In­vest in Jour­nal­ism

The Insider - - CONTENT -


To­day’s me­dia is of­ten re­ferred to as The Fifth Es­tate or The Fourth Power when talk­ing about print – pretty lofty la­bels when you see the pro­lif­er­a­tion of lis­ti­cles and cat memes in­fil­trat­ing news web­sites and so­cial me­dia to­day.

It is also dubbed the fourth branch of the govern­ment by some be­cause it is seen to be as pow­er­ful as any other branch within the govern­ment – not nec­es­sar­ily from a bu­reau­cracy per­spec­tive, but from the viewpoint of im­por­tance and bal­ance of power.

In a demo­cratic so­ci­ety, each branch within the govern­ment plays a very key role in the op­er­a­tion of a state. By plac­ing me­dia on that same level, me­dia is cred­ited with per­form­ing a crit­i­cal func­tion in the run­ning of a so­ci­ety.

Ital­ian Re­nais­sance his­to­rian, politi­cian and au­thor of The

Prince, Nic­colò Machi­avelli, once said that “It is bet­ter to be feared than loved, if you can­not be both.” But he also stated that one should avoid be­ing hated. In­ter­est­ingly, me­dia is one of the few in­sti­tu­tions that in­vokes all three from those who con­nect with it.

News con­sumers love the me­dia for the most part, cor­rupt in­di­vid­u­als, groups and busi­nesses fear be­ing tar­geted and ex­posed by it; gov­ern­ments of­ten loathe it. They may pre­tend to sup­port me­dia and agree in gen­eral that with­out it there is no state. But in non-demo­cratic

regimes, govern­ment lead­ers lean to­wards ei­ther si­lenc­ing me­dia or ma­neu­ver­ing it into be­com­ing their own pro­pa­ganda ma­chine.

The real power of me­dia, how­ever, comes in re­flect­ing the so­ci­ety in which it op­er­ates, and in be­ing an un­bi­ased voice for it. In­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism, con­sid­ered the most fun­da­men­tal part of me­dia’s con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety, op­er­ates on sev­eral lev­els.

It can be at the level of a lo­cal com­mu­nity through watch­dogs, at the state- or na­tional-level where po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, mis­man­age­ment and abuse of power is un­earthed; or it can be bor­der­less, cross­ing na­tional bound­aries and the pub­lish­ing houses that serve in those coun­tries.

We saw this in the Panama Pa­pers – an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­am­ple of col­lab­o­ra­tive jour­nal­ism at its finest, where hun­dreds of me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters from around the world clan­des­tinely joined forces for a year to ex­pose the off­shore hold­ings of the world’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, and hid­den fi­nan­cial deal­ings of bil­lion­aires, celebri­ties, drug traf­fick­ers, fraud­sters and more. If ever there was an ar­gu­ment in fa­vor of more in­vest­ment in in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing, it is this.

And yet, we con­tin­u­ally hear that ed­i­to­rial is be­ing sac­ri­ficed to fund the mas­sive over­heads in­her­ent with print or, even worse, to pad the pock­ets of com­mer­cial own­ers.

As a staunch pro­po­nent of pub­lish­ers in­vest­ing in their core com­pe­tency of qual­ity con­tent cre­ation, I’m heart­ened by what the Panama Pa­pers have demon­strated to us, but will it have any ef­fect on the news­room bleed­ing that we con­tinue to see? Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of News Edi­tors (ASNE), news­rooms have been cut by 40% since 2003. Lo­cal and state re­port­ing out­put has de­creased by

80% since 2000. Can it get any worse?

More and more lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and even states are re­ly­ing on non-prof­its to in­crease ac­count­abil­ity, fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity and trans­parency in govern­ment. But is it enough? I think not. It seems to me that only the largescale um­brella pub­lish­ers with deep pock­ets will be in a po­si­tion to ad­e­quately fund what is a cru­cial facet in the on-go­ing safety and se­cu­rity of our so­ci­eties.

We call to­day’s me­dia The Fifth Es­tate be­cause we be­lieve me­dia in all its forms has an obli­ga­tion to serve hu­man­ity. The aban­don­ment of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism by main­stream me­dia in its tran­si­tion to dig­i­tal is not only a dis­grace, it is a fun­da­men­tal breach of trust be­tween me­dia and its au­di­ence. It’s no won­der trust in me­dia has been trend­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion over the past decade.

The ap­petite for in­ves­ti­gate jour­nal­ism has never been stronger. It’s time for me­dia to rec­og­nize the power they have to in­flu­ence and change things for the bet­ter. Make sav­ing democ­racy and your­self a pri­or­ity; go pick up a shovel and start dig­ging. Be­cause if in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism con­tin­ues to be sac­ri­ficed for all the wrong rea­sons, some­day there won’t be any rea­son for me­dia to ex­ist at all.

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