I love it, but anymore too few stations do true investigative reporting, at least not by my definition.
To my way of thinking pure investigative reporting involves time, and talent, and resources—and risk. You’ve got to be willing to follow every winding path for day or weeks or months, to shoot hours of footage, and finally get to a point where you say—“Nope. Sorry. It’s not there. No story. Let’s move on.”
If you’re not willing to take a chance, if you’re only going for the sure thing, the story you know will turn, you’re not doing real investigative reporting. If you’re not rolling the dice, you’re not investigating.
You also have to have cojones. And even if you do, how about your station’s managers? How about the owners? Will they back you when some client comes calling and says your I-team is about to do him wrong?
That’s why we see so many teases like, “Could the dust-balls under your bed be poisoning your puppies????? Details...at...ELEVEN!”
In the early 90s I was news director for WCIX-TV (now WFOR) the CBS O-and-O in Miami, and we had a kick-butt investigative team. After Hurricane Andrew in late 1992 reporter Susan Candiotti (who’s now with CNN) and her producer uncovered evidence that shoddy workmanship on local homes had led to far more destruction than was necessary. Specifically, Florida law required roof beams to be fastened with hand-driven nails, not by nail-guns. The guns are easier and faster—but there’s a chance that without the “feel” of a hammer in your hand, you won’t know if you’ve fastened wood to wood. We hired our own building inspector and uncovered a shocking number of instances where nail guns were obviously used. I remember several scenes of Susan and the inspector standing next to piles of roof beams torn apart by the hurricane’s winds—roof beams where you could plainly see that the nail guns had missed their mark.
This was a big story. In Andrew’s aftermath, everyone was looking for someone to blame. Well, maybe someone was to blame. We were prepared to name names and show evidence.
But what did Davy Crockett say? “Be always sure you’re right, then go ahead.” We weren’t cowards—we just wanted to be right! So we asked corporate to send us some libel specialists from New York.
What we got were three or four lawyers who were routinely assigned to 60 Minutes. Pros. Heavy hitters. These were men who crossed their "T"s with big, bold strokes. They did not dot their "I"s with hearts or smiley faces.
The bunch of us met in a station conference room with copies of proposed scripts and stacks of background material.
I opened it up. “Here’s what we know…”
And the lead lawyer said, “I don’t care what you KNOW, I only care what you can PROVE. If they come after us, that’s all that’s important.” Lesson learned.
We proved our case to them, then to the public. Cojones, my friends, cojones. How about your station?