I know none of us needs reminding that the public isn’t exactly brimming with confidence in us, the media. But there is one area of positive sentiment that has changed little since the mid-1980s, and that’s in the public’s expectation of the media performing a watchdog role.
The stories I’m most proud of as a reporter and an editor are those that shed light on something I thought — as a citizen — the public would want to know about. Often, the reporting entailed a lot of looking at documents, numerous interviews (and re-interviews) and analysis. Sometimes, we didn’t know where we would end up.
This kind of reporting is pretty time-consuming and hard on the patience of everyone involved. It’s a gamble: What if, after all these long, hard hours, there really isn’t much of a story?
Happily, there are news organizations — some old, some new and unconventional — that are still putting in the time and getting results that prompt change.
Look no further than the L.A. Times’ Pulitzer-winning coverage of the city of Bell, Calif., “where corrupt bosses had turned the public treasury into something like their personal ATM.” (By the way, hit that link, read page one and then look carefully for the second-page hyperlink sandwiched between the ads and the sharing icons; the L.A. Times’ website it is a disgrace when it comes to usability.)
Or how about the Chicago Tribune‘s recent watchdog stories about the ease with which accused felons — including people charged with murder and sexual assaults — are able to escape criminal prosecution by slipping over the border into Mexico? This is good stuff.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as a future investigative reporter, you will learn from this guy.