Investigative journalism is a high profile topic in recent times, with examples such as ‘Hackgate’ and ‘Arab Spring’ gaining attention from the whole world. The discussion of investigative journalism dying out or continuing on is a topic of discussion for many of the nations leading journalists and lecturers – each taking a viewpoint based on their research and their experiences. The examples of investigative journalism in the UK this year, such as FIFA, the police force and wikileaks, all raise valid points towards it continuing strongly, but there is a possibility that the investigative journalism could die out with the generation that is fighting for it.
Student journalists, the youngest group of journalists that will continue the profession on, simply aren’t exposed to enough practical work that requires investigative journalism. Whether due to impracticality, cost or lack of time within a three year course, the theory of what happens appears to be all that is touched upon. The fact is, some examples of investigations take months if not years – to complete, and others involve high levels of danger or discomfort for the journalists involved. As such, incorporating this in to a three year degree is simply impossible, not to mention highly unlikely to be approved by any university board. Journalists reporting the war-ridden Arab Spring, Jon Snow travelling across Japan during a period of potential nuclear meltdown, and smaller cases such as Trish Adudu waiting outside houses for three months to get an approval for a report all show how impossible it would be for any realistic practical work to be implemented in to the course.
This is not to say that practical work is not available on journalism degrees. Television and radio broadcast are available, alongside more traditional newspaper writing, but these focus on the gaining of a straight forward article such as a new building in the town or an upcoming festival. The student finds a story, researches the statistics, and finds a couple of people to get quotes from. More complicated projects involve gaining multiple stories and creating a package, but this only touches upon real investigative journalism – the rest is left for the lectures and books as theory work.
A conclusion has not been made evident for either side of the argument as to whether investigative journalism truly is dead or alive, but this year has given enough examples to show its continuation. There are far less examples, however, of fresh blood coming in to the investigative world and the current ‘hacks’ are reputable journalists who already have the financial backing and time given to them. Time and money is not something that students or recently graduation journalists tend to have, and their easier and more profitable route into the career is the traditional journalist – gaining stories and quotes and sending them in to their news outlet employer. Furthermore, cuts in editorial budgets within almost all national newspapers and television networks means that the approval of any investigative piece of journalism is less likely than before, and it would be even more unlikely that any company would risk their money on a lesser experienced and younger journalist.
Herein lies the problem. As investigative journalism experience is lacking within education and university degrees and companies are unlikely to invest in inexperienced new journalists to do any work for them, any investigations are likely to be undertaken by seasoned journalists who have valuable experience in the field. Once those journalists have retired however, it will leave a large gap that very few people will have gained the experience to fill. As editorial spending is cut, so are the chances for new journalists to get a foothold on the ladder. While investigative journalism in Britain is far from dead, the lack of money and time in the profession is leaving its existence questionable for the next generation.