It started with a police corruption inquiry in Indianapolis and ended with the formal launching of the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) group last month in the same city.
Myrta Pulliam, reporter for the Indianapolis Star, wanted some advice on how to go about probing a police scandal. She called up a veteran of such investigations, David Burnham, of the New York Times who gave her some tested techniques. It occurred to her and a number of other journalists that such an exchange of information and ideas across the whole range of investigative reporting from government to corporate crime should be conducted regularly and systematically throughout the country. At the Three-Day conference last month, some 300 reporters and editors of IRE met and pooled their needs for such a clearinghouse of topics, experience, .services and references. They accepted a proposal by the Journalism School at Ohio State University to establish a resource center which would include a library, a newsletter containing the best investigative articles from around the country by reporters and a directory of experts, such as engineers and accountants, who could be helpful.
There was also interest expressed in developing investigative “cookbooks” which would guide new or less experienced reporters in investigating specific areas such as property taxation, government procurement abuses, corporate shenanigans and other complex subjects.
The overall objective of IRE is to encourage intense and widely based investigative reporting throughout journalism — large and small, city and rural — under high professional standards.
Until Recently, investigative reporting was rare, compared to the potential, and uncoordinated. As tile underunded publication, Media and Consumer, showed before it unfortunately had to cease publication recently, consumer abuses are remarkably similar in many areas of the country. Where one newspaper exposes a meat adulteration or contamination scandal, it should not take months or years for other reporters at other newspapers to learn how to conduct the same inquiry in their region or state. IRE wants to see a greater velocity of exchange among reporters and a higher priority by the media to investigative reporting generally.
Speaking at the Indianapolis conference, lawyer-reporter Clark Mollenhoff of the Des Moines Register and Tribune called investigative reporting a “precarious profession.” He described the tediousness of following many leads, the pressure on reporters who challenge City Hall or the factory by the river. He noted the importance of journalists taking apart “the most glaring examples of irresponsibility” by their colleagues to keep standards high. If this is not done, he warned, “irresponsible reporting will grow and-flourish, and the sound practitioners of our precarious profession will find themselves in even more precarious circumstances.”
Another Speaker, media critic Ben Bagdikian, scoffed at the idea advanced in some journalistic circles that perhaps there is too much investigative reporting. Undoubtedly some publishers may be concerned about their investigators touching some sensitive advertisers who cannot draw the line between their investment and the First Amendment.
Of course, there is a side to investigative reporting that is too neglected. This is the side of writing about workable solutions in the community which could be applied to similar problems elsewhere in the country. The media, in particular television, should assess whether there is an adequate emphasis on exposing to public view proven solutions as well as hidden abuses. Unfortunately, our nation has far more solutions than it puts to work — whether they are technological, governmental, economic or social. A little visibility and analysis will lift the heart and enlighten the mind — two conditions for effective civic action.
Citizens. journalism students and working press who wish to learn more about IRE (Investigative’ Reporters and Editors) should write to– 307 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis, Ind. 46202.