Sunday, May 27, 2012

Lecture 11

Week 11. Investigate Journalism

Before exploring the subject of investigate journalism, one must question; isn’t all journalism investigative?

Quoted from the Journalism Fund.
“In the view of there is no final definition of investigative journalism. On the contrary – it should be a vivid process to strive for investigative journalism and any definition must be scrutinised over and over in an ongoing debate among journalists. However we would like to contribute to this debate by adding some crucial points from several parts of Europe.
“Investigative journalism is critical and thorough journalism,” according to the definition of the Dutch association for Investigative Journalism, VVOJ.
Critical means that journalism is not merely passing on ‘news’ that already exist. It implies news, which would not be available without any journalistic intervention. This can be done by creating new facts, but also through re-interpretation or correlation of facts already at hand. Thorough means that one makes an own substantial effort, either in quantitative terms – much time spent in research, many sources consulted, etc. - in qualitative terms - sharp questions formulated, new approaches used, etc., or a combination of both.
Based on this definition we discern three types of investigative journalism. Incidentally these categories might overlap.
  • Uncover scandals. Aimed at detecting violations of laws, rules or norms of decency, by organisations or individuals.
  • Review of policies or functioning of government, businesses and other organisations.
  • Draw attention to social, economic, political and cultural trends. Aimed at detecting changes in society. 
The leader of Swedish TVs investigative magazine Uppdrag Granskning, Nils Hanson, has the following definitions on investigative journalism published in his book Grävande Journalistik from 2009:
  • Critical approach - focus is on what does not work and in one way or another can be described as anomaly. 
  • Important subject - only a question of importance for the common good can motivate the amount of effort and resources, that very well may have to be invested in the research as well as the criticism uttered in the publication. 
  • Own initiative - journalists/editors decide, what is important. 
  • Own research - the reporter gathers information and documents, sometimes in spite of tough resistance. 
  • Own analysis - the information gathered and the documents are evaluated. An expert can assist in the analysis, but publication does not depend on what someone says. 
  • Exclusivity - the public learns important information, that else would not have been in the open.
According to the Center for Investigative Journalism at London City University, ”UK and US colleagues tend to define IJ in its moral and ethical purpose and obligation, rather than as a slightly more serious version of ordinary news reporting. “In the service of the Public Interest, our purpose is to uncover corruption, injustice, maladministration and lies.  As a duty to readers and viewers as well as self-protection in a hostile legal environment, investigative journalism seeks above all to tell the documented truth in depth and without fear or favour. It is to provide a voice for those without one and to hold the powerful to account. It's to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. 
Is it critical and thorough?  Yes, but investigative journalism is skeptical and keen to bring information that someone wants to be keep secret, into the public light.
Sheila Coronel from the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University in New York in her book Digging Depper from 2009 has five definitions of, what investigative journalism is NOT, and three of what it is:
Investigative journalism IS NOT:
  • Daily reporting
  • Leak journalism
  • Single source reporting
  • Misuse of information
  • Paparazzi journalism
Investigative journalism IS:
  • Watchdog journalism
  • Exposing how laws and regulations are violated
  • Holding the powerful accountable.”

The In’s on Investigate Journalism
Inside information
Invest (time, money, and yourself)

Investigative Journalism is seen to have a deeper meaning and purpose. As a journalist, one is a custodian of conscience. This means that journalism provides a ’civic vice’ for citizens to respond. Most importantly, investigative journalism intends to provide a voice for those without one. It has the ability to hold the powerful, accountable, and must seek to provide social justice. In this light, journalism is a very respectable career. 

Historical trailblazers for investigative journalism include Moonlight State led by Chris Master. Masters’ investigated police corruption in Queensland, and even inspired a judicial inquiry the day after the broadcast. Moonlight State is an example of civic duty at its best. The broadcast is available to watch here

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Annotated Bibliography

Technology is forever evolving, making the very definition of journalism a subject of ambiguity. As individuals try to decipher the impact of the media revolution, one must forever question the moral and ethical foundations in which one has the right to broadcast.

To hack ones phone, or not to hack ones phone: that is the question.

(Journal article)
Podger, P. J. (2009). The limits of control. American Journalism Review, 31(4), 32-37. Retrieved from

Pamela J. Podger, a freelance writer and adjunct journalism professor at the University of Montana, reflects on how social media is creating new ethics guidelines for traditional news organizations. Social media blurs the lines between the private and professional lives of users – a distinction often confused by journalists. Podger recognizes that this has transformed journalistic etiquette. The social media revolution has jeopardised the power of professional journalism.  Podger acknowledges, “Mainstream media’s traditionally authoritative voice is a thing of the past.” Citizens now hold publication rights, and can instantly interact with the international community. The authors advice to journalists is self-identification, and to publicly reveal oneself as a representative of a particular news organization. Webbmedia Group principal consultant Amy Webb says, "When a New York Times reporter logs on to Facebook from his mobile phone, he's sharing a lot more information than his status updates. He's sharing the content he wrote and his location. There are safety and privacy issues around this." As the world of journalism continues to evolve, so too will ethics and safety codes. This is a reality one must accept, evident in the three articles seen below. Podger’s numerous interviews conducted with professional journalists provide a credible base for the investigation of media ethics.

