Discussing the basics of investigative journalism

On Saturday I was participating in the annual CIME forum on media ethics for journalists. The Forum was organised at the Central European University with the support of the Center for Media and Communication Studies.

The second panel of the Forum was of my primary interest. Presenters were talking about investigative journalism, its ethics and standards. The work of investigative journalist requires the highest level of credibility from the society however this credibility is not that easy to earn. Credibility issue is directly connected to the issue of trust. First of all it touches upon the matter of unnamed sources. How the journalist can make his articles reliable by using these sources? How can one become an investigative journalist and make his name credible? The level of trust also depends on the motivation behind the journalistic investigation. Journalists may also get biased information from “anonymous” source pursuing his own interest.

Panelists were mainly talking about so called conventional media – radio, television and newspapers. I assume that this topic should be expanded to the field of the new media and amateur journalists [bloggers] as well. Nowadays we are witnessing the revival of the journalism in the online mode with Internet penetration growing all over the world.

One of the panelist highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of the investigative blogging. Among the strong points are:
– committed;
– pure;
– inspired;
the weaknesses are:
– lack of the institutional guarantee of methods;
– no peer-reviewing.

More and more young enthusiastic people start doing investigative journalism not even having basic knowledge about all these ethical principles of the profession. It is incredibly hard for young people to get in the world of professional journalism especially without the sufficient education. However it does not mean that the job they are doing online is useless or not professional after all.

The current situation just highlights the crisis of traditional forms of media and the fact that investigative journalism is disappearing there and moving online. However it does not mean that the audience does not have a demand for investigative journalism, to the contrary it is highly appreciated online. Whereas the conventional media have all these financial cutbacks and investigative journalism is the first to suffer.

Investigative bloggers have their own interest in the story therefore they invest their own money and time into it. Many of them already have a credible name in the blogosphere; so they use this credibility to enhance the impact. In this case I would like to bring the example of famous Russian investigative blogger Alexey Navalny. He is a minor stockholder of several big state corporations and a prominent lawyer. But he became popular and supported by the audience after posting his corruption-related investigations online in his LiveJournal blog. His job reached the government and provoked their reaction to that.

So I hope for better and believe in the power of cyber activism changing the world for good. I also assume that if the traditional media wants to survive they have to give a chance for the young people to start their career and teach them the basics. Otherwise bloggers and media people are speaking different languages.