Thursday, June 25, 2009

Woodward, Hersh stand up for content, St. Louis newsman reports from IRE

By Don Corrigan
Webster-Kirkwood Times
After months and months of bad news for journalism, it was a great morale boost this past weekend to go to the IRE Convention in Baltimore.

Investigative Reporters & Editors is headquartered at Missouri's School of Journalism, but its heart is all over the country - wherever there are journalists who believe in public service and trying to right some wrongs.

One of the profession's deans, who sought to rally the troops, was the man who helped uncover Watergate. Bob Woodward laid it on the line:

"Social media? It's noise. Twitter? Facebook? It's all a diversion. Good reporting is always going to be about hard work; about waking up every morning with the thought: What are the bastards hiding today?"

Woodward conceded that journalism has had major setbacks this past decade. He wasn't talking about the salary cuts, unpaid furloughs, layoffs or newspaper shutdowns. He was speaking of the failure to expose the phony weapons of mass destruction (WMD) justification - before America was marched into a war against Iraq.

Lest one think IRE's meeting was just another venue for Bush-bashing, plenty of skepticism was expressed about the Obama Administration.

James Bamford, who has detailed the intelligence failures that resulted in 9/11, said Obama is in danger of simply being "Bush with charisma." That thought was echoed by Pulitzer-prize winner Seymour Hersh, who criticized Obama for moving too slow to get us out of Iraq and for digging us deeper into war in Afghanistan.

"I was like many people who went to bed on election night thinking we had elected the virtuous prince," said Hersh. "It is becoming apparent that it was just another frog."

I don't buy a lot of what Hersh and Woodward have to say, but it's good to see their "fire in the belly." It's good to see the watchdogs still barking.

At the IRE awards banquet, I sat with reporters from conservative papers, who are digging into scandals erupting with the Wall Street bailouts and abuse of stimulus package money. Good for them! Keep digging!

At the banquet, it was gratifying to watch TV clips of news stories outing public safety officials who shirked their responsibilities to protect school children or city water supplies. It was inspiring to hear about The Seattle Times' work in exposing lax procedures at health facilities that resulted in the spread of staph infections.

Leonard Downie, another dean of American journalism, told reporters to buck up. He said journalism was changing, but not going away. He said the old model of big news companies with lots of advertising is dying.

News will be done by non-profits, by universities, by community papers, by partisan Web blogs with impartial investigative units. Downie said people are finding new ways to find news and it's time to embrace a new era.