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It’s journalism, just not as we know it

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 30th March 2009

One of the key arguments in the whole blogger v journalist debate is the role of investigative journalism.  The key viewpoint is that whilst ‘anyone’ can report news or give their personal opinions (read: bloggers), upholding traditional media is vital because of the investigative story gathering that goes on. We need journalists to ask the questions on behalf of the public. To expose corruption and root out deception.

So it was interesting today to read that America’s best-known political (professional) blog, The Huffington Post, is to launch “The Huffington Post Investigative Fund”:

“The Huffington Post Investigative Fund, headquartered in Washington, DC, will produce a broad range of investigative journalism created by both staff reporters and freelance writers, with a focus on working with the many experienced reporters and writers impacted by the economic contraction. The pieces will range from long-form investigations to short breaking news stories and will be presented in a variety of media — including text, audio and video — and will be free for any media outlet to publish simultaneously. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund will have an initial budget of $1.75 million.”

It’s a noble effort and, in my mind, further blurs the boundaries between professional journalists or media organisations and (professional) bloggers or blogs.

At the same time, in an article in the Observer on Sunday, Nick Cohen has argued that the BBC is neglecting aspects of its output that in the past has made it great and has the potential to for many years to come. He argues that the BBC needs to rely on producing content that no one else can, rather than merely pandering to the news agenda set by the (tabloid) press:

“The corporation should be becoming the most important news institution not merely in Britain but the world… The paradox of the BBC’s strategy is that the more it spends on expanding into cyberspace the less it has to say… No rival can fill the gaps if the BBC pulls back from comprehensive reliable reporting. Soon, if its camera crews do not go to Nigeria, no one else’s will.”

I’m not really qualified to judge whether his comments on the BBC are justified (and Richard Sambrook has issued a rebuttal piece on his own personal blog).

But the comments are interesting nonetheless. We all know that content is key. Get the content right and you have something valuable. This was the case in the offline world, and it is the same online.

Newspapers or newspaper organisations know this better than most. No surprise then that the Guardian has opened its content up to the Web (with advertising attached, of course). The Guardian has realised the inherent value its content has and has realised that the value is not just limited to its own website. It’s a bold, but clever move.

I agree with Cohen that the BBC should be best placed to tackle the ‘online challenge’. And surely investigative journalism lies at the heart of this. The old adage rings true – this isn’t something that bloggers can easily replicate on a regular basis. And yet, traditional media does miss things. Social media in 2009 is coming into its own.

It’s easy for news organisations to panic. But the solution is clear; stick to what you are good at. Retain value and keep producing great content. it might not be enough, but it’s a start.