Yesterday, I wrote about why many pieces about the need for investigative science journalism don’t acknowledge the factors behind its scarcity. Conversations about investigations in science journalism often seem to assume that reporters don’t see critiquing science as important, but journalists’ individual interests don’t set the tone for journalistic coverage all by themselves. In journalism, economics and politics shape our work. It’s basically impossible to disentangle why an article was written the way it was from simply reading the article.
Discussing the economics and politics that shape editorial decisions is a crucial part of addressing the relative absence of investigative science journalism, because for many reporters, quick hits– daily news stories, magazine blurbs, and blog posts– are our bread-and-butter (…when we get any bread at all…). Most casual readers encounter science via casual quick takes more often than they encounter it through investigative and/or longform articles.
There are definitely books and workshops out there to teach journalists how to chase down leads and verify what sources say, but at the end of the day, every investigative reporter I’ve met says that a lot of investigation is just spending a lot of time going through interviews and documents, looking for patterns. It’s very, very hard to justify putting in Spotlight-esque hours without a steady salary.
Unfortunately, the economic realities do not prevent verification issues from rearing their heads in short news stories…