I think Steve Boriss is basically correct when he’s skeptical about the future of investigative journalism written according the View from Nowhere.
He writes, “It is becoming clear that while journalists might love investigative journalism, there is not much of a consumer market for it.” In the end, though, Boriss isn’t cynical: “America will be well served and will get valuable information from investigative journalists and their benefactors at partisan sites fulfilling their passion to make their opponents look bad.”
Boriss may have more of an explicitly political bone to pick with the “center-left establishment stance” that he sees pervading mainstream American journalism, but non-political arguments, like the one offered in Jay Rosen’s View from Nowhere, can get us to a place of sufficient agreement. We agree, more or less, that neutrality doesn’t work nearly as well as its practitioners claim—and that competitive partisanship may be better.
I do think there’s more to be said about just how partisan investigative journalism will come to thrive. This is a straightforward case of edge economics.
Stories start at the partisan edge, where the reporters or “reporters” receive ideological compensation, as it were, and therefore need less financial compensation. (In other words, political hacks are cheap.)
Then the network takes over, first weeding out the majority of stories that are actually spurious.
Legit cases of investigative journalism start at the partisan edge, and legit stories will tend to migrate to the center—as if guided by an invisible hand. Increasingly mainstream publishers and readers, to the extent those two capacities can be distinguished, will pull the story toward a public sphere’s political-cultural center as they deem the investigations’ conclusions legit at each step.
Each incremental publisher will exploit the political-cultural trust it has with its audience and conversants to advance the story, build a brand, and make a buck. Each incremental social reader-curator will do the same, judging the story for its legitimacy and, it if passes, sending it on to his followers, testing their open-mindedness. The social reader’s reasons may involve dispensing civic duty or earning his peers’ esteem.
The homophily that characterizes social networks will mean that mere transparency, of the kind DigiDave discusses in his comment on Boriss’s post, will be insufficient for even a legit story to jump across groups with heterogeneous ideologies. (In other words, you won’t find too many readers of the Huffington Post check out Power Line.) The process of moving incrementally from the partisan edge to the political-cultural center is one of diffusion across groups with similar ideologies. (In other words, you will find Huffington Post readers checking out Talking Points Memo, and you’ll find TPM readers checking out Andrew Sullivan, and you’ll find Andrew Sullivan readers checking out Instapundit, and, finally, you’ll find Instapundit readers checking out Power Line.)