How To Save Investigative Reporting?

Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk

Efforts to save print newspapers are missing the point. The real question is how to save investigative reporting

(By Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres | The Guardian)

The traditional newspaper is dying. The Evening Standard has been sold off for a pound to a former KGB agent, the Los Angeles Times is bankrupt and even the New York Times is in trouble. Mexican plutocrat Carlos Slim may become its largest shareholder in return for financing the paper's billion-dollar debt. Except for the financial press, newspapers have failed to convince readers to pay for online access – and there is no reason to think that readers will suddenly succumb to the charms of PayPal.

The newspaper bust has been good for one business. Policy wonks have been charging into the breach with a host of different solutions to the escalating crisis. Aside from the usual appeals for tax breaks and bail-outs, the more innovative proposals come in two types. On the private side, there have been calls for charities to endow newspapers or to subsidise political reporting. On the public side, the success of the BBC and American Public Broadcasting provides a paradigm that might be extended to the print media.

There is a third way out. We urge democracies throughout the world to consider the creation of national endowments for journalism that are carefully designed to confront the impending collapse of investigative reporting.

The real concern is not the newspaper, but news coverage. It's not clear that print news is a viable technology. Classified ads are more efficiently delivered by websites. Nobody under 50 waits to read all about stock prices or sports scores in the morning edition. The government should sit back and let the market decide the right way to distribute the news.

But there are huge costs to losing a vibrant core of investigative reporters covering local, national and international stories. The internet is well suited to detect scandals that require lots of bloggers to spend a little bit of time searching for bits of incriminating evidence. But it's no substitute for serious investigative reporting that requires weeks of intelligent inquiry to get to the heart of the problem. Without Woodwards and Bernsteins, there will be even more Nixons and Madoffs raining mayhem and destruction.

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