September 27, 2005 — Michael Isikoff, an investigative correspondent for Newsweek magazine, spoke at a brown-bag luncheon titled “Sourcing the News: Perils and Pitfalls.”
Isikoff has written extensively on the war on terrorism, the Abu Ghraib scandal, campaign-finance and congressional ethics abuses, presidential politics and other national issues. He is also the co-author of the weekly online Web column “Terror Watch,” which won the 2005 award from the Society of Professional Journalists for best investigative reporting online.
Isikoff’s talk focused on the controversial incarceration of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and its implications for the future of investigative journalism. While Isikoff said that confidential information was the heart of investigative reporting, he stressed that the primary duty of reporters is to their readers and not to their sources. Although many seek to draw parallels between the relationship of doctors to their patients and that of reporters to their sources, journalists work with confidential sources so as to inform their primary client: the general public.
Rather than shying away from off-the-record conversations, Isikoff proposed that journalists should instead practice a more aggressive form of investigative reporting: On the one hand, promises of confidentiality must be kept; nonetheless, these promises must not prevent reporters from having further conversations with those sources — on the record — in their effort to inform the public.