Keeping I-Teams alive on TV

Investigative reporting on local television has always been endangered. It’s expensive and time-consuming to dig up stories that hold the powerful accountable. Now, the economic pressure on newsrooms has put I-Teams in even greater jeopardy. So how can investigative journalists convince their bosses to let them keep doing what they do best?

“The way to stay employed is by becoming invaluable in your newsroom,” says veteran WLS-TV reporter Chuck Goudie (left). “You want to be the go to person in your newsroom, the first name that comes to mind when they need information. You shouldn’t have to be called. You should be on the phone getting information or telling your assignment desk what you know.”

WBAL-TV’s Jayne Miller agrees. “If you want to stay relevant, the number one goal is to break news,” she told the  Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference in Baltimore last weekend.  To do that,  you need sources you can reach at any time. “Measure your value by how many contacts you have in your phone,” Miller says. “What makes you unique are the human sources you have.”

Goudie has made himself relevant by becoming a franchise at his station. Every Wednesday night, he’s on the air at 10 with a segment that is heavily promoted. But he also files Web exclusive stories just about every day–stories that won’t make it onto any newscast, like developments in a criminal trial. “In many cases, a good news story isn’t necessarily a good TV news story but you want to have your name on it,” Goudie says. “Eyeballs will come to it. Trust me.”

Investigative journalists also use the Web to provide more information than they could possibly fit into a TV story. Chris Halsne of KIRO-TV in  Seattle says his Web team appreciates the I-Team’s ability to bring fresh content to the site. And whenever a story is posted online, Halsne says, he gets emails and tips for future stories.

The bottom line is that TV investigative reporting today is much more than just long-term projects that air during sweeps. As Miller puts it,” investigative reporting is the answer to the why,” and it doesn’t always take months to figure out.

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