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On the Importance of Investigative Journalism

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Tampa chapter.

In 2002, a team of investigative journalists at The Boston Globe uncovered a systemic scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church; their investigation and article won the Pulitzer Prize. There was a slew of priests in Boston who had been sexually abusing children for years and getting away with it, because the church went to such great lengths to cover up each incident and move the priests to new locations instead of making them deal with consequences. The entire situation was complicated and was made possible by the widespread influence of the Catholic Church in Boston. Since the story came out, more abuse scandals involving the church have been discovered in over 200 other cities around the world. There has also been an Oscar-winning film made about the investigation in 2015 of the same name as the team itself, Spotlight.

This story was made possible by the journalists who were given the resources and time to conduct such an in-depth investigation. The concept of a team of journalists working on one story for an extended period of time is something that can be vital to uncovering the most complicated threats to society—such as the systematic abuse uncovered by the Spotlight team. It is also a concept that is not as present in today’s reality as it once was. Without a team of people who can conduct a focused study of a particular issue, how is the public able to fight injustice on a large scale? This is not to say that investigative journalism does not exist today, only that it has become harder to conduct the sort of investigations that expose large institutional and systemic issues facing society. 

Right now, journalism is a far quicker process than ever. All we need to do to get information is look at social media; stories are circulating at the speed of light. Many believe that this is a great thing; more people than ever are able to receive information faster than ever before. But, I don’t think it’s that simple. Without the encouragement of investigative teams taking the time necessary to uncover the root of an issue, the complete unveiling of the truth is not possible. With the Spotlight case, if the necessary time had not been taken to investigate, the story would not have come to half of what it did. They were only able to discover that the issue was not just the individual cases, but the entire system’s negligence because they took their time in the investigation to follow up on many leads. Even if there are investigative teams now, their processes must change because of the time constraints involved in the quick release of information in today’s climate.  

I think that this method of investigative journalism which takes the time to explore every avenue of a particular story is extremely valuable to society, and should be recognized as a necessary part of journalism and news media today. With this at the forefront of what is encouraged in the press, we might get to the bottom of more systematic issues facing society. There are so many problems reported on which only tell the story of an isolated incident because they want to get that information out faster than anybody else. The question is, what if they didn’t pounce so quickly? What if they made it a priority not to rush a story? The sort of details that could come to light with that methodology is far richer and deeper than what surface-level things could be uncovered in such a short amount of time. If journalists were encouraged to convey the information correctly instead of quickly, more fantastic reporting like the 2002 Spotlight case could be possible. More change for the greater good could come to pass. 

Journalism today is on a downward slope since most news outlets are private. This was not a problem when news consumption was considered a necessity by the public. They were getting a great amount of funding that made in-depth investigation possible solely from the revenue of the work put out. Today it is different. Audiences do not rely on official newspapers anymore. This has made media outlets so focused on grabbing the attention of the reader in order to gain and keep their following, they have no room to put more energy into uncovering the truth. It is becoming evident that in order to get the sort of in-depth stories from news outlets that were once more regular, they need to receive funding from a different source. One proposal is that if the press were made a government-funded organization of some sort, if they were deemed important to society to that extent, then they may be able to do their jobs to the best of their ability. If this were the case, then the papers would no longer be competing against themselves for a following to gain revenue. There are flaws to every system of course, but if they had a steady source of income backing them up, they may form more Spotlight teams instead of putting out more stories about the Kardashians. Why should every news outlet that is not the Times or the Post be focused on the trivial? Why not give them the means to be groundbreaking too?

Investigative journalism should be encouraged more because it is a method of uncovering every detail of a story. We need more news outlets that are willing to put in the work. To get this, something has to change. They need to be given reason to slow down the process again. They should not be racing each other to get the information out quickly. They should be capable of slow-burn investigation. With this practice, they might be able to uncover the truth and possibly change the world in the process.

Brianna Lemarier is a writer for the University of Maine chapter. She writes on topics that apply to students in different ways, including some specific to the University of Maine. Brianna is a Peer Advisor at UMaine's Career Center where she conducts resume and cover letter review appointments and workshops with students. She is a senior in the English major with a concentration in professional writing and a minor in creative writing. Brianna is passionate about stories and many forms of writing. She is content when she can read and drink coffee every single day. She believes in the power of communication to connect people and help them to understand each other and create a better world together. Instagram: @briannalemarier