The relative ignorance of the public when it comes to the value of death investigators is a great example of how often huge issues – that have huge impacts on our lives – often go unnoticed.
Watching ProPublica’s collaborative investigation with NRP and PBS’s Frontline made me realize, once again, how valuable good investigative journalism can be.
The hour-long documentary looked at the problem with death investigations in many parts of the United States. It pulled back the CSI stereotype of flashy equipment and state-of-the-art facilities and revealed how underfunded and incompetent the coroner system can be (one former coroner said he used to do autopsies in a converted garage lit by a single light bulb).
Near the end of the story, one forensic scientist commented on how the importance of good death investigations doesn’t dawn on people until they are touched by it personally. Now I have never had personal experience with death investigations, however, I now feel strongly about the issue, after hearing the stories of families who have struggled because of them.
This, to me, exemplifies why this type of journalism is so important. It’s because good investigative journalism makes us feel touched on a personal level by something we would otherwise have no experience with. In a society that moves as fast as ours, anything that causes us to stop and think about others is extremely valuable.
ProPublica’s investigative work is injecting empathy and information into our society, and are successful because they are pragmatic, as well as ideological.
It’s sometimes hard not to scoff at some major news organizations, the MSNBC’s and Fox News’ who put profit well above the fair and thoughtful dissemination of information. At the same time, those organizations that operate outside the capitalist model usually have very little impact, because they are unable to reach a significant audience.
ProPublica is funded by a grant, so they don’t need to worry about making money. At the same time, they are partnered with major news organizations, so their stories aren’t left to decompose in an obscure web archive that no one ever sees. They have seemingly found a way to capitalize on the exposure of the mainstream media, while retaining the objectivity that comes from operating without the need to be profitable, and this is a great thing for journalism.