WATCHDOG JOURNALISM BITES INTO REVENUE: How newspapers are turning trust into dollars.

Author:Peck, Gretchen A.
Position:Investigative journalism

Investigative journalism is often the stuff of drama. Exposing corruption, abuse, inequality and crimes are inherently good, juicy stories--not to mention a core competency and duty for newspapers. It wouldn't surprise anyone in news to hear that investigative journalism is not just popular among broadcast audiences, but with people who read newspapers in print and online. After all, investigative reporting helps people; it informs communities; it changes things; and thankfully, for the news organization, it brings in revenue.

On Epstein's Case

These days Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown is in hot demand. Not only is she managing the stress of her day-to-day duties as an investigative journalist for the Herald, she's fielding requests for comment on her explosive expose series that was published last November on Jeffrey Epstein, the financier accused of sex trafficking and sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.

It was Brown's relentless probing that drew national attention to the case and those who orchestrated a sweetheart sentencing deal or refused to follow-up on additional allegations. The work also redirected the legal spotlight back to Epstein, who, at the time E&P spoke with Brown, was facing a litany of new charges. Epstein was found dead in his jail cell of an apparent suicide on Aug. 10.

At the Herald, Brown said investigative journalism is "driven by the reporters who have to do the legwork. This is worth telling. It bubbles up from the bottom, not the other way around ... we are stretched thin, so we have to advocate our stories and show our editors, here's why I want to tell the story, here's why it's important."

One of those proving-ground stories was an investigation into Florida's prison system. The fallout from that story saw prison guards and supervisors fired. Without hyperbole, Brown said, "We probably saved lives as a result of that project."

"You will be surprised how readers will value exposing or making institutions more transparent and holding them accountable. That's what people really want to read," she said.

Brown is certainly doing her part. Her reporting on Epstein had an impact on the fiscal health of the news organization.

"When the series first launched, we had a special link buried within the story. People could click on it (and subscribe)," she said. "I can't give you an exact number, but we got an enormous volume of subscriptions that we could trace exactly to the launch of that series ... I was told that my series, more than anything else in (parent company) McClatchy newspapers last year, got the most subscriptions."

Reader feedback is a good way to understand how stories resonate with readers. "It made me realize how much investigative journalism means to people. That's the bottom line," Brown said. "The message I received, above all, is that investigative journalism like this means so much to the public ... I've never seen anything like it in my entire journalism career--a response like that, from people who not only appreciated the journalism, but also from sexual assault survivors."

She added, "I began to notice comments from people on Twitter and hear stories of people from all...

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