If you’re a journalist and still brave enough to announce that fact on social occasions, you can be more or less assured what the next question will be. “Don’t you worry,” someone will always begin with a sheen of sympathy, “that journalism is dying?”
There are a range of responses from which to choose: pull out some far more dire stats about the future of the car industry, offer a lukewarm endorsement of the Huffington Post-model, or remain in denial and pretend to be distracted by an incoming plate of hors d’oeuvres. But if journalists are smart – and as glamour and riches fade away, intelligence may be one of our only remaining virtues – we will stop bristling about defending our professional worth and personal sanity to perfect strangers, and instead feel honoured that people still care enough to ask the big question: “Is the mainstream media dying?”
Which is why it’s great that the relatively new Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting is getting together a discussion panel to ask that question, as well as the follow-up: “Can investigative reporting save it?” And then, perhaps the biggest question of all: “Should it?”
Bilbo Poynter, the executive director of the centre, admits these questions are more about creating provocation than seeking resolution. And there is no doubt that the CCIR has assembled a distinguished panel of journalists — including the evening’s moderator Gillian Findlay of the premier investigative program The Fifth Estate, John Cruikshank of the Toronto Star, and several other important voices in Canadian journalism.
Still, on first glance, the idea that investigative journalism will save the mainstream media looks like a tough case to make indeed. As investigative reporting budgets are among the first things to go at most newspapers and magazines, muckracking looks more like a gangrenous limb on the sick old man that is mainstream journalism. Investigative journalism is great, most editors agree, but it is also slow, expensive and not always guaranteed to produce racy — or any – results. Hardly a winning combination in the fast-moving, commentary-heavy blogosphere.
Yet when journalist stop quipping long enough to let those awkward cocktail party conversations continue, it becomes clear that what people fear most about losing with the death of journalism looks very much like the work of investigative reporters: protecting the underdog, uncovering corporate malfeasance, and holding democracy to account. Will investigative reporting save journalism? I’ll let the panel convince you of that or not. But the really compelling question is a variation on the CCIR’s third question: Without investigative reporting, does journalism deserve to survive? It is a question without an easy answer. And as any investigative journalist will tell you, those are the best kind.
The panel takes place Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the NFB Mediatheque. 150 John St, at Richmond, in Toronto. Admission is a donation.
For more information call 905-525-4555 or e-mail [email protected]