Muckraking: A Disappearing Form Of Journalism?
The term muckraker has some negative connotations today but it used to be a noble term applied to a form of journalism that railed against injustice, corruption and the excesses of the high and mighty.
A muckraker is, primarily, a reporter or writer who investigates and publishes truthful reports involving a host of social issues, broadly including crime and corruption and often involving elected officials, political leaders and influential members of business and industry....The term eventually came to be used in reference to investigative journalists who reported about and exposed issues such as crime, fraud, waste, public health and safety, graft, illegal financial practices...
As the journalist profession continues to suffer in the train wreck of the media industry, the amount of muckraking appears to be diminishing as quickly as the number of journalists.
And there are seemingly few in the "new media" that want to be muckrakers, preferring instead to speculate about future iPhones or rewrite product press releases.
Robert Scoble recently pointed out some muckraking he did when at Microsoft:
I once took on Microsoft WHILE I WORKED THERE because of an injustice I felt was happening at every level. The execs had decided to pull support for an anti-discrimination bill due to pressure from a local church. I thought that was horse shit and wrote about it continually for a few days. Within a week Ballmer had reversed himself and within a year that bill passed for the first time in eight years of tries.
In my own small way I've done my share of muckraking over the past few years. When Yahoo! fingered its own users to the Chinese authorities, which resulted in a lengthy prison sentence for a Chinese journalist, I wrote many articles highly critical of the company's management. Here are some of them:
Lately I've been sniping at the heels of Twitter over its despicable actions in San Francisco. Twitter threatened to leave San Francisco unless it got big cuts in paying local taxes. Yet this is a company whose founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone regularly trumpet the company's strong focus on corporate social responsibility, on TV, radio, and public speaking events.
Here is some of my Twitter coverage:
On a couple of occasions I've tried to rally my colleagues in the local press corps to take on some key subjects but the response has always been lukewarm.
"Every company is up to something bad, what's the point?" was one response from a senior writer at a national newspaper.
Apathy is what keeps muckraking at bay and it's understandable: journalists are having to work three times as hard with little to look forward to.
Also, the companies themselves seek to control the press by inviting, or not inviting media to their press events. Many journalists are concerned about losing their relationship with key companies and that concern moderates their work.
I don't care if I'm not invited to Twitter events, for example. They are all usually webcast anyway and the information doled out is not exclusive.
I prefer to be outside the tent than inside. I'd rather not be controlled with the carrot and stick of access.
There is a lot that journalists can do for social good. Digital ink is cheap and companies don't like bad publicity.
Hopefully, muckraking will make a comeback.