23
Subterfuge as public service

Investigative journalism as
idealized journalism
Michael Bromley
Is investigative journalism 'the pinnacle of journalism'?
Is it no more than an excuse to snoop and spy?
Why is the public hardly ever asked what it thinks about undercover journalists?
Have investigative journalists squandered the legacy of Watergate?

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, investigative journalism was seen to be in retreat (notably but not exclusively, in the US, UK, Canada and Australia – Bernt and Greenwald 2000; Haxton 2002; Hencke 2001; Malarek 1998). A commonly held explanation for this was the advance of '[lifestyle] stories, trivia, scandal, celebrity gossip, sensational crime, sex in high places, and tabloidism' as a function of the process of the further commercialization of the media (Bromley 1998; Ehrlich 2000; Hickey 1998). Another was the development of 'splurge' journalism – the instant, sweeping coverage of major events – which left little scope to establish 'a foundation of accumulated research or comprehension' (Woolfinden 1996). Behind both of these positions lay the spectre of the intensification of concentrations of media ownership, which journalists themselves believed 'chilled' the atmosphere for investigative reporting (Foot 1999: 86; Haxton 2002: 22–1; Schultz 1998: 53-4). By 2001, the Independent Television Commission (2002: 33) reported, investigative journalism was a rarity on British commercial television, marginalized on the minority interest Channel Four. Moreover, one of the practitioners of investigative reporting was not a journalist at all, but the comedian Mark Thomas (Collins 2000).

Where reporting in an investigatory style continued, it was accused of being without substance – journalism that amounted only to 'digging up dirt' (Rogers 2001; Williams 1998: 249-51); an 'exposure journalism' reliant on 'stinging' the rich and famous (de Burgh 2000: 19-21), or serving the political-economy and ideological interests of media owners (Linklater

-313-

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