With the dawn of the internet, the death of privacy and the continuous noise of social media citizen reporters, journalists have been watching the world of the media deteriorate for some time now and the question remains about how this change has impacted investigative journalism. What does the future hold for the industry and better still how will this affect the way that public becomes informed of the real issues facing our society today?
Journalists are currently faced with the inability to protect their sources, with stiff penalties imposed on whistleblowers and the growing need to feed the 24-hour news cycle among a number of equally impactful issues.
Based on a public opinion survey in the UK last fall, the key findings determined were that the public believes that investigative journalism still has a positive impact on the population, that the quality of journalism is still very good but that journalists today are difficult to trust.
It has been discussed that governments should impose potential measures to regulate the press and this could be regarded as “medieval” and could pose a real threat to the freedom of the press. The UK has a draft plan that would enact fines on publishers, demand apologies and set up a complaints system. A system such as this might increase the risk that is already inherent in investigative journalism, to a dangerous level and in doing so, intimidate reporters from exposing volatile issues.
These kinds of regulations are, perhaps, borne of the numerous scandals that have been uncovered around government officials, all over the world, whether they are related to falsified expenses, the invasion of privacy, sexual misconduct and numerous other matters.
The decline in the size and operations of print newsrooms definitely has a great impact. With revenues being drastically reduced in the industry, newspapers are folding and at best, they are operating on skeletal staff, with little time nor money to invest into uncovering the facts. While online news is growing, it cannot generate the same income as the print medium and thus quality of reporting may be on the decline. New sustainable economic models are required to ensure the future on in-depth news coverage, investigations and exposes. Non-profit news networks are beginning to evolve in order to fill that gap in some situations but how will those survive? They will need to be funded from one source or another which leads back to the potential partisanship of reports coming from agencies that are corporately supported.
The most important factor is that the public has the right to know about the issues where investigative journalism is the primary truth-teller – corruption, misuse of power, fraud and other issues surrounding governments, public institutions and profitable organizations. Without the watchdogs of free speaking reporters, the shift in power may be such that even those that are driven by the greatest principles may become suspect in knowing that there is very little chance of exposure. This, in turn, would create an extreme level of mistrust for any position of power and may even go so far as to threaten the safety of democracy itself.