Our colleague Hazel Feigenblatt, attending the Global Investigative Journalism Conference, reports on the challenges of investigative journalism in an era of declining traditional media.
One of the big topics of interest here at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva has been new models for financing investigative journalism around the world.
Non-profit models, media loans, international collaborations, subscriptions, and even traditional advertising and circulation sales. … No one has come up with a magic formula yet, but as budgets for investigations shrink, reporters are increasingly facing circumstances where they have to pay the price for their investigations, literally.
The UBS financial scandal in Switzerland is a good example. Swiss reporter Myret Zaki had to sacrifice three months of her salary and pay all the costs of her investigation, including plane tickets, just to get the story done.
“You have to be rich to investigate,” she said during her presentation in Geneva. She eventually sold 10,000 copies of her book, but at the time didn’t know if she’d ever get her money back. Both the newspaper where she works and book publishers refused to finance her investigations.
On the German Swiss side, Lukas Haessig was investigating UBS as well as a freelance reporter. Several months of looking for a book deal ended up with Haessig agreeing to write about the global financial crisis for a publisher, not the actual UBS investigation.
He kept investigating and eventually managed to get a book deal, not in Switzerland but with a German publisher. Even then, with two revealing books out, mainstream media failed to pay attention. “A book can sell or not and it won’t change the world. Big media could make big change. [But] they don’t,” he said.
His colleague Myret doesn’t think that working at a media organization made things any easier, though. If anything, she says, it created more pressure: “[When media fears lawsuits] they say ‘we’re going to calm down, be nicer’.”
It was the two reporters’ personal commitment that made the difference in this case. This may offer a promising path forward: lobbying news organizations to allow more “time off” for reporters to investigate on their own; more small investigative grants; and more global organizations willing to publish what in-country media might be too afraid to.
Despite those options, this approach is not exactly a model for a successful journalism start-up. But as long as we have reporters with good instincts, there’s a chance at keeping investigative journalism moving forward.
— Hazel Feingenblatt (from Geneva)