“Journalism is not dying, it’s evolving,” said Mike Stanton, a Providence Journal reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner during a panel discussion Thursday at URI’s Annual Journalism Day. Stanton emphasized that investigative journalism is content readers and viewers can’t get anywhere else.
The panel discussion titled, “Is Investigative Journalism Dead?” also featured URI alumnus Tom Farragher, editor of The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team and Pulitzer Prize winner, and Tim White, who has won two Emmy awards as an investigative reporter for WPRI, Channel 12 in Providence. Journalism Professor Linda Levin moderated the discussion.
“Investigative reporting is essentially digging up documents and exposing corruption in an unique way,” Farragher said. “I believe it will be the life raft of the industry.”
He advised the journalism students to keep working at the craft. “If you really care about the journalism business, keep writing. Learn from your mistakes. Never kiss anything off and never refuse an assignment.”
When Levin asked the panel members to talk about their favorite stories, White discussed his half-hour documentary on the 1975 Bonded Vault mob robbery in Providence, a case that his late father, Jack, who won a Pulitzer Prize at The Providence Journal and who worked at Channel 12, also investigated.
“I grew up on that story,” White said. “While I was transitioning from WBZ in Boston to Channel 12, my mom gave me a box of my dad’s old stuff. My dad was a great reporter, but he was not very organized.”
He found information about the historic heist and began digging, which led him to discover that a person related to the case and placed in the federal witness protection program had continued to rob banks.
Before he spoke about his favorite story, Farragher said he had to issue a brief commercial on behalf of URl. “This is where I learned journalism and that it could be fun and that we can make a difference. That remains true today. I am still jazzed up by it like I was when I started here. This (journalism) program has allowed me to become what I am today.”
Farragher talked about the Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, and which resulted in the removal of Cardinal Bernard Law as archbishop of Boston.
“I was a member of the parish council in my church and one Sunday, after Mass, Monsignor Eugene McNamara pointed to me, and called me over. He asked me, what are you doing to us?’” Farragher said. “I think he had the question backwards.”
Stanton, who wrote about the reign of Buddy Cianci as mayor of Providence in his book, The Prince of Providence, talked about the hours and hours he spent with a colleague going through real estate records at Central Falls City Hall, as they investigated a kickback scheme involving the Central Falls mayor and his childhood friend. The city was being overcharged by the mayor’s friend for boarding up abandon properties for the city.
“Both of these guys are going to jail soon,” Stanton said.
All three journalists said investigative reporting is expensive and time consuming, and media outlets must commit to it fully for it to serve the public.
“It’s not Lindsay Lohan bar hopping the night before,” Stanton said. “It’s about why does an issue matter, who are the victims.”
Farragher told the students that even as a young reporter at small papers he acted like he worked for The New York Times. He also admitted that when he had a reviewed his early work during a stop at his old newspaper, The Gardner News, he found that it wasn’t very good. “I was embarrassed,” he told the students, as he urged them to keep improving.
Stanton said many are asking why talk about journalism because no one reads newspapers anymore.
“But you are entering the field at an exciting time, during which you can use all of the new tools to make investigative journalism essential for all kinds of audiences,” Stanton said.
He said the nation needs investigative journalism as a check on lies and corruption in government and political process.
“Eight billion dollars was just spent on the presidential campaign ads, and they threw a lot of crap out there, and it wasn’t true.”
White advised the students to “read a ton and read the great writers. Write for a greater audience. You are not writing for your boyfriend or your mom. You are a voice for the people.”
The second half of the program focused on the question, “Online News Aggregators: Ethical or Unethical?” The discussion focused on online blogs that use news taken from mainstream news media and the ethical and legal issues regarding this practice. Panelists were: Peter Phipps, managing editor for new media at The Providence Journal and an adjunct journalism professor at URI; Linda Henderson, retired library director at The Providence Journal and a member of the board of the Online Rhode Island Library Project; Mark Tetreault, an attorney with Barlow, Josephs and Holmes, Providence, with a primary focus on intellectual property law, and Bob Plain, publisher and editor of the blog, Rhode Island’s Future, and a URI journalism graduate. URI Journalism Department Chair John Pantalone moderated.
This press release was written by Tess Povar, an intern in URI’s Department of Communication and Marketing and a public relations and communication studies major.