Note: This post is an assignment for Nicco Mele’s course – Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age – at the Kennedy School of Government.
To say that the business of news production has changed with the rise of the internet seems an understatement. Many, many individuals have transitioned from reading one source of news on paper to getting the news from twitter, blogs and multiple papers online.
These changes in accessing information have also shaped the world of reporting. In his article “Confidence Game: The limited vision of news gurus,” Dean Starkman describes the influence of the internet on news-making:
“The consensus believes that reporters and editors must enter into deep, if not constant, contact with readers via social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. The consensus favors ‘interactive’ journalism – reporting on the fly, fixing mistakes along the way – versus traditional methods of story organization, fact-checking, and copyediting.”
This environment has led to the rise of less formal blogs as a key source of information. Even traditional outlets like Mississippi’s Clarion Ledger are having reporters generate blog content, and it features these blogs prominently on their website (see photo).
When I was at MEPC, we used the blog as a platform to get out analysis on issues in a timely way even when traditional media wasn’t picking up the story. This tactic of information dissemination varied in effectiveness. As Dauo points out in The Triangle: The Limits of Blog Power,
“Blog power on both the right and left is a function of the relationship of (bloggers) to the media and the political establishment. Forming a triangle of blogs, media, and the political establishment is an essential step…”
The power of forming this ‘triangle’ proved true in MEPC’s blogging influence. If state legislators took note of the post and traditional media picked up the story, our voice became much stronger.
Although I have seen the importance of a blog platform in advocacy and policy analysis, I don’t think most policy shops have the capacity to generate in-depth reporting on issues. I found that policy analysts might know where investigative reporting was needed on state-level issues, but those analysts themselves did not always have the experience, platform, jurisdiction etc. to expose a topic in need of attention. Analysts are not journalists.
Starkman’s piece grasps this perspective and lays it out at a serious problem:
“The public has a problem. The problem is that journalism’s true value-creating work, the keystone of American journalism, the principle around which it is organized, is public-interest reporting; the kind that is usually expensive, risky, stressful, and time-consuming. Public-interest reporting isn’t just another tab on the home page. It is a core value, the thing that builds trust, sets agendas, clarifies public understanding, challenges powerful institutions, and generates reform. It is, in the end, the point.”
I couldn’t agree more, and as I tried to comb through my memory for examples of investigative reporting during my time at MEPC, I realized how increasingly rare they are in state and local media.
There is, however, one example that shows the importance of this reporting in our communities. Annie Gilbertson, a young, talented reporter with Mississippi Public Broadcasting (who left the station after a year when temporary funding for her position ran out) did an investigative series on the process the Mississippi used to select sex education curricula for K-12 schools. The process was flawed and poorly executed and many members of the policy community new this to be true, but the closer look into the process needed wasn’t within their capacity. Annie had the time to dig deeper – meeting with officials and policy experts and persistently following up on open records requests.
Her diligence led to an amazing set of stories Mississippi Sex Education: An Investigative Series that exposed errors made by panel members in the selection process and exposed that schools were teaching sex education curricula that would not have been approved if the process were done correctly. Her work brought up serious issues of accountability, put pressure on key officials, and fueled a broader dialogue about sex education curricula in schools.
Reporting like this Annie’s is essential and, as Starkman says, a core value. Finding a way to support and preserve it as news outlets evolve always will be important for our communities.
Until Next Time,