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Democracy's Detectives: The Economics of Investigative Journalism

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In democratic societies, investigative journalism holds government and private institutions accountable to the public. From firings and resignations to changes in budgets and laws, the impact of this reporting can be significant—but so too are the costs. As newspapers confront shrinking subscriptions and advertising revenue, who is footing the bill for journalists to carry In democratic societies, investigative journalism holds government and private institutions accountable to the public. From firings and resignations to changes in budgets and laws, the impact of this reporting can be significant—but so too are the costs. As newspapers confront shrinking subscriptions and advertising revenue, who is footing the bill for journalists to carry out their essential work? Democracy’s Detectives puts investigative journalism under a magnifying glass to clarify the challenges and opportunities facing news organizations today. Drawing on a painstakingly assembled data set of thousands of investigations by U.S. journalists, James T. Hamilton deploys economic theories of markets and incentives to reach conclusions about the types of investigative stories that get prioritized and funded. Hamilton chronicles a remarkable record of investigative journalism’s real-world impact, showing how a single dollar invested in a story can generate hundreds of dollars in social benefits. An in-depth case study of Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Pat Stith of The News and Observer in Raleigh, NC, who pursued over 150 investigations that led to the passage of dozens of state laws, illustrates the wide-ranging impact one intrepid journalist can have. Important stories are going untold as news outlets increasingly shy away from the expense of watchdog reporting, Hamilton warns, but technology may hold an answer. Computational journalism—making novel use of digital records and data-mining algorithms—promises to lower the costs of discovering stories and increase demand among readers.


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In democratic societies, investigative journalism holds government and private institutions accountable to the public. From firings and resignations to changes in budgets and laws, the impact of this reporting can be significant—but so too are the costs. As newspapers confront shrinking subscriptions and advertising revenue, who is footing the bill for journalists to carry In democratic societies, investigative journalism holds government and private institutions accountable to the public. From firings and resignations to changes in budgets and laws, the impact of this reporting can be significant—but so too are the costs. As newspapers confront shrinking subscriptions and advertising revenue, who is footing the bill for journalists to carry out their essential work? Democracy’s Detectives puts investigative journalism under a magnifying glass to clarify the challenges and opportunities facing news organizations today. Drawing on a painstakingly assembled data set of thousands of investigations by U.S. journalists, James T. Hamilton deploys economic theories of markets and incentives to reach conclusions about the types of investigative stories that get prioritized and funded. Hamilton chronicles a remarkable record of investigative journalism’s real-world impact, showing how a single dollar invested in a story can generate hundreds of dollars in social benefits. An in-depth case study of Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Pat Stith of The News and Observer in Raleigh, NC, who pursued over 150 investigations that led to the passage of dozens of state laws, illustrates the wide-ranging impact one intrepid journalist can have. Important stories are going untold as news outlets increasingly shy away from the expense of watchdog reporting, Hamilton warns, but technology may hold an answer. Computational journalism—making novel use of digital records and data-mining algorithms—promises to lower the costs of discovering stories and increase demand among readers.

50 review for Democracy's Detectives: The Economics of Investigative Journalism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Luci

    A very well written and researched book on the importance of The Fourth Estate to our democracy. Plenty of good examples on how investigative reporters brought new information to the voters, things that affect one's entire life, including your health and your pocketbook. Highly recommended to all students of journalism, history and public affairs.

  2. 5 out of 5

    James Aura

    An excellent overview of the work that investigative reporters do, how they often do it, and a clear-eyed look at the results. I particularly liked the description of Pat Stith's work. Stith did outstanding reporting for the Raleigh News & Observer for decades and a number of needed laws were passed as a result of his digging. He also inspired serious investigative efforts by others in the print and broadcast news communities. With newspapers under heavy pressure from falling print circulation a An excellent overview of the work that investigative reporters do, how they often do it, and a clear-eyed look at the results. I particularly liked the description of Pat Stith's work. Stith did outstanding reporting for the Raleigh News & Observer for decades and a number of needed laws were passed as a result of his digging. He also inspired serious investigative efforts by others in the print and broadcast news communities. With newspapers under heavy pressure from falling print circulation and lost advertising revenue, this book arrives at an important time. If you are in news, read it. If you are a consumer of news, unhappy with the product your local publications deliver, read this to see what level of service you are missing out on.

  3. 4 out of 5

    NC Stone

    This was excellent both as an overview and with specifics on how reporters can make a difference in citizens' lives. I particularly appreciated the highlights of work by the great reporter Pat Stith in North Carolina. This book should be on the shelves of any journalism student who is truly interested in making a difference.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Esther Pierce

    No fake news here. An intelligent and focused look at how reporters can improve peoples' lives for the better. I was pleased to see a fantastic Raleigh investigative reporter, Pat Stith, featured. If you care about an informed society and want to learn more about the field of investigative reporting, I would recommend this book highly.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Harry Heitman

    Terrific book on investigative reporting and how journalists add value to democracy in practical ways. Especially liked the focus on specific reporters like Pat Stith, one of the greats. If you are into journalism and news in depth, I would recommend this highly.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Harold Norman

    Full of great examples that explain why we need a free and aggressive press in a democracy. This book features some excellent reporters who provided benefits to citizens that most people never even knew about. If you are interested in journalism or democracy. Read this.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    Lots of insights into the shifting incentives, values, tools and cost of doing investigative reporting. I thought the economic approach used by the writer in terms of evaluating the benefit of investigative reporting to society was very interesting.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Neal Wilson

    Very well done. Anyone interested in investigative journalism or serious reporting should read this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Inga Springe

    Es gaidīju ko citu - par žurnālistiku, kā biznesa modeli, bet bija tāds kaut kāds apskats par pētniecisko žurnālistiku. Nav skaidra auditorija šai grāmatai.

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    Martin Krzywy

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    Mariana Heredia

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    Mitch Williams

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    Vignesh Ramachandran

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