I was reading the American Journalism Review yesterday morning and I found a story about local TV stations cutting investigative reporting teams to fit budget. Investigative reporting on local TV has never been stellar, however it does provide citizens of a specific locality with an in-depth look at some of the less publicized scandals and atrocities occurring in their vicinity.
The AJR article reports the stations like WJLA-TV in the nation’s capital have cut their “I-Team” to save money. WJLA VP of News Bill Lord says that he needs to “do newscasts before I can do specialty items.” That makes sense; newscasts provide viewers with a small glimpse of everything that’s happening in the U.S. Some of the more learned viewers actually stick around to see what’s going on outside of America.
Adrienne Roark, the News Director at Miami’s WFOR-TV makes the best argument for keeping investigative reporters. “It’s what sets you apart from all the other noise out there” she told AJR. Ratings.
That, to me, makes more sense. Personally, I think all local news stations (just as most of them do) should only report local news and create in-depth local stories. If I want news on a broad scale, I turn to CNN or CBC, I don’t watch CP24 or City TV (those are local Toronto news networks).
But if I do want local news I flip to the smaller stations because I know they can offer a more detailed look into local stories that affect my area. Just like CNN or CBC can give me a better look into what’s happening in different parts of the country and in different countries.
This is where I think a structural overhaul needs to take place. Local stations should see investigative local coverage as a top priority. And while some do, investigative reporters that uncover local scandals and even triumphs should remain a part of the team because they are crucial to the survival of real journalism and to citizens understanding what’s going on in their surroundings.
Journalism is not just the reiteration of fact. It the discovery and analysis of new developments that provide the public with an all-encompassing view of an event. That’s what real journalists do, and that’s why it’s a trade that should be upheld and protected, as long as it continues to operate honorably.
To survive, these in-depth reports would have to air on a regular basis, not every few months. That makes the title of “investigative” null, however, something like in-depth coverage or in-depth storytelling should definitely have a place, at least on a weekly basis, in all local newscasts.
Just a thought.