The Huffington Post and the Atlantic Philanthropies say they will spend $1.75 million to fund investigative journalism.
It’s called the Huffington Post Investigative Fund. It’ll be headed by Nick Penniman, founder of the American News Project.
From where we’re sitting, the Fund looks like a very smart PR play — and not much else.
The PR benefits are obvious:
- The fund will help to put handwringing about journalism to rest and make the NYT’s “mission from God” rhetoric even more ridiculous.
- The fund also counters the grumbling that the HuffPo is just a leech sucking remaining life out of real news orgs.
But will the Huffington Post Investigative Fund actually make a big difference in investigative journalism? Not necessarily.
Investigative journalism requires resources, sure, but it’s fuelled mostly by whistle-blowing sources looking for the media outlet with the loudest megaphone — not reporters looking for sources.
Remember, “Deep Throat,” a.k.a William Mark Felt, came to Woodward and Bernstein, not the other way around. It’s also worth remembering he did so not entirely out of altruism. The guy was very upset with Nixon because he politicized the FBI.
Source like Felt — people with axes to grind and ulterior motives against the powers that be — aren’t going to go away just because newspapers are. These people have a self-interest to talk to whomever they need to get their story out and thereby gratify their own political or commercial ambitions.
Investigative reporters — like most kinds of reporters — are valuable because they’re willing to listen to these people, fact-check their stories, and then tell the whole world about it.
If the Huffpo begins breaking big stories someday, it won’t be because it’s spending $1.75 million on investigative journalism. It will be because the HuffPo’s audience is so big, ax-grinding sources will go to it with their stories first. The Huffington Post will have a commercial interest in checking the stories out and running them. And if they don’t, somebody else will profit by doing so instead.
Update: A prior version of this story said that Nick Pennimam was an Obama fundraiser. He was not.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.