To be honest, I’ve never really given much thought to the differences between Journalism and Investigative Journalism. And probably for good reason too: I read news to digest topics that I would neither have time to investigate nor piece together myself.
However, if I pay attention to what comes to mind when someone speaks of investigative journalism, there is certainly an expectation that more research and detective work went into creating the piece. Similarly, I would not expect an op-ed or local paper to spend as much time on investigative activities as I would from a 60 Minutes exclusive.
“Investigative journalism should not be seen as the tip of the spear but the spear itself. All journalism should be investigative.”
— Chris Masters
Perhaps the separation of the two is a symptom of how investigative (real) journalism is seen by the greater media industry and its impact on shrinking budgets rather than a deliberate attempt by the journalist community to classify the two into separate vocations. You could say that splitting the two is a crude way of setting expectations as to the accuracy and depth of research.
But as the media industry scrambles to reinvent itself within this electronic era, it’s not at all surprising that a squeeze on budgets would discourage deep investigation on every story. And since the wage of most journalists is not dependent on whether they do a lot of research or no research at all, it really does nothing to incentivise diligence.
Ethics and professional conduct play a role in ensuring that a basic level of investigation still occurs – but this is largely left for the individual journalist to apply as they see fit.
In a world where news is created by a handful of corporates and is then repackaged, regurgitated and redistributed, a journalist working against a clock will, at times, be tempted to omit questioning the validity of sources as well as the facts provided. This food chain is largely to blame for degrading independent research, thought and general health of journalism.
“We cannot make good news out of bad practice.”
— Edward R. Murrow
There is no substitute for an industry-wide culture that enforces critical and diligent research. Similarly, there is no reason why traditional journalism can’t flourish in this electronic age – if only for the fact that there are too many op-ed bloggers trying to pass themselves off as newsworthy journalists.
This is an ideal opportunity to cut through the maddening chaos of information overload and start making credible sense of it all. I can think only of one group of people capable of achieving this, the ones who have been sharpening their teeth on this type of meat for centuries – journalists.