Over the past few decades we’ve seen a number of changes across the media landscape. Once upon a time, people got their news from the daily newspaper. If they lived in a big city, there might be two of them, say, a morning and an evening paper. It was usually delivered by one of the neighbor children on his or her paper route or purchased from a street corner vendor.
During the early 20th century, radio came along, and it brought with it daily and nightly news broadcasts. In the 1950s, television became a major vehicle for news delivery. For years, all three of these media outlets were thriving.
Then, in the 1990s, the Internet made its presence known, and not many years later, began to replace other forms of media as people began looking to their computers, phones and other devices to learn what was happening in their communities and the world.
Today, the world of journalism is forever changed. According to Journalism in the Digital Age, a project at Stanford University, the two largest changes in modern journalism are “the rise of the blogger and user-based journalism” and “content aggregators like Google news or The Huffington Post that no longer rely on individual journalists to provide news, but instead depend on their ability to gather and collect information into a single location where users can access it.”
To fully appreciate the work of the investigative journalist, you need to look back a few decades when all business was conducted through phone calls and meetings. Consider the late Eric Malling, a Canadian journalist who was known and regarded for his deeply researched and hard-hitting investigative reports.
Eric Malling’s early years were spent as a print reporter at the Regina Leader-Post and The Toronto Star, while also covering Ottawa for The Washington Post. Then in 1976, he was named co-host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)’s flagship newsmagazine The Fifth Estate, a position he would hold until 1990. While there he filed numerous reports and produced countless segments. One documentary he produced detailed how government-owned Canadair lost $2 billion and paved the way for the establishment of two Parliamentary committees.
You have to wonder how reporters like Malling would have worked in today’s digital environment with all the resources now available.
One thing is certain: those who are practicing the craft today continue to dig deep. Investigative journalism continues to thrive. You might even think that digital media and access to more information than ever before would render investigative reporters irrelevant.
“But,” writes Roy Greenslade of The Guardian, “digital tools have turned out to be a wonderful addition to the reporting armoury, and it is possible to argue that investigative journalism today is in a healthier state than ever before. Computer terminals have proven more effective in discovering secrets than shoe leather.”
In today’s world, sources leak their material to journalists online rather than through in-person meetings. “Then it is for reporters,” writes Greenslade, “as has always been the case, to decide on its relevancy, to check what can be checked, to select, to analyse and to add value.”
After all, online news portals, which include those operated by all the major media outlets as well as the ones managed by countless smaller organizations, are still in business to gather the facts, get the interviews, confirm the information, then report it.