The paradox of investigative journalism

by Jason Preston on March 27, 2009

It seems to be accepted as general knowledge that investigative journalism is expensive to produce and not widely read or easy to sell.

But for investigative journalism to be an effective check on power, it must be widely read.

This worked in the packaged media model to an extent because powerful people worried that a large number of people might accidentally read an investigative story and care.

But mostly the kind of investigative journalism that has worked is sensational investigative journalism. “Watergate” is a word that needs to explanation, but does anyone remember the big New York Times story about the Pentagon manipulating TV military analysts?

Which means that investigative journalism is only an effective check on power when it is sensational, and when it is sensational, it is profitable.

So one might argue that the only kind of investigative journalism that will disappear online is the ineffective kind. So who cares.

Discuss 😉