A Promising New Venue: TV Stations and Their Digital Outlets May Play a More Prominent Role in Investigative Reporting

By Palser, Barb | American Journalism Review, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview
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A Promising New Venue: TV Stations and Their Digital Outlets May Play a More Prominent Role in Investigative Reporting


Palser, Barb, American Journalism Review


When a newspaper opens the drain in its newsroom, where does the journalism talent go? In some cases, it might resurface on the newscasts and digital outlets of TV stations.

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While the digital revolution has been disruptive to all forms of traditional media, local broadcasters have generally fared better than newspapers, with many expanding their coverage while the print newshole shrinks.

That appears to be happening in New Orleans, where the iconic Times-Picayune in May announced the layoff of nearly half of its newsroom employees effective September 30. The 84 newsroom layoffs were part of a deep strategic restructuring that will cut the newspaper's print schedule to three days per week and shift its emphasis to online publishing.

Rather than waiting to see how that future unfolds, several journalists chose to move on. Among them were award-winning reporters David Hammer and Brendan McCarthy, who decided to join the investigative team at New Orleans' CBS affiliate, WWL-TV. The station's investigative unit is led by Mike Perlstein, who reported for the Times-Picayune from 1986 to 2006.

Many TV stations have proud histories of investigative journalism and watchdog reporting, but the fundamental differences between print and broadcast storytelling formats have not exactly encouraged crossover. A local TV station hiring three veteran newspaper journalists known for long-form investigative reporting is an intriguing sign of the times.

"In many media markets, and in New Orleans in particular, investigative journalism has become a very competitive arena," Perlstein says. "That's one reason we decided to go after Hammer and McCarthy. Both of them were offered jobs to remain at the paper, but they decided to join me on TV"

It's not clear how many newspaper journalists have been recruited by or defected to TV stations, but there are enough examples to be noticed. In August, Pulitzer-winning Detroit Free Press reporter M.L. Elrick announced his decision to join local Fox affiliate WJBK as an investigative reporter. Elrick will be the second Pulitzer-winning reporter on WJBK's team, joining former New York Times and Detroit News reporter Charlie LeDuff.

TV newsrooms around the country are growing. In 2011, average TV news staffing levels reached a record high, with more growth expected in 2012, according to a survey of 1,200 television stations by the Radio Television Digital News Association and Hofstra University. Total newspaper newsroom employment, meanwhile, is at an all-time low, according to the American Society of News Editors.

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