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Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan discusses on "Arizona Horizon" the new Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at ASU. The column below by Callahan and Leonard Downie Jr., Weil Family Professor of Journalism, on the Howard Center appeared in The Arizona Republic on Aug. 26, 2018.
A free, robust and unfettered press is not simply desirable in a democracy. It is essential.
Democracy cannot breathe, survive or thrive without the ability of the people to freely receive, share and debate information and opinions.
Thomas Jefferson dramatically underscored the primacy of a free press to a democracy, writing in 1787 that, if given a choice between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Why investigative reporting is essential
Before Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years, the prosecutor said if it weren't for the investigative reporting of the Indianapolis Star, Nassar would still be abusing gymnasts. Those reporters now share how they gave a voice to the victims. USA TODAY
Investigative reporting, a form of journalism that focuses on holding the powerful accountable through painstaking, often lengthy independent investigations of institutions and people, has played an increasingly vital role in American life and democracy ever since journalists uncovered government lies and subterfuge during the Vietnam War and Watergate.
Investigative reporting can right wrongs, give voice to the voiceless, expose ineptitude and corruption and help point the way to solutions in almost every dimension of society – from government, national security, business and law enforcement to the environment, education, health care and social welfare.
It has toppled government officials, business executives and religious leaders. It has forced the Catholic Church to acknowledge and act to stop child molestation by its priests, alerted the nation’s hospitals to fatal shortcomings in their care of newborn babies, and focused the nation’s attention on police shootings. It has led to sweeping institutional reforms, prompted changes in laws and revealed to the public important, previously hidden information.
We believe this kind of probing journalism on behalf of the American people is more important than ever in today’s cacophony of confusing, contradictory and misleading information, not to mention skepticism – and at times flat-out rejection – of facts.
How we're stepping in to fill the gap
But the growing need for deep investigative journalism, which is resource intensive, comes at a time of significant financial stress for a news industry massively disrupted by new technologies and economic change. A relentless stream of cutbacks in traditional newsrooms has led to reductions of reporters, editors and producers devoted to this critical – but very expensive – form of journalism.
At the same time, however, we have seen the proliferation of independent, nonprofit investigative reporting centers, largely fueled by philanthropy. Large national nonprofits such as ProPublica and smaller state-focused investigative centers in Arizona, Florida, Kentucky and Wisconsin, to name just a few, have helped fill the gap.
Now universities are poised to play key leadership roles in this new investigative journalism ecosystem.
The Scripps Howard Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Co., recently announced what is believed to be the largest gift ever to higher education for investigative reporting: $3 million to our Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and $3 million to our colleagues at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, to create the Howard Centers for Investigative Journalism.
The dual goals of the Howard Centers are to produce both great investigative journalists and great investigative journalism. At Cronkite, new nationally recruited Howard Center faculty will join five Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporters and editors already at ASU.
It's like a teaching hospital for news
University-produced journalism is not new, but it is growing. Over the past decade, the Cronkite School alone has launched a dozen programs that model the design of a teaching hospital in medical education, where top professionals join the faculty to lead bright young students in professional centers, creating immersive learning environments while serving a larger community outside of the university. For medical schools, the service is health care; for journalism schools, it is news and information.
For example, Cronkite News, a statewide multi-platform news operation with bureaus in Phoenix, Washington and Los Angeles, focuses on key public policy issues facing the Southwest in areas such as health, law and the environment.
It reports on people and communities across the region often under-represented in news media, such as American Indians and those living on borderlands. The work is distributed each day on media platforms that include Arizona PBS, the nation’s seventh-largest public television station.
While there is a growing array of fully student-staffed, professionally led “teaching hospital” programs such as Cronkite News and others at ASU and other universities around the country, few have the resources of the Howard Centers or are focused exclusively on investigative journalism.
This is a university-wide effort
The Howard Center at ASU will draw on the values of fact-based journalism – accuracy, fairness, thoroughness, accountability – embodied by both Cronkite, the legendary CBS News anchor and our school’s namesake, and Roy W. Howard, one of the most influential news executives of the first half of the 20th century, who led the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain and for whom the new center is named.
The new center also will take advantage of the staggering portfolio of digital tools and techniques available to today’s journalists to find information, tell powerful stories and engage more meaningfully with new audiences.
But the most distinctive feature of the Howard Center is its university-wide, interdisciplinary design.
The Howard Center will tap into the best and brightest minds at one of the world’s most comprehensive research universities to better prepare the next generation of investigative journalists. Professors from across ASU will be teaching their disciplines’ specialized methods of inquiry and research to the emerging journalists. The Howard Center also will recruit students from areas of study and industries beyond the news media.
A new generation of investigative reporters, armed not just with time-honored journalistic techniques from the past and the latest 21st-century digital tools, but also with information-gathering and analytical abilities drawn from accountancy, anthropology, history, law, medicine and many other fields, will be able to produce deeper, more insightful and impactful stories to better serve readers, viewers and the country.
Our democracy deserves nothing less.