Pelley: Journalism can disinfect government
Today’s young journalists must learn how to combat the world’s growing amount of bad information to preserve democracy’s future, “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley said Tuesday during a speech in Presidents Hall.
While having more information can be helpful, Pelley said it has also resulted in misleading rhetoric in the United States about immigration, fake news and the government.
“We are at this moment in our country, I fear, at a time where ignorance is posing as enlightenment,” Pelley said.
Pelley’s speech was the keynote of a full-day launch event for the Michael I. Arnolt Center for Investigative Journalism at The Media School. Funded by a $6 million gift from alumnus Michael I. Arnolt, BA’67, the center will teach about and produce high-quality, multimedia investigative journalism. Panel discussions by investigative journalists and a ribbon-cutting ceremony preceded Pelley’s address.
Pelley talked about how journalism should lift individual stories and serve as a way to keep the government in check.
“The stakes are that high, and that’s what I tell young journalism students today,” Pelley said.
Before his talk, freshman Mary Claire Molloy gave Pelley an Ernie Pyle G.I. Joe action figure, which he brought with him to the podium.
Dean Jim Shanahan presented Pelley with IU’s Bicentennial Medal, which “honors distinguished and distinctive service, broadly defined, in support of Indiana University’s mission as a public university, individuals who have enlarged the footprint of IU, or have helped to put IU on the map in unique ways.” Arnolt was also awarded a medal earlier in the day.
Kathleen Johnston, founding director of the Arnolt Center, announced that Pelley would sit on the center’s advisory board.
Pelley – as did the other panelists throughout the day – donated his time for the event and spoke without accepting an honorarium, Johnston said.
Johnston said she worked at CBS when Pelley was an anchor for “CBS Evening News” and praised him for his outstanding coverage of stories all over the world throughout his career.
“Scott Pelley is what I call a real newsman,” Johnston said. “He’s like a walking history book.”
Pelley shared some of that history by reading from his recent book, “Truth Worth Telling.”
He captivated the audience with the first chapter, which wove stories of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives during 9/11 with his own experience reporting on the horrific event from the ground.
As Pelley watched the towers fall, they seemed to collapse one floor at a time in slow motion, even though Pelley said he knows it all happened much faster.
Pelley remembers being on his knees without knowing how he got there, crying out to God.
“Lord, take them all with no pain,” Pelley remembers saying.
Much later, Pelley realized he showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. He said it’s important to balance empathy toward a story and its subjects with a reporter’s own need for self-care.
Pelley said journalists often make personal sacrifices to ensure the American people have the news they need, putting in hard work to ensure the freedom of the press can remain alive.
This includes holding president Donald Trump and other elected officials accountable for what they say, and Pelley said pointing out the lies the current administration tells was an important part of his job when he was an anchor for “CBS Evening News.”
Pelley said he even spoke personally with Trump about him calling CBS “the enemy of the American people,” concerned that it could incite violence.
“I don’t worry about that,” Trump told Pelley.
Pelley said Trump’s rhetoric has since incited violence — though the primary target has been immigrants, rather than the media. He cited the recent El Paso, Texas, shooting that killed 22 people.
Without aggressive coverage of the government, Pelley said corruption would spread.
“The only disinfectant in government is sunlight,” Pelley said, “and sunlight is what journalism can be.”
Investigative Sports Journalism in a Multimedia World
By Chris Forrester
Investigative reporting isn’t like the movies. It takes time. It starts small and grows and shrinks and grows again. Reporting stalls and gets forgotten about or moved to the back burner in pursuit of something else. It takes patience.
“In every movie about investigative journalism, the story comes together in two and a half hours,” said Zach Osterman, BAJ’09, IndyStar’s IU athletics reporter, during the day’s first panel session. “It’s always nighttime when it fits the narrative. It’s always daytime when it fits the narrative. It’s always rainy when it fits the narrative. And there’s always a taxi available.”
Diana Moskovitz, senior editor at Deadspin, described her experience covering the Baylor sexual assault scandal. She said she started out covering it like a beat story.
“Writing a story every week or two and letting people know that they are seen and they are heard can carry through a national scandal,” she said.
Kenny Jacoby, data reporter at Gatehouse Media, exposed Florida Atlantic University’s false Title IX reporting by digging through data. When he noticed a suspicious jump in the female-to-male athlete ratio federally reported by the university, Jacoby eventually uncovered that the reported figures had been faked.
Mark Alesia, BA’89, former investigative reporter at IndyStar, was part of the three-reporter team that broke the story of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s abuse of more than 250 children and young women. He and his team broke the story thanks, in part, to their own persistence and the bravery of the sources who came to them. The first was a woman named Rachael Denhollander.
“She was out there alone for a long time,” Alesia said.
