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Watchdog Reporting

Posted by sjbutterfield on September 12, 2008

Though the room may have been a bit stuffy, it put no damper on the fruitful discussion led by Manny Garcia of the Miami Herald, James Grimaldi of the Washington Post and an MU grad, Lea Thompson of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Cheryl Phillips of the Seattle Times, and Allison Young of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the watchdog reporting panel Thursday afternoon.

The panelists spoke to a packed house about the changing frontiers of investigative journalism and recounted personal anecdotes about how their own jobs have changed in the digital age. Grimaldi, a Pulitzer winner and 1984 Missouri graduate, quipped that the news desk wants “footage now, too.”

Phillips sought to explain how website design will be critical to maintaining a profitable business for newspapers as more and more traffic comes from the internet. She related how “people click on some blog and go to your story, so the key is to find interesting things to surround the story, so people stay on your site, so you can sell more advertising and have more resources for writers and editors.”

All of the panelists pointed out something that the audience may not have known, that most web hits on any given article do not come from a media outlet’s home page but from links from other sites. Further, they emphasized that the internet is the junction point for all forms of media. Thompson, formerly of NBC News and now of the Columbia based IRE explained that “TV and print converge on the net,” describing how she was asked as an NBC reporter to team with the Washington Post for some web-based political coverage.

The IRE is an organization which seeks to equip investigative journalists with the best technology for finding data and the ability to write most effectively on the numbers they collect. In the new age of data availability, Thompson elaborated, “data collecting is critical.”

Once again, it was pretty astonishing to be standing no more than 10 feet from a panel of highly distinguished journalists off-handedly discussing the intricacies and details of how they produce their highly revealing stories as though it were the weather.

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