June 14, 2011

Eric Newton: If Investigative Journalists Don’t Explain the Value of their Work, Who Will?

From June 9-12, investigative reporters gathered in Orlando, Florida for the 2011 Annual Conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). The IRE conference hosts a myriad of investigative journalists each year to honor best practices in the field and provide training, panels, and networking opportunities for both established and start-up journalism organizations and individuals.

On Saturday June 11, the following speech was delivered by Eric Newton, senior advisor to the president of The Knight Foundation, in it Newton discusses the need for journalists to actively chronicle the impact of investigative journalism:

Eric Newton
"So here we are in a large room with some of the world’s best investigative journalists. Talk about a tough crowd. Makes me want to start out not by saying anything, but by collecting some information.How many of you, by a show of hands, believe investigative reporting is worth much more to society than it costs?Nearly everyone. That was too easy.Next question. How many of you believe that the average American – the cashier at the grocery store -- understands the true value of investigative reporting?

Only one hand is up. Yes, our nation has news literacy issues.

One more question: How many of you believe it is your responsibility to explain the value of investigative reporting to society?

Some of you are saying yes, but a minority. Mostly the educators and nonprofit folks.

That’s what I want to talk about. I appreciate the fact that for at least 100 years investigative reporters – including me, when I did it – considered themselves too busy to worry about whether the world understands how journalism works.

But we are in a digital age of communication, and in this networked, two-way world people now are part of our process. We have to recognize that.

If investigative journalists don’t explain the impact of their work, who will?

Two years ago, just after the media money meltdown of 08-09, when everyone said we were doomed, I came to your lunch in Baltimore to say Knight Foundation had approved an investigative reporting initiative that would total $15 million.

Well, that was wrong. If you add it all up, including endowments, what we’re doing with investigative journalism is closer to $20 million..."

To read the complete transcript of the speech, click here