Paper of Woodward and Bernstein Outsources Investigative Journalism

June 29, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Just finished reading the GE article in the Washington Post today and noticed at the end of the article was this note:

ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

And the byline reads: 


ProPublica and Washington Post Staff Writer 


So THE Washington Post is outsourcing its investigative journalism.  I knew this was coming, but it’s still a shock when the paper of Woodward and Bernstein outsources the skill and labor on which its reputation was built.  Is this the first time  WashPo has used ProPublica or just the first time I’ve noticed this post script note?

The more burning question is do you see this becoming a trend? This is going to sound waaay over the top and apocalyptic, but I see it as less of trend and more as the beginning of the end…dun dun dun.  Sure, the Washington Post saves money by partnering with ProPublica, enjoys its resources to cover a story inside and out…plus who reads bylines anyway?  Win, win right?

Well, not really.  What’s to hold back the new Woodwards and Bernsteins on the block from eventually writing, publishing and hosting their own news stories, under their own masthead…no, nothing as dull as ProPublica, but something MUCH flashier like, THE INVESTIGATOR…or THE INSIDER. They’ll fill the niche investigative news site, much like Politico or Talking Points Memo has for politics or TechCrunch has for tech, has for fashion or has for business.

Newspapers—both digital and paper– are dead because they try to be everything all at once for everyone and can’t keep up.  The Washington Post has already axed its business section after failing to compete with business and tech blogs that update with 20-30 posts per day.  The same will happen with investigative news.  For a story that uncovers the latest political corruption, insider trading, or harmful FDA approved drugs, you’ll most likely read it on a website, and it won’t be under the mastheads of the New York Times or the Washington Post.  Just my guess, do you agree?



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  1. This is a great post. As a recovering journalist, this trend is alarming and depressing. This suggests news organizations will increase regular collaboration with outside media entities masquerading as news gatherers — in the name of cost savings — but which actually have a specific and deliberate agenda underlying the “reporting”. Democracies die when uncompromising journalism dies. And we are seeing it — daily.

  2. As long as they’re vetting these “outsourced reporters,” and as long as they’re not posting stories with “Twitter” in the byline, what’s the difference between this and picking up a paper in Florida with a wire story reprinted from, say, the Chicago Sun-Times, or any other story on the wire?
    David Simon talks a lot about non-profits being the way to save newspapers. I think he’s right.

  3. Yep, I think outsourcing is the future… but I don’t think it’s the end of major publishing houses – or other news broadcasters for that matter. But you can expect news organisations to become content hosts for the work of investigative journalists. YouTube for hacks, if you like.
    For me, the difference between the investigative site you invisage and techno / fashion / business pages boils down to a) time b) money and c) access to power. A good investigation, to a degree, needs all three. A good techno / fashion / biz story sometimes only needs one. Nothing wrong with that… but I think proper investigations will generally remain attached in some way (i.e. fully in-house or arms length) to big news organisations for that reason.
    In the case you mention, I would imagine that ‘ProPublica’ recieved an advance for their work from the Washington Post, which allowed them to carry out their work. Most journos aren’t particularly rich. No matter how good the investigation, if the money isn’t there at the end of it, the story won’t get told.
    The danger for news orgs with outsourcing is that there are fewer checks and balances to ensure that the journalism is being carried out in a proper manner. Is the Washington Post putting its credibility into work it can trust? Does ProPublica hold the same view of ‘independence’ as the WP?
    I agree with you though, it is a REAL shame that less and less money is being spent on in-house investigations.

    • Hey Tim,

      Sorry it’s been a while. Thanks for responding to the post, but (again…haha) I respectfully disagree 🙂 I think it would seem that an investigative site would need capital, access and time, but there are investigative-type websites that have come to prove that theory wrong. Take my favorite political website talking points memo, for example. It started in 2000 but really picked up steam when it covered the US attorney scandal in 2006/7, winning the Polk Award in 2008. Until then, it was the only blog to win the Polk award. And the staff isn’t huge either. For the better half of a decade, TPM was run entirely by Josh Marshall, its founder. Now it’s has 12 other writers and editors on board, based mostly in New York. To the access to power point, only 2 writers are based in DC, who are younger-ish and don’t have the typical traditional news media connections to the political elite. They just really really good at internet research. Recently, they’ve been able to win over some bigger names for column posts like Matthew Yglesias, Robert Reich, Dean Baker, Glenn Greenwald. Anyways, if you haven’t been to the site, it’s an amazing resource for Washington politics. Let me know what you think 🙂

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