In the final scene of Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, George Wilson points out that the Post‘s court victory allowing continued publication of the Pentagon Papers was especially sweet because the strong precedent it created could help protect journalists at smaller papers that lacked the Post‘s resources to go to court themselves. In light of the declining resources and profitability of the news business, one naturally wonders do media outlets today, especially newspapers, have the resources to fight court battles like those depicted in Top Secret?
The Center for Public Integrity‘s post-show panel on March 11 explored this question, but also raised questions about another impact a lack of resources may have on journalism: less resources available for long-range and deeply investigated stories.
In reflecting on differences between investigative journalism today and at the time of the Pentagon Papers case, panelist Bill Kovach, former New York Times reporter and current Chairman, Committee of Concerned Journalists, commented that the expertise and investigative work displayed in researching stories on the Pentagon Papers is still necessary to produce rigorous and cutting-edge reporting today. As the profitability of print media declines, however, Kovach wondered: are there still sufficient resources to support detailed, time- and resource-intensive reporting?
Some U.S. government departments, he noted, like the Department of Agriculture, no longer have a reporter assigned to cover them every day. Without this daily coverage, panelist Geoffrey Cowan agreed, even seasoned journalists can lack the necessary context when they do report on an agency. Although the number of sources of news has proliferated on the internet, it is not clear that web news sites have more resources than print media for deep, long-range investigative journalism.
Listen to the audio above for the Center for Public Integrity’s panel discussion, including Kovach’s story about how he placed a surreptitious call to rent one of only 4 hi-speed xerox machines in Cambridge so that Times staffers could copy their set of Pentagon Papers.