Investigative Journalism Is Alive and Well

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A record IRE turnout in New Orleans suggests hard-boiled exposes remain newsroom staples IF THERE IS any single headline that sums up the Investigative Reporters & Editors annual conference held earlier this month in New Orleans, it is this one: Investigative Reporting is Alive and Well. In an atmosphere of high enthusiasm, a record-breaking 1,130 reporters and editors from newspapers and TV stations on several continents came to this Louisiana river city to swap war stories, discuss how to do their jobs better and even recruit new newsroom employees capable of conducting serious investigations. The conference, June 4-7, also provided plenty of published evidence that investigative reporting is far from being dead, or is even sick, as some media critics have asserted. (See sidebar) Foreign journalists came from Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Mexico, Australia, Finland and China. The China delegation consisted of 10 reporters from newspapers or broadcast stations in Beijing. Through their interpreter, Duan Jianling, the print members said they do some investigative reporting. Asked for an example, one replied, "air quality." Throughout the four days, younger reporters listened eagerly as veteran newsmen and women described investigative techniques and offered tips ranging from how to use databases to how to reconstruct paper trails more effectively. Giving such young staffers time for nonstandard reporting is crucial if they are to hone their skills, said Larry Lane, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor who is currently an editorial consultant for newspapers. "The beginners also must be taught where to start," he added. "This is why IRE is good for them." And IRE offered all age groups quite a menu of sessions to learn from. The four days worth of "how-to" panels covered a broad array of investigative targets including hospitals, college sports, campaign financing, the gaming industry, HMOs, science research, the military, religion, transportation systems, cops, city ball, prisons, the food chain, and bad doctors and nurses. IRE executive director Brant Houston was upbeat about the state of investigative reporting, which he described as being "in good shape, although some of it is loose and shoddy." Houston is a former investigative reporter for the Hartford Courant and Kansas City (Mo.) Star. THE CLINTON-LEWINSKY WORRY He cited the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky story as an example of why the profession needs to "worry about tabloid journalism by mainstream newspapers." But, he explained, that long-running controversy has given new emphasis to the need for reporters to learn good, basic skills, which IRE offers. Additional proof that newspapers - and some broadcast stations - are taking investigative reporting seriously could be seen in the aggressive recruitment efforts that filled conference bulletin boards. Several papers, including the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, Portland Oregonian, Louisville Courier-Journal, Community Newspapers in the Boston area, Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Omaha Reader and the Syracuse Newspapers advertised for investigative reporters. The Times-Picayune notice said it was looking for a "Seasoned reporter to cover a city known for the corruptibility and flamboyance of its political culture. …