draw an analogy with the general journalistic idea of “reporting the new”.
Trainee journalists sometimes see “new” in limited terms – as simply what is happening today. But what is “new” is not limited to that. It can also be what is happening tomorrow, or what happened 30 years ago. It can be something that someone has said about an “old story” days later, or an emerging anger about something that was never seen as “newsworthy” to begin with. The talent of the journalist is to be able to spot that “newness”, and communicate it effectively.
Journalism typically becomes investigative when that newness involves uncovering the hidden – and that can be anything that our audience couldn’t see before – it could be a victim’s story, a buried report, 250,000 cables accessible to 2.5 million people, or even information that is publicly available but has not been connected before (“the hidden” – like “the new” is, of course, a subjective quality, dependent on the talent of a particular journalist for finding something in it – or a way of seeing it – that is newsworthy). Continue reading