By Sandy Rowe
Shorenstein Center Knight Fellow,
Fall 2010 & Spring 2011
Former editor, The Oregonian, Portland
Anyone who thinks there’s an easy rescue in sight for rebuilding local investigative reporting capacity is wrong. Newspapers, traditionally the source of most investigative coverage in communities, will not be able to restaff newsrooms robustly and, more likely, will face additional cuts; no new business model is within reach; many of the new online local sites are not sustainable in their current form and no evidence suggests government will step in to help fund journalism in the public interest. Given those circumstances, what can change this picture?
Growing evidence suggests that collaborations and partnerships between new and established news organizations, universities and foundations may be the overlooked key for investigative journalism to thrive at the local and state levels. These partnerships, variously and often loosely organized, can share responsibility for content creation, generate wider distribution of stories and spread the substantial cost of accountability journalism.
Today’s editors — digital, print and broadcast — are transitional leaders charged with bridging the gap between 20th-century media and today’s communications revolution. As such they must determine how their scarce resources can foster distinctive original investigative reporting and whether new tools and new approaches can tap into what New York University journalism professor Clay Shirky has identified as a vast “cognitive surplus” in communities. Can they partner with each other, with universities and with interested citizens and use their institutional capabilities and reputation to actually expand the capacity of accountability reporting in their communities? It is not a challenge for the faint of heart.