Muckraking, the Internet and Wasted Potential

It’s a shame that news organizations are using the Internet mostly as a hurry-up medium, leaning on already-overworked reporters to feed morsels of information to their websites while struggling to complete daily news assignments.

Instead, news organizations should be telling more complex and longer stories and presenting the results of more investigations online – a setting where content can take many forms and is not limited by page length.

The case for better use of the Internet – and more realistic job duties for reporters currently enslaved to it – is articulated by Brant Houston, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. and professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. In an online exchange, Houston writes:

“The Web has increased expectations that managers [aka editors] have of journalists so that now managers hope that any journalist can report 24/7, shoot video, and possibly do an audio-cast. We hope that in the coming months a more reasonable set of duties will emerge so that quality is not diminished.”

Houston goes on to tout the Internet’s potential on a large scale, saying it “already has had a profound effect on the quality of news gathering and the presentation of investigative work,” citing two websites that make investigative journalism their sole mission: the Center for Public Integrity and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

“So long as journalists continue to use proven methods of establishing accuracy and credibility,” Houston concludes, “the Web will allow them to get more context and depth for all their stories.”

So how about it? Let’s have more juicy local investigations intended for presentation on the Web. This might be one way to establish a strong Internet presence, get the space needed to present investigative findings, and please corporate bottom-liners who want newspapers to focus on local news. Now if the bottom-liners would just pay for a few extra hands on deck so that beat reporters could get the time to make it happen…