Thursday, May 13, 2010

Investigative Journalism

Filmmaker Errol Morris, in his commencement address at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism last weekend.

I have often wondered why we need the phrase investigative journalism. Isn’t all journalism supposed to be investigative? Isn’t journalism without an investigative element little more than gossip? And isn’t there enough gossip around already?

I became involved in one investigation after another – even on occasion working as an actual private detective. (And yes, journalists are detectives, and vice versa, as well.)

But despite the job descriptions – filmmaker, detective, journalist – the enterprise that I was involved in was always similar. Asking questions: What is going on here? What does this mean? What really happened?

Other journalists have expressed similar thoughts to me over the years. Recently, I interviewed Josiah Thompson, an ex-Kierkegaard scholar at Haverford and Yale, who became obsessed by the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. He quit his job in philosophy and wrote an exceptional work of journalism, Six Seconds in Dallas. And subsequently became a private detective. But it all started with his puzzlement over details – details that didn’t make sense. To me, he is the quintessential journalist-investigator.