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JEFF JARVIS, author of Gutenberg the Geek (Amazon Publishing), Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live (Simon & Schuster, 2011) and What Would Google Do? (HarperCollins 2009),[…]

Toss the critics overboard and hire more investigative reporters, Jarvis says.

Question: Is there room for investigative journalism in the new media landscape?

Jeff Jarvis: I think if we actually budgeted how much resource in the newspaper industry goes to investigative journalism, and did 10 years ago, we’d find it’s not much and maybe it’s declining. I would argue that in fact newspapers should invest more in investigative journalism because it is uniquely valuable.

The problem with newspapers and TV stations is that they give too much resource and time to commodity news we already know, thanks to the internet. And so there’s no reason for newspapers across the country to all have their own movie critics or golf columnists or whatever. Get rid of them and get investigative journalists on and break stories--that’s the way we used to make this business work.

I think it’s also true that we can do investigative journalism in a collaboration with the public. The News Press in Florida got a Freedom of Information Act request for some botched hurricane federal relief, pre-Katrina, huge amounts of data; and they realized that their audience really knew what happened in their neighborhood. So they put up a search box and said put in your address, hit search and find out what the Feds said happened on your block, and then you tell us what you know.

In 48 hours there were 60,000 searches. They got tons of stories out of this. They also got a cadre of experts, it being Florida they all have white hair like me, but experts who were willing to constantly help the paper, an architect, an engineer, an accountant.

This idea of collaboration with the public, I think allows us to look at investigative journalism in new ways. Sometimes it’s about a reporter with contacts, shoe leather that lives forever. It’s also about seeing data as news and the fact that the public knows more than we do and if we can find ways to mobilize them and to draw what they know out of them that will yield more truth.

I think it’s also true that we have more of an ethic of transparency online and that we want to try to bring that ethic of transparency to government and business and journalism itself.


Recorded on: April 30, 2008