Investigative journalism is great but rare

Via a terrific Felix Salmon post on media as technology “stack” I stumbled on this post of his from 2010 which contained a paragraph I just couldn’t help but post:

Dean has a very old-fashioned view of what journalism is and should be: “the corest of core” values, he says, at any news organization, are investigations. Now I have nothing against good investigative journalism, but it’s hardly a defining feature of most journalism, and in fact Dean’s attitude is extremely elitist, germane only for a handful of big daily newspapers. Most copy in all newspapers, and all copy in most newspapers, is simple stuff, and always has been. People read it because it’s relevant to them, because they can talk about it, and because they might as well read the stories after they’ve bought the paper for the supermarket coupons.

That’s exactly right. As I wrote in a post a couple years back about core civically minded journalism:

1) When I talk about how we will finance news/journalism I’m interested in only a very small subset of all journalism which I’d refer to as that which provides core civic knowledge.  In other words, the information that we feel is vital to a functioning democracy.*  By this measure, most of what we see in the newspapers is not an issue.  Go through a newspaper sometime and look.  We’re not talking about how to fund the sports section, the travel section, the style section, that article on some writer’s quest for the perfect espresso.  That is beyond the scope of what we, as a society, need to ensure exists going forward.

You can say that journalism is all this stuff, or that journalism is the core civic stuff and media is the umbrella, or you can pick any other set of terms. But this is a crucial point that’s worth remembering. Salmon uses it to make the point that the blogosphere has added tons of value (I agree) and that comparing them to investigative reporters ignores most of what traditional journalism has done.

Once you grasp that the kind of amazing investigate work that we put on a pedestal is done by a small number of outlets, and even there comprises a small percentage of their product, it becomes easier to discuss how we can preserve and even expand that work, as well as to talk about what the rest of the media ecosystem should be up to.

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