(Online newspaper article)
Crouch, D. (2012, February 21). Arab media make the most of citizen journalism. Financial Times via ft.comRetrieved from

David Crouch, a news editor at the Financial Times, analyses the role of citizen journalism in disseminating previously inaccessible news reports. Traditional media, writes the Europe specialist, can no longer be relied upon for the supply of free press, especially in the Arab world. The Committee to Protect Journalists is a non-profit organization promoting free press by granting journalists the right to publish without the fear of reprisal (Committee to Protect Journalists, n.d.) This organization’s annual report acts as the key topic of the article, increasing its credibility. Its report recognizes the ability of citizen journalism to act as the “political cover” in order for traditional news organisations to publish subjects previously kept “under wraps”. Crouch presents a well-scoped article analyzing the convergence of traditional and new media in the Middle East, Egypt and Northern Africa. The global phenomenon of citizen journalism poses a threat to repressive regimes. These regimes, “recognise what’s at stake if they lose control of the information sphere, and they are determined to prevent that,” says Joel Simon, the CPJ’s executive director. Such a prevention may lead to further restrictions on press, and even the injury or death of journalists, evident in the disintegrating regimes of Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. Crouch closes the article by revealing the plea journalists in Tunisia and Syria, to “undo the decades of decay in our industry” caused by strict media control, and accept the ethical duty of broadcasting truth. Despite the accepted journalistic code which endeavours to engage in truthful reporting, journalists must be careful not to step beyond ethical boundaries, as seen in the sources by Suzanna Andrews, and Glenda Cooper.

(Magazine article)
Andrews, S. (2012, February). The Mystery Woman Behind the Murdoch Mess: Untangling Rebekah Brooks. Vanity Fair. Retrieved from

Suzanna Andrews, a contributing editor of Vanity Fair, demonstrates a depth of knowledge only an experienced journalist can attain. Andrews bases her 8000 word article on the interviews of journalists, employees, employers, and friends of Rebekah Brooks. Unlike many current stories involving Rebekah Brooks, Vanity Fair attempts to sell the story of the News Limited ‘goddess’ as a soft news story, attracting readers interested in lifestyle pieces, rather than hard news. Andrews opens her story by discussing Brooks’ wedding to “international playboy” Charlie Brooks, by commenting on the plethora of celebrity guests who attended, including the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the then Opposition Leader David Cameron, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. “As the 200 guests sipped champagne by the lake that day,” wrote Andrews, “few could imagine how fast Rebekah Brooks would fall.” Two years later Brooks was arrested and interrogated by Scotland Yard “in connection with allegations of corruption and phone hacking”. Power, manipulation and social climbing, act as key themes her story. Brooks went beyond any code of ethics – defying citizens of any type of privacy. Possibly the new code of journalistic ethics proposed by Pamela Podger, didn’t quite reach the desk Brooks in time. As of May 2012, Brooks faces three charges of conspiracy in perverting the course of justice, including the alleged removal of seven cases of material from the archive of News International and the concealing of documents and computers from officers investigating phone hacking (Laville, 2012).

(Chapter from book)
Cooper, G. (2012). Hacking book: newspapers should use Facebook content more carefully. In R. L. Keeble, & J. Mair (Ed.), The phone hacking scandal: journalism on trial. Retrieved from

Glenda Cooper, a journalist and academic, brings an experienced perspective to the distinction of social media as either a ‘public’, or ‘private’ domain (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, n.d.). Simply, Cooper acknowledges the disconnected interpretation of social media between journalists and users. The author uses the case of Amanda Knox who was arrested for the then alleged murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher, as a backdrop to expose the possibility of harmful self-exposure on social media. Both females’ Facebooks “proved gold dust for journalists looking for colour”, rich with photographs, comments, and videos. Cooper holds no accusation towards the news organizations, such as the Daily Mail, which published an article titled, “FoxyKnoxy: inside the twisted world of flatmate suspected of Meredith’s murder”, but contrastingly recognizes it as an ‘invasion of privacy’ initiated by the girls themselves. In accordance with the rulings of the Press Complaints commission, Cooper agrees that data entered on the public domain, runs the risk of publication in mainstream media, if it follows public interest. This comprehensive article successfully presents the host of new ethical challenges pinned on society by social media. It’s scope stretches beyond the case of Amanda Knox, and draws upon the Dunblane massacre, the murder of Benazir Bhutto and the alleged murder of Rebecca Leighton, for examples.

