Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

Investigative journalism in a digital age

Tanned media figures such as Noam Chomsky and Glen Greenwald interestingly discuss the terms of investigative journalism in Fred Peabody's documentary film All Governments Lie.



For those of us who are following the obviously ever-present debate on the terms of journalism, we are gradually accustomed to a parole that reads like this: As the journalistic media is pressured by the Internet's rapid communication and live updates, journalistic editors and owners of the journalistic media typically some decisions that drive journalism in an even more news-oriented direction, where the fast news fills the pages at the expense of analytical and investigative journalism.

But this is not the whole story. At least not if you subscribe to the arguments that emerge in the documentary All Governments Lie, which had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last September. The film's point of departure is to look at how the advent of the Internet and digital media has changed journalism in general and in particular challenged the time-consuming investigative journalism. It might sound like a repetition of the above parole, but that is by no means the case. Because instead of painting the damn on the wall, the film also has a number of more optimistic statements that made me want to talk to the film's director Fred Peabody.

Glenn Greenwald. PHOTO: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images / AFP

As bad as the tobacco industry. Peabody eventually has a long career as a journalist and documentarian for Canadian and American media, and in 1998 he won an Emmy for his investigative journalism. Over the years, Peabody has seen how the two nations' media landscapes have gradually transformed into increasingly homogenized entities, with few media owners sitting on large parts of the media landscape and thus on large parts of power:

«Today we have a situation where huge media conglomerates are just as bad as the tobacco industry when it comes to strategies and lobbying. These conglomerates are still business, and journalism always comes second when the commercial becomes mastodontic, as is the case today, "reads the striking analysis from Fred Peabody as I ask him a general characteristic of the American and Canadian media landscape.

Peabody points out, among other things, that a company such as General Electric, which previously owned the TV channel ABC, is just one example of the fact that the media today is run by companies that do not have much interest in journalism unless there is a financial gain to retrieve. And economic considerations often clash with the core values ​​of journalism such as the critical approach and the cover-up analysis, Peabody believes:

«Mainstream media don't dare to take a political stand, as it often costs them too much to get too biased. For the same reason, they do not dare to go after the seams. The dependence between the elite of power and the media has simply become too great, "says Fred Peabody, who also suggests where he thinks critical journalism should be today – namely online. And there are several reasons why, but one of the most important bottoms in media researcher Noam Chomsky's analysis is based on the concept manufacturing consent (from Chomsky's book of the same name, published in 1998). In Peabody's understanding of the term, that is, if journalistic media is to exist for an extended period of time, they must subscribe to a framework and context that is dictated especially by rulers. This commitment is given tacitly but nonetheless has an influence on where the limits go for what a journalistic media can afford to the nation and thus to power. A classic example of journalistic media staying within the framework, Peabody believes, emerged in the run-up to the Iraq war, where virtually all media acknowledged Colin Powell's questionable evidence and thus, with one comb, supported the power of the authorities to go to war. This is not because of fear of hurting the nation, but of fear of no longer accessing important sources and information and thus being marginalized – and ultimately losing profit in a crowded media market.

A similar framework may well be transmitted to the major online media, while the smaller online media, which have managed to maintain their independence, for example by being run by private donations and foundations, do not have to navigate under this framework to the same extent, Peabody claims .

The new players. For Peabody to see, it is therefore not only the coming of the internet that has challenged the time-consuming investigative journalism. It is also the structural changes that the media landscape has undergone. At the same time, the web has pushed and intensified the news cycle, but if the web is part of the problem, the web also seems to be part of the solution. This enables the independent and thus potentially power-critical journalism, which Peabody believes the mainstream media to fail.

"With the web, we see increased accessibility that allows you as an independent journalist to create your own media and potentially reach a large audience," says Peabody, who points to independent journalistic sites such as The Intercept, Democracy Now and the YouTube channel The Young Turks as interesting examples of what is going on in investigative journalism on the digital platforms.

Information has become easier to track for both rulers and critical journalists, and unfortunately, we often see this making investigative journalism more difficult.

Behind The Intercept stand by experienced journalistic forces such as Robert Mackey and Glenn Greenwald, the latter of which especially earned his name as the journalist who, together with the documentary Laura Poitras, helped make Snowden's disclosures to a wide public. And leaked documents also fill a part of The Intercept's site. At the time of writing, for example, the editorial team has released a host of internal newsletters from the NSA that discuss many of the organization's strategies and practices when it comes to monitoring US citizens and organizations. In addition, the site also contains a wealth of through-search articles including an extremely interesting case about the Israeli company assisting the FBI in hacking cell phone access.

While The Intercept is primarily a writing-based journalism, Democracy Now has spread generously to accommodate television, radio and writing. The focal point is the social fabric, especially the American one, and the reach has grown dramatically in recent years, such that Democracy Now now distributed by more than 1400 radio and television channels worldwide. In this way, Democracy Now is also an example of something that starts to a lesser extent online can grow tremendously and achieve an impact that would normally only apply to the large commercial media players.

The YouTube channel The Young Turks is most of all the work of journalist and activist Cenk Uygur. He hosts most of the programs, and thus a very significant voice on a channel that currently has over three million subscribers. Uygur has a past as host at MSNBC, but opted to terminate the collaboration when the channel asked him to tone down his politically charged comments and, according to Uygur, ironics more with his hair (or, in Chomsky's words: follow the defined framework). The Young Turks mostly contain news broadcasts, but you can also find longer features and investigative journalism. The channel is an example of the fact that even though the platform is owned by technology mastermind Google, it continues to be possible to run independent journalism without interference.

Press down. Fred Peabody, however, is not naive, and acknowledges the hit pages by using the web as a platform for independent journalism:

"After all, with Snowden and Manning, we have seen the extent to which surveillance is taking place, and this, of course, also inhibits the scope of a journalistic media online. Information has become easier to track for both rulers and critical journalists, and unfortunately, we often see this making investigative journalism more difficult as, for example, access to sources becomes more difficult, ”says Peabody.

However, let's end up in the optimistic camp. Indeed, Peabody has a growing interest in these independent media. This is especially true of young people, who are precisely the population that fails the traditional media and uses Facebook as news media – but also has discovered the independent sites and is also flattered by a different skepticism about media than their parent generation did. Peabody gets the last word:

“The ideal would be for pressure to come from below. That there is a change of attitude among journalists, but certainly also among consumers – and here the young people seem to be well on their way. ”

Find out more:

Steffen Moestrup
Steffen Moestrup
Regular contributor to MODERN TIMES, and docent at Denmark's Medie- og Journalisthøjskole.

You may also like