Centre for Investigative Journalism
Annual Convention: Individual Reports
by Barrie Zwicker
"In pursuit of the brown envelope, in contempt for the press release, we are going to miss the truth."
JOURNALISM IS HEADING for a fall, in the opinion of one of Canada's
most successful radio public affairs executives.
Mark Starowicz, executive producer of CBC Radio's Sunday
claimed the credibility of journalists is, in the public eye, declining.
Journalists too often are underinformed, too often
don't read books,
or public documents, let alone study them, Starowicz suggested here at
one of the final sessions of the second annual conference of the Centre
for Investigative Journalism.
"We have no right to practice our profession... We don't know what
we're talking about," Starowicz told an overflow audience of about 200.
A lack of "quantifiable data" is too often
replaced with the "new journalism," with "showbusiness techniques" and "a vogue for what we
call investigative journalism."
It turned out he was referring mainly to U.S.
it's not happening too much in Canada. We must not import the American
perversions of what passes for investigative journalism," he cautioned.
As an example of the "60 Minutes syndrome" he
suggested "the crooked
rodeo in Arkansas, or the peanut vendor in New York who gives you 49
peanuts instead of 50. Meanwhile entire books are passing through
Starowicz stressed time and again the importance
and attractiveness of journalists having their facts down cold.
"I don't know if you ever had the experience of
somebody, knowing the guy's a crook... but you go up to these guys and
half the time, some of that rock feeling in your gut starts to melt a
bit and you say to yourself 'it's more complicated, a little
more complicated than the bar talk,' and when it gets complicated, that's
probably when it gets close to the truth."
Another reason journalists are heading for a fall,
in Starowicz' view,
is that too many journalistic resources are being devoted to digging
out skeletons in public figures' closets.
"If we want we can probably find out that René Lévesque stole
something... we are bordering on vigilantism in some cases, at least in
the United States.
"The greatest investigative journalist our
mythology has is I.F. Stone.
He brags he never made a phone call, and he never went to a press
conference in Washington. The public record. The Congressional Record.
This document. That document.
"I fear that in the pursuit of the brown envelope,
in the contempt for
the press release, we really are going to miss the truth. Because
nobody's read the entire 80 pages or 46 pages of the budget. And
nobody's read something that the Saskatchewan Department of Health came
out with on Medicare..."
The other need stressed by Starowicz is for
"I would hope that we would press, as a
correspondents in Calgary. Why are there no properly built information
systems? Why is there nobody reading legislative records in New
Brunswick except one poor overworked son of a bitch who's got to feed
the local Hourglass and the World at Six and this and that?
"We're all going to be safe when there are five of
us in the
legislature poring over it. Because it takes five of us to read it. And
I want to be one of those five because then I'll find it, and I'll find
it in some little departmental report... again the analogy of I.F.
Starowicz said he despises the new journalism.
"It's exhibitionism. We
were not meant to be the stars." In responding to questions later he
agreed he was putting his points vigorously for effect, and that he had
nothing against good feature writing.
Journalism "has no reason to adopt the theatrical
asserted. It is the "relentless, computerlike, lawn-mower (approach to
truth)" that is "an enormous courtesy to our readers and
Published in Sources May/June 1980
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