Investigative Journalism’s New Golden Age? The Rise of the Nonprofits
By Kara Williams
Investigative reporting is expensive, and traditional newsrooms are facing a funding crisis. In the second panel, three journalists talked about how their newsrooms are supporting quality investigative journalism through nonprofit business models.
Dee J. Hall, BA’82, managing editor of Wisconsin Watch; Brant Houston, Knight chair in investigative and enterprise reporting at the University of Illinois and founder of the Global Investigative Journalism Network and the Institute for Nonprofit News; and Christina Jewett, BAJ’02, senior correspondent at Kaiser Health News, all emphasized the growing importance of these independent nonprofit newsrooms.
In their own ways, these organizations all collaborate with traditional, for-profit news organizations.
“The way to have a lot of strength is to collaborate,” Houston said.
For example, Wisconsin Watch partners with many local news outlets, Hall said, and these partnerships both lead to better final products and help distribute their stories more widely.
“Many of these small newspapers we serve don’t get the Associated Press because it’s too expensive for them,” she said. “They really look forward to our news alerts and packages.”
Another important consideration for the success of nonprofit investigative centers is credibility, the panelists said, both in being transparent about funding sources and in ensuring their work is accurate.
“Because credibility is our currency, we list all our funding sources on our website,” Hall said. “We follow our stories because we think they’re important to the public, not because the funders want us to.”
At Wisconsin Watch, Hall said the focus on accuracy takes place mainly through extensive fact-checking. Each of their stories goes through between eight and 12 hours of fact-checking, she said.
Jewett emphasized the openness and adaptability of nonprofit investigations as another way they ensure they are telling the full, accurate story.
Since unlike traditional newsrooms, nonprofit centers typically focus on digital content and partnerships, they don’t have finite space to fill on a certain day. This allows journalists to keep working on a story until it’s complete, without the pressure of a print deadline.
“There’s a lot of open-mindedness in nonprofit investigations,” Jewett said. “There’s a lot of, ‘We’ve got this story; now how can we do it justice?’”
The New New Muckrakers: Investigative Reporting in the Twenty-First Century
By Daniela Molina
Digital technology is revolutionizing journalism, but most of the traditional process of investigative reporting still applies today, said journalists in the third panel.
Cheryl W. Thompson, NPR investigative correspondent and Investigative Reporters and Editors board president, reminded young journalists that most reporting shouldn’t be done from behind a computer.
“Go out and talk to people,” Thompson said. “Be present.”
That’s the first step. Lee Zurik, director of investigations for Gray Television, and Duane Pohlman, investigative reporter for WKRC Cincinnati, said “character development” is especially essential in investigative stories, which can be long and complicated. Pohlman said any source can be a good character — journalists have to make them feel comfortable enough to open up.
“It’s up to us as reporters to pull that out of them,” he said. “Please slow down long enough to get to know the people you’re covering.”
Because of social media, journalists have more competition than ever for news consumers’ attention, Pohlman said. He encouraged people to find creative ways to do stand-ups and tell stories.
In an era of declining trust in news media, Zurik said investigative reporting that performs a public service helps restore it.
“You really do build trust with your viewers when you do this type of work,” he said.
The three panelists urged student reporters to familiarize themselves with the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics.
Pro Tips: Putting Your Investigative Skills to Work
By Austin Faulds
The day’s final panel focused not just on how to gain investigative skills, but how to use them to get a job.
Senior lecturer and moderator Anne Ryder was joined by IndyStar investigations team leader Steve Berta, WRTV-6 Indianapolis news director Terri Cope-Walton, WNDU South Bend news director Kate Glover and Wisconsin Watch founder and executive director Andy Hall, BA’82.
The journalists’ investigations include the exposure of a loophole that allowed Portland, Oregon, daycare owners to legally smoke marijuana near children – revealed by Glover’s team – and the infamous USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal – revealed by Berta’s team, to name just two.
Glover said there are a wide range of approaches to investigative journalism, but there is one unifying goal.
“What it comes down to is you’re trying to right a wrong,” Glover said.
Glover said aspiring TV reporters should expect to enter the market as a multimedia journalist — someone who reports, shoots and edits his or her own packages. She said it is essential for young reporters to know how to shoot and edit their own video.
Investigative journalism jobs openings usually aren’t entry-level. Berta said it’s unusual for people under the age of 30 to be assigned to investigative teams. But he said data analysis skills are in demand and can be a shortcut.
In any medium, Cope-Walton said aspiring investigative journalist should find their niche or talent and hone in on that. This will help them become better storytellers after they learn the basics.
“When you’re in a working newsroom, you have to be able to do the job you’re being paid to do,” Cope-Walton said.
During the application process, Cope-Walton urged followup. She said she’s rarely hired someone who didn’t “hound” her during the hiring process, calling her for updates.
Before graduating students enter journalism careers, Glover advised them to first do some self-reflection and understand the job is not easy. The odd hours will take away from their personal lives. But if they really hold the passion for the work, it will be worth it.