Practical Techie: The web is specialized in deep dig investigation
There is never full truth in news reports because news actors never tell reporters the whole story. Merely a convenient point-of-view. Deep and compelling journalism requires digging deep into human events and the psyche, something daily reporters lack time for when news breaks.
So, as an alternative, there is investigative journalism. And the web provides many platforms for such risky, tedious, in-depth research reporting. There are more than 1,000 investigative reporting websites worldwide. Let’s give a quick view of some of them on our side of the world and a few beyond.
METHODS — Old-fashioned, hard-hitting investigative journalism is inevitably migrating from the newspaper newsroom, their morgues, and libraries toward the web. Digging today is done with highly specialized digital tools. Computer hard drives, email applications, archival platforms, mobile devices, voicemail, removable media sources, the cloud, servers, and social media. It’s given cybernetic names such as metasearch, forensic data analysis, and mapping. Diligent cyber reporters dig into electronic documents, lawsuits, other legal files, government or regulatory reports, corporate financial filings, or huge electoral and census databases.
TYPES — There are nonprofit investigators, for-profit services, informative bloggers, and newsy and academic. They publish profound and illuminating investigative pieces that run on the vast gamut of online news media. Most are run and staffed by highly motivated researchers who believe in accountability across public and private sector organizations. Oversight is the key mandate.
GOVERNMENT — Many governments have their own oversight mechanisms. In the US, there’s What is Oversight.gov, a platform containing the latest public reports from Federal Inspectors General. This other “Government Accountability” site ensures that governmental entities at the state, local, and federal levels comply with their sunshine laws and transparency obligations under open records acts. There is even a tell-all website. The US House of Representatives has the Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds, which guides congressional offices working with whistleblowers.
NGO — The Center for Economic Accountability is one independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan educational and advocacy organization. It espouses transparency, accountability, and reform of state and local economic development initiatives. This other watchdog, “Open The Books,” discloses spending at every level of government. In 2021, it filed 47,000 Freedom of Information Act requests and successfully captured $12 trillion in public expenditures, including NGOs themselves. In the US, there are 1.8 million active nonprofit organizations, according to this watchdog site. In Puerto Rico, we have 13,000. NGOs employ 12.3 million people, with $826 billion spent on salaries, benefits, and payroll taxes.
ACADEMIC — The Accountability Research Center (ARC) is based in the American University’s School of International Service. Like other academic watchdogs, it helps co-design exploratory research for efficient accountability of public institutions. The “Project On Government Oversight (POGO)” investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and silencing of those who report wrongdoing, especially in the military. Of excellence is the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.
INFORMATIVE — In Puerto Rico, the hard-hitting Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) has recently launched a “Gender Investigative Unit,” a collaborative project to report systemic gender violence in Puerto Rico and train journalists from the island to do better coverage of these issues. There is the US-based “Center for Public Integrity” to expose private influence on public institutions and politicians. It has a searchable index of FOIA documents detailing war contracts to private companies. And also, the “Center for Investigative Reporting” has a talented staff of reporters that keeps the flame of investigative journalism on fire. This one, ProPublica is always hot on the heels of devious politicians. It is the oldest nonprofit investigative journalist group around.
GLOBAL — This graph gives us a world scale view of investigative journalism networks. They are too numerous to detail. One such is “Transparency International” to uncover corruption worldwide. Also, “Global Witness” focuses on the mismanagement of natural resources and the circuitous path of oil money. “P.D. Investigations” is a for-profit service with good investigative stories. We must also mention the “Bureau of Investigative Journalism” and the sometimes controversial Reporters Without Borders.