Daily Archives: May 9, 2008

Toothless investigations

TV news overuses the term “investigates.” WSB is especially guilty of this. It devotes an entire web page to “2 Investigates.” The site has thirty stories on it, ranging from “Harmful ingredients in your makeup?” to “Glenn Burns talks tornado impact.” In other words, it ain’t Woodward / Bernstein. It’s not even Richard Belcher or Jim Strickland, WSB’s real-life investigative reporters.

It’s drek like “Channel two goes inside the world of competitive cheerleading.” It’s a story that tries oh, so hard to look like an expose, but fails miserably. Jodie Fleischer’s story starts by touting her use of a hidden camera inside a competitive cheerleading event, producing video Fleischer says “looks more like the walking wounded.” The video: One girl on crutches, another in a cast. Seconds later, Fleischer is doing interviews at the same event, using an in-plain-view camera that could have captured the same video. The story reveals that parents spend a bunch of dough on their cheerleading daughters. It reveals that injuries have increased in the last twenty years. In other words, it falls flat as an effort to uncover closely-guarded secrets. Yet WSB touts this as an example of its investigative prowess.

The hidden camera is a useful tool when the target of your investigation may be trying to conceal something. Nothing here indicates the need for it. But the “hidden camera” line in Fleischer’s story tips the audience that they’re going to see something extraordinary. It never happens.

The story “Who Isn’t paying their taxes” sounds like vigorous investigative reporting. Instead, John Bachman got a readily-available printout of delinquent accounts from the Georgia Department of Revenue. He lists some prominent names, nearly all of which have been in the AJC. And he interviews some dude on the street (wearing a stylish leopard print baseball cap) who says “wow!” over and over as Bachman shows him the list of delinquent taxpayers.

Both stories were worthy examples of enterprise reporting. Fleischer could have legitimately told the same story without the heavy-handed effort to paint competitive cheerleading as something dark and you-won’t-believe-how dangerous. Neither was worthy of the term “investigates,” which implies that the station is about to slam-dunk uncover something the viewer hasn’t seen, or known, before.

Every reporter, by definition, is an investigative reporter. But not every TV story is an “investigative report.” By overusing the term, WSB cheapens it.