Putting the Investigative Back into Journalism -- Online

Without corrective action, we are in danger of the public losing faith in the fourth estate. Even reporters have a gloomy take on their profession.
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Without corrective action, we are in danger of the public losing faith in the fourth estate. Even reporters have a gloomy take on their profession. In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, a mere 15 percent of national print reporters cited journalism's traditional watchdog role as something the profession did well. Moreover, the same survey showed that nearly half of journalists believed the press is too timid. This is just one example illustrating the need for media to take creative new steps to once again earn people's trust.

As professionals, we need to support good journalistic ideas, encourage broader public participation in the reporting process, and explore different newsgathering business models. At Reuters, the global information company, where I head the Media division, we've identified an initiative headed by New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen that we believe does just that, which is why we are providing a $100,000 grant to the school's NewAssignment.Net program.

Jay's novel program will seek to spark innovative investigative journalism by inviting the public to have a more active role in reporting. Our hope is that NewAssignment.Net will engage the public*and journalists*to pursue hard-hitting, investigative pieces that otherwise might not see the light of day. Through the NewAssignment.Net website, the public will be invited to suggest and assign stories, donate money to support reporting and help in gathering facts.

Professionals and amateurs will cooperate to produce work that neither could manage alone, using "open source" methods to develop assignments and help bring them to completion. The idea is that people will contribute to stories that they believe will make a difference.

While the Internet is rapidly transforming the world of traditional media, it also presents amazing new possibilities in terms of strengthening the investigative arm of journalism. The Internet is the perfect vehicle for galvanizing the public to become more involved in reporting.

Earlier this year, Reuters made a contribution to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School in support of Global Voices Online * the largest and most successful international bridge for bloggers. Global Voices Online is a select guide to conversations, information and ideas appearing on various forms of participatory citizen media such as blogs, podcasts, photo-sharing sites and videoblogs.

While encouraging good journalistic ideas is a worthy goal in itself, Reuters believes that supporting new and varied networks of creators with different perspectives is good for both journalism and business.

Ultimately, journalism is about the story and the pursuit of truth; it is not about the news industry, a j-school or a traditional newsroom structure. By building bridges and finding new ways to augment and accelerate the creation of quality journalism, we believe that ultimately the public will benefit and perhaps change their minds about the noble profession of journalism.

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