Any reporters feeling discouraged about the erosion of journalism's traditional watchdog role will want to read the Spring 2008 issue of Nieman Reports, published by the foundation at Harvard University. The coverline: "21st Century Muckrakers: Who Are They? How Do They Do Their Work?"
It includes nearly 50 articles not only chronicling the "Muckraker" tradition of American investigative journalism that goes back at least to Ida Tarbell before the beginning of the 20th Century - but documenting that muckraking is alive and quite well, thank you, in this 21st Century, as journalism engages with the digital age.
Those articles are written by some of the giants of American journalism. And they contain much sound advice about how to penetrate today's barriers of corporate and government secrecy.
Here's just a smattering of the contents:
- "The Press and the Presidency: Silencing the Watchdog," by Murrey Marder
- "Determining the Reliability of a Key CIA Source," by Bob Drogin
- "Digital Records Reveal Corruption on Capitol Hill," by Marcus Stern and Jerry Kammer
- "New Sources of Funding, New Sources of Reporting," by Gilbert Cranberg
- "Going Online With Watchdog Journalism," by Paul E. Steiger
- "Seeking Support for Investigative Projects," compiled by Rachel Schaff
- "Revealing the Disinformation Industry," by Barry Sussman
- "The Investigative Journalist's Digital Tool Kit," by Joe Murray.
Among the other notables authoring articles in the issue: Steve Weinberg, Murrey Marder, Charles Lewis, Mark Schapiro, Stephen K. Doig, Rick Rodriguez, Brant Houston, Walter Pincus, Danny Schechter, and Morton Mintz.
As newsrooms of the "legacy media" (as some now call newspapers and television) continue to be depopulated by economic pressure, the issue explores other economic models for investigative work - including the nonprofit sector.