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Investigation

Journalism needs investment, just as neuroscience or aircraft design do. That is partly in physical plant: but more importantly, it is in journalism time. Journalism time is the time given over to Research, Discovery and Understanding – the trinity of activities which you need before the final stage, Publishing. As in any other activity, the amount of time given over to the first three tends to determine the quality of the last.

Where the first three are truncated, you can still get brilliant journalism: but its brilliance is often the journalism of the insight, the play of a sharp mind on (or with) events. It is the essay, in which the writing draws on the intellectual references and the mental agility of the writer. A journalism of fact, analysis and investigation should have, at its best, these elements too: but the investment of journalism time is the crucial one. Without it, revelation is at best partial, dependent on the uncovering of one fact among many or the leaking of one sensation which is then taken, inevitably, as a part which illuminates the whole (but can actually obscure it).

That’s why those organisations which apply important amounts of their resource to extending journalism time - the big American magazines (New Yorker, Atlantic, New Republic) and big city newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and many others, still); some of the big European papers, as the FT, Guardian, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Le Monde together with, in broadcasting,  the BBC, the German ZDF, the Swedish state broadcaster SVT and  some other broadcasting networks – are prized, whatever debates may rage about their funding, bias and leaderships. That’s why journalists worry about the disinvestment now happening in newspapers, and in broadcasting current affairs. Fewer journalists and fewer resources spent on travel and lengthy investigations have to mean – it would seem - shallower reportage and hastier judgements.

But that last may itself be a shallow – or at least a premature – judgement. We can’t just bemoan a disappearing journalism, because it’s not all disappearing: it’s also changing, going into different forms (like that new medium, books). What we have to discover the new directions old journalism is taking, what new journalisms are now growing and are possible – and, if we really are losing something of value because net investment in journalism time really is falling, what we can do about it.

One of the projects of the Reuters Institute, now under way, is research into investigation – and where the line can be drawn between that and intrusion. As we get closer to some understanding of that, we will get a better handle on what’s happening to journalism time.

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