Thursday, April 03, 2008

The need for an investigative and critical press in these crucial times

Sometime last month, ANC's Media in Focus invited me and PJR Reports editor Luis V. Teodoro to discuss the main story in the January 2008 issue of the magazine. The story: Despite relentless daily coverage of issues, there was a lean harvest of the kind of investigative reports last year--the kind of investigative reporting that was so crucial in shaping public opinion and even moving citizens to action during Edsa 2 and the “Hello, Garci” scandal.

Here's an excerpt from the said story:

Despite another year of scandals
A Lean Harvest of Investigative Reports
PJR Reports
January 2008 issue
by Hector Bryant L. Macale, Don Gil K. Carreon, Junnette B. Galagala, Melanie Y. Pinlac and Kathryn Roja G. Raymundo

(A) more careful look at the coverage of last year’s political issues and controversies reveals a lean harvest of the kind of investigative reports that were so crucial in shaping public opinion and even moving citizens to action during the Estrada impeachment crisis and the “Hello, Garci” scandal of 2005 and 2006.

For the most part, the press limited itself to updates from the key actors involved in the controversies. Reporting was largely dependent, for example, on developments in Senate or House of Representatives hearings, as well as public officials’ admitting knowledge of, or committing, certain acts of corruption and other wrongdoing.

Without the pro-active commitment to look into the controversies, this dependence proved pivotal in diverting public attention, away from some of the most crucial issues of governance that have arisen since the Marcos period. No matter how serious, issues of public concern eventually disappeared without closure from the news pages and the airwaves whenever the Senate postponed or ended its investigation, or if another controversy erupted.

Read here for more.

It seems that the decline in investigative journalism is not just happening in the Philippines, but also in other countries such as the United States--although the Philippine press should not make this an excuse for the local decline. In a three-part series, the SF Weekly, a California-based news weekly, discusses the fall of investigative journalism in the United States, the reasons behind the decline, and its repercussions to the profession and society itself.

Investigating the Future of Investigative Journalism
Part I: ‘It’s a Very Scary Time’

Jan. 14, 2008
By Joe Eskenazi

In order to investigate the present and future of investigative journalism, you needn’t sift through buckets of shredded documents. You don’t have to fill out a Freedom of Information Act request or pore through court records. And you certainly shouldn’t waste your time meeting with shadowy sources in poorly lit parking garages.

Just talk to an investigative reporter. They’ll readily ‘fess up – things are bad.

“I think the state of the business is actually worse than most people are willing to admit or can really grasp,” says A.C. Thompson, former investigative ace for both SF Weekly and the Guardian.

“There is the possibility … what we do becomes not irrelevant but nonexistent. There’s always a relevance for someone doing this kind of work and exposing crooked politicians and cult leaders and nefarious, predatory corporations – but it just ceases to exist because we haven’t found a [business] model for it.”

Read here for more.

Investigating the Future of Investigative Journalism
Part II – Journalists and Bloggers: ‘Let’s Not Throw Grenades at Each Other’

Jan. 15, 2008
By Joe Eskenazi

Cats and dogs. Charlie Brown and the kite-eating tree. Rain and the Wicked Witch of the West. Bloggers and journalists.

The disdain between professional journalists and “citizen journalists” is well-documented. They think we’re a jaded bunch of ineffectual dinosaurs unable to cope with the wave of the future. And we think they’re a derivative bunch of hacks dressing up snarkily written links to our work as actual reportage (we may or may not make reference to propeller caps and living in mom’s basement).

But the truth, says Paul Grabowicz, is that they need us. And, let’s admit it, we need them.

Read here for more.

Investigating the Future of Investigative Journalism
Part III: Who’s Going to Pay For All This?

Jan. 16, 2008
By Joe Eskenazi

When Robert Rosenthal took over the Philadelphia Inquirer 10 years ago, the paper’s profit margin was a hefty 20 percent.

And still, “the pressure on the newsroom over the next four years to increase the margin was astonishing. [Newspaper chain] Knight-Ridder made a shitload of money, and now they’re out of business.”

The Hearst Corporation, which owns the San Francisco Chronicle, has been losing a shitload of money. And, after they last year dismissed a quarter of their newsroom employees, “Rosey” resigned as managing editor to take over Berkeley’s Center for Investigative Reporting.

He maintains there is a future for investigative journalism in print media – so long as newspaper owners are OK with not making shitloads of money.

Read here for more.

It seems that this year proves to be another year full of scandals and controversies--and another opportunity for the Philippine press to prove its mettle.

Explaining the repercussions of the crucial role of an investigative and critical press amid the barrage of scandals, the PJR Reports said: "The dearth of investigative reporting and pro-active coverage that can help provide the public with complete, relevant, and comprehensive understanding of the issues weakened the coverage of political and governance issues in 2007 by letting them die the natural death that follows any media failure to keep their focus on them."

"The immediate consequence is to get erring officials off the hook, but the long term damage consists of the political class’ growing brazenness as a result of the impunity with which it has been clothed," PJR Reports wrote. "The country has hopped from one controversy to another, but what is astounding is that not only have these controversies multiplied; the actors involved have basically remained the same incorrigible lot."

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