Monday, May 12, 2008

Thoughts on Investigative Journalism

Wikipedia, holder of all knowledge, states that investigative journalism is, “a type of reporting in which reporters (go figure) deeply investigate a topic of interest, often involving crime, political corruption, or some other scandal.”

I assume that such investigation requires weeks, if not months, of work, and journalists act in a professional, unbiased manner. However, in watching TMJ4 - a local news channel - the other evening, I found investigative journalism to be something much different.

Usually I abhor local news for their sensationalist reporting and rampant fear-mongering. News is exciting enough without all of the contrived drama. This instance was no different, yet I managed to catch a trailer for an upcoming segment (the need for 10 o’clock news segments to have a trailer is a discussion for another day).

The trailer advertised a piece on a local contractor who is reportedly charging too much money for his low quality work, and then befriending his hapless clients in order to extort money from them.

This man’s current client happens to be an older woman, whose family gift wrapped and delivered the story to TMJ4 in an effort to draw attention to themselves, I mean to the injustice.

The trailer for the story showcases a reporter chasing after the handyman with a microphone, and asking, “Is it your practice to steal money from the elderly?” as the man walks to his car with as much dignity as he can muster.

Perhaps this guy is a sleaze and a cheat. No doubt he is draining clients’ bank accounts in exchange for substandard home repair, but the only thing this advertisement managed to do was to make sure I was on his side before I tuned in to the presentation (a tough feat considering the guy is a con man).

Reporters chasing “interviewees” with a microphone and camera crew? Investigative journalists asking leading questions, “helping” the viewer connect the dots without giving fair chance for the interviewees to defend themselves?

Objection, Your Honor!

This is not to say that the handyman in question is not a con man who deserves to be publicly flogged, but it is to say that local news stations will stop at nothing in the name of “investigative reporting” to create drama and sensationalize a story once strong enough to stand on its own.

Which is really quite sad because it turns off educated viewers who demand unbiased news reporting based on a strong truthiness quotient (see below). Viewers like me. Which is why I now get my news from The Daily Show and Colbert Report. Because if I have to choose between sensational newsertainment or comedic newsertainment, I choose the laughs.

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