At a follow-up seminar on the state of investigative journalism yesterday, it was clear that there was no shortage of investigative topics for journalists to tackle, but a great deal of staff resources, time (months to a year or more, not hours or days) and old-fashioned shoe leather were still required to get results. The 2009 finalists, who received $10,000 per organization, said that they had had strong support from their editors and media organizations in doing so, despite the wave of cutbacks in the industry.
The five investigative reporting finalists included New York Times reporter David Barstow, for a series on the Pentagon’s misuse of military analysts to promote the Iraq war on television and elsewhere (it won the Polk award for national reporting last month); a five-person team from The Charlotte Observer that investigated how a company that produces chicken parts for market endangered the safety of its largely immigrant workers; a painstaking investigation by the Detroit Free Press that brought down the city’s mayor, leading to his resignation and prosecution for multiple felonies; a two-person team from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that investigated a fraudulent MBA awarded to a local businesswoman who happened to be the West Virginia governor’s daughter; and a series by the new non-profit investigative journalism project ProPublica, whose reporter, Abrahm Lustgarten, exposed the potential threat to drinking water from unregulated drilling for natural gas. Most of the investigative projects included online multimedia presentations that accompanied the lengthy stories.
While women largely swept the Goldsmith journalism awards, the 2009 Goldsmith prize for an academic book on the media went to a Princeton University political scientist, Markus Prior, for Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections.
New York Times reporter Barstow, a 2004 Pulitzer public service award winner for a worker safety series that also won the Goldsmith award, commented after the investigative journalism panel that, while there was considerable progress by women in journalism, there was still much to be done in recruiting minority journalists into journalism.
“The newsroom is doing quite well in terms of women at all levels playing more significant roles,” he said. “But it’s a really significant problem that we do not have more members of minority groups in the newsroom,” a problem that, Barstow noted, is certainly not helped by current newsroom downsizing and job cutbacks. He is hopeful that a more diverse, younger, group working in new media and online will play a far more significant role in changing the face of journalism in the years to come.
Russell was a 2007 judge for the Goldsmith investigative reporting prize.