Reference List

Laville, S. (2012, May 16). Rebekah Brooks faces charges of perverting course of justice over phone hacking. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retreieved from

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. (n.d.) Fellowships - Glenda Cooper. Retrieved from

Committee to Protect Journalists. (n.d.) About CPJ - Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lecture 10

We do not live in vacuums. We are emotional individuals, who are shaped by our environments. Society is a human product. This idea stems from the theory of social constructionism, which simply states that,
  • An individual’s conception of reality is socially constructed through a process of communication using shared language.
  • Reality exists, but the way we come to know it, talk about it, understand it, is mediated through social life. 
  • The media play a large role in ‘constructing’ or ‘mediating’ the social world, as we understand it.

The media can have a tight grasp on ones formation of reality. This ability of the media is known as agenda setting. Basically, agenda setting is how the media constructs reality.

Definition of agenda setting:
“Agenda setting is the process of the mass media presenting certain issues frequently and prominently with the result that large segments of the public come to perceive those issues as more important than others.  Simply put, the more coverage an issue receives, the more important it is to people.” (Coleman, McCombs, Shaw, Weaver, 2008)

The media creates their own reality, and portrays this onto the public. As the media is seen as a relatively credible source, it can alter the public perception of reality, as seen below.

For the theory of agenda setting to be accepted, one must understand two basic assumptions.
  1. Mass media inherently holds the ability to shape public perception.
  2. Specific media concentration on a few subjects leads the public to accept that they are more important than other subjects.

‘Agenda setting’ as a mass communication theory lies its intellectual roots in the book Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann. It was publish in 1922 presented an insight into the role of media, which strives beyond its time. Lippmann, in his book, discussed how the media paints “pictures in our heads”. For example, when one thinks of the terrorist attack of September 11, there is one picture in our heads. 

Does anyone think of the image of the Pentagon? I believe it’s almost the forgotten terrorist attack. The media showed up the images of the Twin Towers, and now that creates out reality.


Half a century later, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw lead the major research dedicated to agenda setting. Setting The Agenda: The Mass Media and Public Opinion (McCombs, Shaw 1972) makes an important point about the theory of agenda setting. “Agenda setting is not the result of any diabolical plan by journalists to control the minds of the public, but an inadvertent by-product of the necessity to focus the news. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television have a limited amount of space and time, so only a fraction of the day’s news cam be included.”

McCombs and Shaw conducted an experiment, to study the effect of agenda setting in the media. The test occurred over the 1968 Presidential Campaign in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. McCombs and Shaw surveyed 100 undecided voters on the key issues and measured that against media content. Their hypothesis was that the mass media set the agenda by emphasising specific topics.

They conducted the study under two theories of the agenda setting theory.
First Level Agenda – concerned with the influence of the media on which objects are at the center of public attention. Simply, it is concerned with ‘what the pictures are about’, to speak through the voice of Walter Lippmann. This theory is the one studied by researchers and scholars alike. At this level the media suggest what the public should focus on through coverage.
Second Level Agenda – focuses on how people understand the things that have captured their attention. This is essentially, how the media focuses on the attributes of the issues. The media suggests how people should think about an issue.

McCombs and Shaw came to the conclusion, that “In choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcasters play an important part in shaping political reality. Readers learn not only about a given issue, but also how much importance to attach to that issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position. In reflecting what candidates are saying during a campaign, the mass media may well determine the important issues – that is, the media may set the ‘agenda’ of the campaign.” The media holds all the cards. This strengthens the agenda setting theory, as is has an explanatory, and predictive, and organising power. 

Through the process of agenda setting, the media can also perform a number of different tasks, including:
  • Media Gatekeeping – how individuals control the flow of messages through a communication channel; the exposure of an issue.
  • Media Advocacy – purposive promotion of an issue, i.e. smoking, organ donation.
  • Agenda Cutting – the reality that most news isn’t represented, i.e. AIDS/HIV in Australia.
  • Agenda Surfing – crowds and trends i.e. Kony. The media "surfs" on the wave of topics originally mentioned in the opinion-leading media.
  • The diffusion of News - the process through which an important event is communicated to the public. How, where, when news is released. Who decides?
  • Portrayal of an Issue - The way an issue is portrayed will often influence how it is perceived by the public.
  • Media Dependence – the more we become dependent on the media, the greater ability we grant it to set the agenda.