A season showing that #JournalismMatters
This week saw more evidence added to the already mountainous pile of proof that journalism matters.
The Catholic Church in Texas launched an internal review of Monsignor Frank Rossi after an Associated Press investigation revealed Rossi had allegedly “continued to hear a married woman’s confessions after luring her into a sexual relationship.” (Read that story here: https://tinyurl.com/y2zcsfhd).
It was a banner week for the AP, which also reported that the military had opened an investigation into Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, president of the U.S. Naval War College, after the AP uncovered evidence that Harley “abused his hiring authority and otherwise behaved inappropriately” and mismanaged the institution’s finances. (Read that story here: https://tinyurl.com/y5amvo49).
Meanwhile, Politico reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has scrapped its contract with consultant Tom Collamore following a Wall Street Journal investigation that revealed expensive perks for Chamber chief Tom Donohue even as the lobbying group’s influence on Capitol Hill appears to be waning. (See Politico’s story here: https://tinyurl.com/y5ux8gex; see the WSJ’s investigation here: https://tinyurl.com/y4kpsokg).
Such things happen all the time.
The founding fathers protected the freedom of the press because they knew newspapers would tell the public what the government and other powerful organizations wouldn’t. When such information is brought into the light, change can happen.
While investigatory journalism is, mostly, a relatively modern invention that grew from the Washington Post’s work on Watergate, the craft is a direct offshoot of the spirit behind the First Amendment.
In addition to “All the President’s Men,” by the Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, investigative journalists’ founding credos can be found in “The Arizona Project,” by Detroit News reporter Michael E. Wendland (https://tinyurl.com/y63cn74z). That 1977 book tells the story of the founding of the now-international organization Investigative Reporters and Editors (of which I am a former member), created by a group of journalists from around the country who teamed up to investigate the car-bombing murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles and revealed widespread crime and corruption in the Grand Canyon State.
You can trace a direct line from the work documented in those books to the work of journalists in the #MeToo era who uncovered allegations of sexual assault and harassment by powerful people. Though many of those alleged acts were outside the reach of the law because of statutes of limitations or other issues, the journalists’ work (and the bravery of victims who decided to come forward) led directly to several people being removed from the positions of power and influence they used to coerce their victims.
I’ve been fortunate to see some of my own work cause change.
In Lansing, I found that a nonprofit serving victims of sexual assault had simultaneously employed three registered sex offenders as volunteers, unknown to the many sex assault victims who also volunteered there. My stories led to the three men being fired from the organization and a state senator introduced a law (though the law didn’t pass) that would have prohibited such organizations from hiring sex offenders.
Also in Lansing, I uncovered evidence that some supervisors in the state’s child welfare agency were, in an effort to make it seem as though the state was in compliance with court-ordered caseload limits, assigning child abuse and neglect cases to employees who were on extended leaves of absence and unavailable to investigate the cases. I also found evidence that some supervisors harassed and harangued employees who failed to meet quotas. My stories spurred investigations by the Legislature, the federal court, and the Michigan Auditor General and led to at least one supervisor being reassigned.
Journalists’ impact is not limited to uncovering wrongdoing or conspiracy.
While reporting in Battle Creek, I wrote about an elementary student’s efforts to raise money for his family to take one more vacation before his sister died of cancer. Donations poured in from readers, and the family was able to go on a weeklong journey to Disney World.
And little makes me happier than when I go to vote and see other voters holding a copy of the newspaper, using the stories therein as a guide as they fill out their ballot.
Yes, a journalist’s work is important, and it makes the world a better place.
But it’s not free.
It costs money to buy paper and ink and to run a printing press. And every journalist needs a salary to put food on the table and support his or her family.
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Help us continue making the world a better place.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.