Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Barstow, from The New York Times, says change-driven investigative journalism is often a double-edged sword.
Speaking to an audience of journalism and communications researchers, postgraduates and students on May 10, Mr Barstow was visiting Griffith University as a guest of the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research as part of the Australian Press Council’s 40th anniversary celebrations.
He told of major investigative stories he had undertaken that had led to policy and cultural changes but often had difficult consequences for the sources involved.
“There is a tension in being a ‘crusading journalist’ – it can make you reduce your view of the world too much in an effort to find the story you want to find,” Mr Barstow said.
“What I’ve found we need to focus on is delivering hard-hitting stories that challenge power. The fact that they appear on the front page of The New York Times is what is important.”
Mr Barstow said the rise of Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump was a side-effect of the ‘click-through’ priorities of modern newspapers and their online sites.
“Trump has risen because people are clicking, and that’s a problem. Others are being ignored because when the media run stories on them, people don’t ‘click’ as much. Trump gets more page views, more ‘uniques’ and this drives the content that runs.
“That concerns me, that needs to be looked it. Editors might deny it’s a factor, but it is.”
Associate Professor Susan Forde, GCSCR Director, said it was exciting to have a journalist of David’s calibre visiting the Centre.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for our journalism researchers, PhD students and some of the University’s top journalism undergrads to be in discussion with a Pulitzer Prize winner,’’ she said.
“We know from research about the news media that investigative journalism is under threat, and that funding models for traditional media outlets are changing so that ‘expensive’ journalism endeavours like investigative journalism are dropping away. For David to have won three Pulitzers for investigative reporting with The New York Times is a real achievement in the current environment.
“We’re excited to be sponsoring the Australian Press Council’s 40th Anniversary celebrations, and are looking forward to having discussions with them about how research and industry can connect to create really relevant, applied research.”
Mr Barstow won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for Investigative Reporting with Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab for their reports on how Wal-Mart used widespread bribery to dominate the market in Mexico.
He won the Pulitzer Prize again in 2009 for investigative reporting for two articles that exposed a covert Pentagon campaign to use retired military officers, working as analysts for television and radio networks to reiterate administration “talking points’’ about the war on terror.
In 2004, Mr Barstow won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for his two New York Times series on workplace safety in America.