The Big Chill: Investigative Reporting in the Current Media Environment

By Aucoin, James | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

The Big Chill: Investigative Reporting in the Current Media Environment


Aucoin, James, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


Greenwald, Marilyn and Bernt, Joseph. (2000). The Big Chill: Investigative Reporting in the Current Media Environment. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press. 244 pp. hardback, 1 $49.95

The Big Chill comprises 11 chapters, written by a mix of academics and journalists, that take the measure of investigative reporting from various angles: history, performance, social effects, ethics, law, economics, and technique. Unfortunately, the practice that represents the best that journalism can be appears under assault by profit-conscious corporate news executives, an insidious blending of entertainment and news, expensive libel suits, and public distrust, according to the authors.

Rosemary Armao, managing editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, provides an insightful account of the practice's history and discusses the potential of its survival into the 21st century. The chapter sets up the remainder of the essays quite well.

In a comparative study of investigative reporting in metropolitan newspapers, Joseph Bernt and Marilyn Greenwald suggest that if it survives, there will be fewer stories and less depth. Studying specific issues of newspapers from 1980 and 1995, Bernt and Greenwald found that the papers were still publishing enterprise reporting, but not as many of the articles were investigative in nature. Courageous assaults on government corruption, organized crime, and questionable business practices are being replaced by explanatory journalism, according to their study.

Susan K. Opt and Timothy A. Delaney review surveys of public opinion and journalists conducted in the 1980s and 1990s and add a public opinion poll of their own, concluding that we may not know what the public thinks about investigative reporting. Researchers have been asking the wrong questions, so the portrait of public opinion on investigative journalism remains unfinished, they conclude. …

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