Investigative journalism shortfall in the U.S., but on the rise in Canada, Latin America

Watchdog reporting in traditional news outlets is on the decline, and new nonprofit investigative journalism ventures are doing their best to fill the void, according to a new article in the American Journalism Review (AJR).

For example, the membership in Investigative Reporters and Editors went from 5,391 in 2003, to a 10-year low of 3,695 in 2009, according to AJR. Also, the number of applications for Pulitzer Prizes in the investigative journalism categories have dropped 40 percent.

Decreasing advertising revenues and shrinking newsrooms also have meant fewer resources and reporters dedicated to investigating stories, AJR said.

Still, despite the doom and gloom, AJR said, "there is one very bright spot on the horizon: the rise of nonprofit news outlets committed to investigative reporting."

For example, ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, and several local operations, like Texas Watchog, are going after the hard-hitting stories.

That's not to say legacy media have abandoned investigative journalism altogether. For example, the Washington Post recently published "Top-Secret America," a two-year project looking into the U.S. intelligence community.

Meanwhile, in Canada, "journalists are increasingly becoming Canada's top public watchdog with searing investigative reports" prompting a new political tradition wherein "public inquiries, often established following intense media pressure, lead to explosive revelations at hearings," according to the news agency AFP. "The result: extremely combative investigative journalism in a country where not making waves is a national trait."

And, in Latin America, Transparency International is co-hosting, with the Press and Society Institute, the second Latin American Conference on Investigative Journalism, from Sept. 3-6 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.