Journalists need to reinvent themselves and define their role in the world. Here are nine points on the investigative journalism of the future.

DEBATE: Morten Møller Warmedal and Guri Hjeltnes on the media

The current digital revolution calls for journalists to reinvent themselves and define their role in the new system.

Investigative journalism has in the past been a significant and very necessary corrective to the private and public execution of power.

Fertile soil for diggers

Investigative journalism has thrived in Norway. For over two decades, the Norwegian foundation for investigative journalism (Stiftelsen for en kritisk og undersøkende presse, SKUP) has brought Norwegian journalists and editors together for sharing of experiences and intense debates. The future conditions for quality journalism, however, look highly uncertainowHow.

As the editors of a new textbook on investigative journalism that is just being launched, and that contains contributions from 16 leading participants in the field, we venture to summarise nine claims about the future of this discipline:

  • 1. The financial crisis:

The digital revolution’s stranglehold on the established media’s business models (cf. Schibsted’s most recent cost-cutting plans) has, together with the global financial crisis, led to less investment in investigative journalism. Who will pay for journalism that digs deeper in the years to come? That has not been decided yet.

Until we have sustainable models for how to pay for weighty journalistic content on the Internet, there is not enough philanthropic and idealistic capital available to make up for the downturn. Just in Norway, more than 3,000 media positions have been lost in the last few years, and still more will have to go. Quality journalism is under a great deal of pressure.

  • 2. The emergence of social media:

Social media pose a challenge to journalism in several areas, but are not (yet) anywhere near being able to replace thorough, investigative journalism.

Blogs and statements on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube help create fast and democratic dissemination of information and compete for our attention in the flow of news, but they have not yet become publishing channels for journalistic content produced by the writer himself.

  • 3. The public gets involved:

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Internet and the emergence of social media have brought a critical public into the journalistic production process.

Readers and viewers correct, supplement and co-produce investigative content through new collaboration constellations such as so-called «crowdsourcing».

We will see more projects along the same lines as VG Nett’s invitation to readers to help the online newspaper check up on government subsidy schemes (in the wake of Dagbladet’s revelations, which led to Audun Lysbakken’s demise as a government minister).

  • 4. An understanding of digital sources is crucial:

Tomorrow’s investigative journalists must be expert navigators in the digital universe.

They will need to master a wide range of sophisticated techniques for how to source, systematise and analyse information, some of which is openly available and some of which is concealed, and be able to publish seamlessly on all platforms.

In this area, a generation shift is now taking place in Norwegian media.

  • 5. Cooperation is necessary:

The myth of the lonely investigative journalist who takes on abuses of power and corruption all on his own, will not last much longer. Now is the time for cooperation with colleagues.

Greater complexity in the work tasks and consequent specialisation among journalists, and the needs for greater transparency in work processes and for nuances that can lead to counter-arguments, contribute to this.

Eight out of ten SKUP awards in the last decade have been won by teams that work together.

  • 6. Ethics even more important:

In a world where everyone is publishing, it becomes even more important to highlight the benefits and special nature of investigative journalism. Both the public and the media themselves will demand zero tolerance for ethical violations.

Investigative journalism cannot live with a crisis of confidence where rulings in the Norwegian Press Complaints Commission (Pressens faglige utvalg - PFU) and major debates on methods, campaign journalism and media pressure overshadow the important revelations.

  • 7. Increasing resistance:

Investigative journalism is subject to increasing pressure from players wanting to control the journalistic content. This resistance comes from politicians, spin doctors, communication advisers, lawyers, lobbyists, etc.

There is an ever-increasing number of ways to manipulate the media. Our defence is found in greater awareness, better education and in large and independent editorial offices that have the integrity and strength to resist this pressure.

  • 8. Need to explain better:

Investigative journalism must become better at analysing, explaining and uncovering complex social issues that are relevant to people’s day-to-day lives. The work must also include investigations that represent good news.

Undisputed revelations must be meaningful contributions to an improved understanding of society, and must not be perceived as part and parcel of the entertainment industry, where short-term profit is the only thing that counts.

  • 9. Storytelling:

In their battle for attention, investigative journalists need not only to be thorough and meticulous, they must also be excellent storytellers – in linear as well as non-linear communication.

The Wikileaks phenomenon demonstrated that it was leading medias’ journalistic reworking and subsequent publication that made the leaks from Wikileaks available to the public as stories people could relate to. That brought the breakthrough.

Is there hope for investigative journalism? Of course there is. But then journalists, middle managers, editors and not least media owners will have to take their responsibilities seriously.

Reference:

This article was published as a feature article / main debate contribution in the newspaper Dagens Næringsliv on 3 September 2012 entitled "Graving i fremtiden" (Digging in the future).

The article is based on a book edited by Guri Hjeltnes and Morten Møller Warmedal  (2012): Gravende journalistikk. Metode, prosess og etikk. (Investigative journalism. Method, process and ethics. Gyldendal.

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