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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > For More Investigative Reporting

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.