Doing Meaningful Journalism in the Digital Age

This session was not only helpful, but inspiring, too. Geoff Dougherty, owner and operator of the Chicago Current, said the golden age of investigative reporting didn’t begin and end with Woodward and Bernstein.

“The conversation around investigative reporting has focused around why it’s hard to do, but there’s a case to be made that investigative reporting is more doable that it ever was before,” he said. “A journalist today would be in a better position to uncover Watergate than Woodward and Bernstein in the 1970s.”

He cited crowd-sourcing as the most underutilized tool in the belt of an investigative reporter. It starts with a simple question, he said.

“It’s important to start by asking the audience what they would like to see you investigate,” he said. “There are all sorts of ways to get that done. That helps build more of a public conversation.”

Once the public is involved, it will most likely be willing to help in the investigation, too, he said. He described a story broken by a small newspaper on Florida’s Gulf Coast. By soliciting the assistance of its readers, the paper was able to expose false claims submitted to the government’s disaster relief agency.

“If you’re the reporter, it’s so much better if you have a way to really kick off that conversation,” he said. “Be specific about the kind of information you are looking for. That’s one way to really start a dialogue.”

Ultimately, there is power in numbers, he said.

“When your audience has pointed you to some information or a chunk of online data, post that information and let the audience help you go through the information and find some interesting stuff,” he said.

He challenged students to set goals for themselves and for their organization.

“Try to complete one, two, three or four investigative pieces each quarter or each semester,” he said.”There’s really no one thing you can do that will deliver a more positive impact than investigative reporting.”

I think this is true, and I would love to concentrate our efforts on completing some comprehensive investigative reporting next semester. It’s certainly easier said than done, but Dougherty is right. We have the resources. We just need to find the will and the time.

— Katie Blunt

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