Where investigative journalism should go next

“Our goal is to be the best music magazine in the world, not the biggest,” said Matt Frampton, Pitchfork’s vp of sales. “We want to reach a specific breed of die-hard music fans, and there aren’t 100 million of those in the U.S. We’re not interested in the pageview or SEO games; for us, it’s about reaveching and really engaging a relatively small group of passionate people.”  Matt Frampton, Pitchfork’s magazine’s VP of Sales, quoted in Pitchfork Opts Out of the Pageview Rat Race, Digiday.

I’d never heard of Pitchfork before reading that piece on Mediagazer today. I’m not a die-hard music fan so I probably won’t read it either. Still, I like their style.

The web has been amazing for journalism; there can be no denying that. Yet the faster the information flow becomes, the more it seems we lose a little bit of what makes journalism special: the ability to interrogate narratives to get to the real truth.

Publishing on the web brings with it a horrible pressure, especially if you’re trying to do investigative journalism. Sometimes, I feel if I’m not producing a scoop a week, I’m not really a reporter.

It’s really hard to make investigative journalism work on the web. It’s nearly impossible to satisfy the contant demand for content, unless you break an investigation down into tiny fragments. The more dangerous the story, the harder that becomes. That, and the constant demand to break something new grinds on you. A reporter needs to be able to forget about the Publish button and go underground for a while, gathering information.

Even the economics of the web are incompatible with investigative journalism. To get ad dollars, you need lots of eyeballs. To get lots of eyeballs, you need to be a content factory, cranking out 20 posts a day.

If you’re publishing e-books, however, you don’t feel the same pressure to feed the beast. Saying you’re “working on a book” is a valid excuse to disappear for months and years, digging. Unless you have a publisher lined up early, there’s no deadeline. Maybe that’s where investigative reporting needs to go next, transitioning from the real-time web to books and documentaries.

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