There is no doubt that the art of investigative journalism is declining. With newspapers' revenue streams less secure, expensive investigative journalism projects are often the first to be cut. There is hope among reporters who fear for the integrity of the news industry that crowdsourcing trends will boost investigative journalism. In some instances, crowdsourcing is helpful in getting the opinion of the people directly on site. However, a certain form of investigative journalism may still be suffering from lack of traditional means of coverage. Nieman Reports' Ethan Zuckerman explains that crowdsourcing can not replace the quality of traditional foreign reporting.
Zuckerman plays devil's advocate by noting the benefits of fewer journalists abroad. "Too often, foreign correspondents parachute into unfamiliar situations and offer a view that's insufficiently informed by the facts on the ground and is overly influenced by the biases of the audience they're speaking to," reports Zuckerman. "The rise of participatory media and the flowering of independent press around the world gives us alternatives to the foreign correspondent: We can listen to local journalists (professional and citizen) who report on the situation in their countries through local eyes, relying on local knowledge."
To an extent, it is indeed beneficial to have news from the vantage point of local people. Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing tool that targets less developed countries, was created to give Kenyans a voice in the 2007 election crisis. There was a story to be told that could only be adequately explained from the people who were living through the crisis.
Foreign journalists are living through the situations as well, but may act as a bridge between the foreign country and the place of publication. Merely because the reporter is in the country means events that occur there have a higher chance of being reported. Without foreign correspondents, it is difficult to have important events break into the mass media. "In a digital age we can listen to knowledgeable local voices, but it's unclear that we will," writes Zuckerman. Reporters are needed abroad to focus the consuming of content that audiences didn't even know existed.
"The best foreign correspondents are not just deeply knowledgeable about the countries they write about--they are masters at leading their audiences to a story they might have otherwise ignored." Journalists stationed abroad may not understand everything about the culture where they live, yet they are most equipped to try to generate interest and explanations for their audiences at home. These professionals will add a different perspective to local reports, thus providing depth and context to a story. Likewise crowdsourced information is prone to be unreliable, and using trained journalists to fact-check data is the best method to ensure quality. Checking for validity is difficult when journalists are not in the same country as their story. So while there are many fans of crowdsourcing as a tool of investigative journalism, could it even start to replace foreign correspondents?
Sources: Nieman Reports