Public Opinion on Investigative Reporting in the 1990s: Has Anything Changed since the 1980s?

By Willnat, Lars; Weaver, David H. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

Public Opinion on Investigative Reporting in the 1990s: Has Anything Changed since the 1980s?


Willnat, Lars, Weaver, David H., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


In view of the recent developments in public attitudes toward the use of investigative reporting, this study compares past findings on perceived public importance of investigative reporting and the acceptability of different reporting methods with findings from a national telephone survey of 1,211 respondents conducted in February 1997 by Princeton Survey Research Associates. While past studies only found weak relationships between approval of investigative reporting and respondents' individual-level characteristics, this study hypothesizes that the increased use of these techniques in popular television shows and local evening news has created a highly divided audience which, while paying great attention to reports that use investigative reporting techniques, either strongly approves or disapproves of their use. Findings indicate that the best predictor for whether people approve or disapprove of investigative reporting is their general attitude toward the media's role in society, rather than increased exposure to investigative news stories.

Undercover techniques used by journalists are increasingly coming under public scrutiny. Those targeted by investigative news operations are challenging the methods rather than the accuracy of the reporting - and often winning sympathy from the public. It is a trend that came into sharp focus in January 1997 when a twelve-member jury in North Carolina decided that ABC News should pay $5.5 million in damages to the Food Lion supermarket chain because ABC's reporters posed as employees and used hidden cameras to uncover alleged sales of spoiled meat at some of its stores. The jury found that network producers had trespassed and committed fraud when researching a Primetime Live segment in 1992 that accused the company of selling spoiled meat. Although Food Lion officials disputed the accuracy of the ABC report, they did not sue for libel. Rather, they accused ABC of fraud because it used techniques such as having producers submit fake resumes to get jobs in the meat department of company stores, and then used hidden cameras to film there.

Many journalists argue that hidden cameras and other undercover reporting techniques have long been necessary tools for exposing vital issues of public policy and health. The type of hidden-camera reporting ABC used to investigate Food Lion has become a staple of national and local TV news in recent years as cameras have become increasingly miniaturized. But some media critics say that TV producers have overused them in recent years in a push to create splashy shows and bolster ratings. In fact, the verdict against ABC may reflect a growing public sentiment against news organizations that are perceived as undisciplined and overly aggressive. Several jurors in the Food Lion case said, for example, that although they supported investigative reporting, they took issue with ABC's reporting methods. In particular, they pointed to the use by producers of false resumes to gain jobs in Food Lion stores in South and North Carolina. In addition, the Food Lion case nicely illustrates the public's "schizophrenic" attitude toward the use of investigative reporting techniques such as hidden cameras.1 While many viewers seem to be uncomfortable with the growing amount of surreptitious taping, investigative TV shows have attracted a growing number of loyal viewers.

Despite the great public attention the Food Lion case attracted and the widespread speculations by the media about a possible backlash of this verdict on the future of investigative reporting, the overall impact of this particular case might have been overstated. A representative telephone survey of 1,001 American adults ages 18 and older conducted by the Roper Research Center shortly after the verdict against ABC found that the majority (80 percent) of those who had heard about the case said they thought ABC was not doing anything out of the ordinary in employing the reporting techniques. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Public Opinion on Investigative Reporting in the 1990s: Has Anything Changed since the 1980s?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.