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Tips on Investigative Journalism From the Most Honored US Journalists-- Barlett and Steele

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storycon.org H2'ed 10/28/12
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James Steele:   The way we did this project is a perfect example of how things are changing. Years ago it would be your newspaper and maybe a couple of other people on the paper, but Don and I partnered with a non-profit Foundation, based in an American university in Washington D.C. They provided some of the research help. And also as a vehicle to start posting some of the researchers, we went along, which then led us to some of the people whose interviews are in the book. That's the kind of collaborative thing that would have been unheard of, really ten years ago, twenty years ago. 

 

Rob Kall: Can you describe that in more detail. That's very interesting!

 

James Steele:   Well, what's happened with the shrinkage of a lot of newspapers and magazines, is that many non-profit entities have grown up around the country. An old friend of ours, by the name of Chuck [Charles] Lewis founded one twenty-seven [27] years ago, called the "Centre for Public Integrity' in Washington. Chuck later went on to take a sabbatical of his own, and end up teaching in an American university. And then there founded another entity there called the "Investigative Reporting Workshop'. And that's the one we partnered with on this project. But in addition to that, those there are four to five dozen of these non-profits around the country now. Some of them are on a State-wide basis" former reporters for newspapers who've gotten enough foundation money that they're providing this. "ProPublica' in New York is an example of a national one, that actually won a Pulitzer Prize this year with another entity which I can't remember. So, the idea, you know there's a lot going on, and a lot of it is just going to take a different shape than it did in the past. And nobody knows how this whole non-profit will eventually shape out. Which ones will survive, which ones won't. What kind of a business model is ever going to be there that will support them. The field remains in tremendous turmoil in that sense. But we feel, and as Don said, that there's a lot of great reporting going on, and the public wants this, the public needs it, and we're hopeful that this will continue in one form or another, just not the way we've seen it in the past.   

 

Rob Kall: Who do you see as doing some of that great investigative reporting now? What are the names, and organizations or publishers?  

 

Donald Barlett: I think Jim mentioned one of the more prominent ones is "ProPublica'. And he just retired, I think, but the man running it was" he had come over from the Wall Street Journal. So there are people in each of these organizations, with, you know, real journalism credentials.

 

James Steele:  [interjecting] I mean the biggest surprise of all in some ways is the New York Times. The New York Times a few years ago didn't even use the word investigation, but the New York Times today and for several years now, has done more investigative reporting than any time in their history. Walt Bogdanich is a friend of ours, he's done a lot of the great pharmaceutical reporting for the Times, on the bad drugs coming out of China. Walt did an outstanding piece on railroad crossings, and how railroads cover up the mistakes they'd made because they don't properly have the signals at these crossings and people die. I mean there's a dozen people at the Times, and there's some really good people at the Washington Post as well. So I mean there's a lot of good folks around. The reason really" I'll tell you where we see this as much as anything. One of us judges a journalism contest and the interests comes in, and it's amazing what's going on out there.

 

Rob Kall: What's the journalism contest?

 

James Steele:  I've judged one called "Investigative Reporters and Editors'. But then Don and I, Arizona State University, named an award for us for in-depth journalism called "The Barlett & Steele Award'. We don't judge it, but every year we see what the entries are. And every year there's four to five dozen entries of some really sophisticated, amazing reporting across a whole range of different topics from abuses by State agencies taking care of the elderly to" one of the pieces that won a few years ago was out of Florida, where the Miami Herald had taken databases for real estate.. licensed real estate" I'm sorry they were mortgage brokers in Florida, they took that database and then they took the State criminal database, and they ran the two together and they found out thousands of people selling mortgages, peddling mortgages in Florida were actually ex-cons. [laughing] Is that amazing?  Yeah, I mean that's the kind of story you would never have, you wouldn't have even heard about a few years ago, because of part of the technology makes it possible. Very ambitious! 

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