It’s easy, and accurate, to take a potshot at the Associated Press for liberal bias when it inks a deal to distribute the investigative reporting of four left-leaning nonprofits but no conservative works, and that’s exactly what Paul Chesser did at AmSpecBlog over the weekend.
But the fault for a lack of conservative presence in AP’s six-month distribution experiment isn’t AP’s alone. The wire service would be hard-pressed to distribute conservative investigative journalism because precious little of it exists right now or is being produced on a consistent basis.
There are bright spots.
Mark Tapscott is building an all-star team of investigative writers as part of the Washington Examiner’s editorial-page staff. Earlier this month he hired David Freddoso and J.P. Freire away from National Review and American Spectator.
They joined Kevin Mooney, who produces the “Dirty Money Watch” series that explores the connection between politicians and corrupt donors and who this year already has exposed pension problems at major unions and the depth of the federal government’s funding for ACORN.
The Washington Times also is engaged on the investigative front. This morning, it launched a radio program called America’s Morning News.
“AMN is sending nearly a dozen investigative reporters to cover all aspects of this administration, looking to follow the money and its corrupting influence on D.C. and other special interests across the country,” conservative radio veteran Melanie Morgan said of her new venture.
Michelle Malkin, furthermore, documented in great detail the many examples of solid reporting produced by conservative bloggers in recent years. Neither traditional media outlets nor bloggers on the left are inclined to acknowledge that work, but it is being done.
The problem is that thorough investigative work by activists on the right is haphazard at best. Bloggers have done some awesome work, but they do it on their own time and when they are inspired to dig deep. No one is paying them to think like investigate reporters on a daily basis.
Without money on the table, that isn’t going to change. And even if bloggers start getting paid for substantive investigative work, an organization as large as AP has no business incentive to pursue deals with individual bloggers, who typically have limited audiences.
Another factor that plagues conservative journalism, one that is intertwined with the limited supply of money for investigations, is the gravitation toward punditry over reporting. Liberal writers dream of being the next Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein; conservatives, especially conservative bloggers, want to be William F. Buckley or George Will.
Why? Because it’s much easier to criticize someone else’s slanted investigative work than it is to do your own legwork and report stories from a different perspective.
Tapscott called attention to that problem last fall after some conservative bloggers began contemplating the future of the movement. He pointed young conservatives toward journalism training programs, including the computer-assisted research and reporting classes he started years ago at the Heritage Foundation, and fellowships that fund newsworthy projects.
“In short,” he wrote, “we’ve complained about liberal media bias for decades, but now that the mainstream media is steadily being displaced by online media, many of us need to become … journalists, or capable of doing the online analogy of traditional journalism, particularly in its investigative phase.”
It’s time to stop complaining and start working. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “The best way to combat liberal media bias in the information age is for conservatives to be the media themselves.” If you can’t beat ’em, bypass ’em.
The Examiner and the Times have started fighting back through traditional media outlets, and bloggers are contributing on an ad hoc basis. Last week, the Goldwater Institute also hired an investigative reporter. They are showing conservatives what can be done.
But those efforts must be seen as just the start. The liberal worldview is and will remain dominant in the mainstream media, and the AP deal is a reminder that liberals have a deeper investigative infrastructure in place than conservatives.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation also just announced plans to direct $15 million in grants toward investigative reporting. The foundation has supported the work of three of the liberal groups now working with AP-the Center for Investigate Reporting, Center for Public Integrity and ProPublica.
Add to that the $2.4 million in funding for a new state-focused project at the Center for Investigative Reporting and the $1.75 million donated in the spring for a Huffington Post investigative unit being led by the former investigations chief at The Washington Post, and it’s clear that conservatives are at a huge journalistic disadvantage.
The conservative movement needs donors who are willing to foot the bill for substantive journalistic endeavors. It also needs at least one media-oriented nonprofit whose mission is to serve as a government watchdog-the Goldwater Institute’s idea but on a large scale.
The business model of the fledgling startup Spot.us, which gives donors the chance to suggest and fund stories on subjects of interest to them, is one approach worth exploring.
Imagine a nonprofit that invites donors to suggest and fund specific projects. The organization’s editorial experts could pursue news and investigative stories that they deem newsworthy, but donors also could act as volunteer assignment editors by proposing and funding multimedia stories for the Internet. In return, donors would get the kind of journalism they have always wanted to see but never thought possible in a media world run by liberals.
Nonprofits have a role to play in the future of conservative journalism, and young donors in particular want to be more directly involved in the efforts they fund. Engaging them is one way to shape a future that AP and the rest of the mainstream media cannot ignore.