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Jan-19-2013 17:45printcomments

Investigative Journalism In Mainstream Media: From Flaccid to MIA to DOA

Those who wish to be informed need vehicles like Salem-News!

For better or for worse, here is my editor, Tim King, the face of investigative journalism at
For better or for worse, here is my editor, Tim King, the face of investigative journalism at

(LAGUNA BEACH) - Gee, what took them so long? Mainstream Media (MM) are now openly admitting that investigative journalism, theirs in particular, whether in print or on the web, has been dwindling for quite some time.

Unlike the first stages of an intervention, getting someone beyond denial and to admit they have a problem, MM have totally capitulated and abandoned altogether the turf of engagement that formerly gave unique insights: Actual field journalists, not those stupid holographs some imbecilic tekkie created for a rebrandingupmarketing / reposition campaign. From here on out, they'll delegate their fiduciary responsibilities and substitute proxy reporting for in-house product.

With all due apologies to Jim Morrison of the Doors:

“Let me tell you about heartache and the loss of investigative journalism
Wandering, wandering in hopelessly under-covered night
Out here on the news perimeter there are no reporters
Out here we is stoned silent.”

Now, at once-upon-a-time breaking news from formerly brave and cutting edge, onsite resources like CNN, it’s kaput, as in irreparably broken images from Days Of Future Passed. CNN was a young, bright and shining star 23 years ago when the Iraq-Kuwait War occurred, and maybe like that Moody Blues song implied: Either you die young or your future days will be a repeated series of previous days.

Ted Turner should just come back to haunt the halls in Atlanta, strumming and singing: “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

MM went through the oxidation (rust) phase pretty damned skippy fast, most are using the old budget and expenditures crapola. Well, look at the clothes that MM personalities are wearing and tech toys they play with live onscreen, maybe they should have paid Wolfy Blitzer and the others a tad less, kept that overseas or domestic investigative bureau active?

MM no longer have investigative journalists, whether on TV or in print: We have announcers reading teleprompter screens, the information presented gleaned safely, securely, comfy, distanced and lazily procured from someone’s home office desk. Cheaper, less savvy and grizzled interns are paid less and are used up, then discarded like condoms. MM reporting is ersatz news copy, just a bastard mutation of acting.

Performance artiste Laurie Anderson prophetically uttered: "Technology today is the campfire around which we tell our stories."

MM are letting us know that even tech sources like the web are being reduced to embers, dwarf dark energy stars, barely glowing as downsized images of their former selves: As for the stories themselves? Not much heat and very little light or beacon of truth shining out.

Now there’s only the small yet burning bright conflagrations of non-MM. Many struggle as non-profits in the trenches, outlets similar in stressed budgets like, solely reliant upon sympathetic advertisers, donations and grants. Underpaid and/or gratis reporting literally taxes, reduces the fact-finding and drilling down to truth.

MM went very quickly from (A) Being in denial, (B) Relying on aggregators to prop up and fluff their portfolio, to (C) Missing In Action, to (D) Dead on arrival.

This discussion, ooops, must be contagious ‘cause now I’m the one who is in denial, so okay, this diatribe would be a Cliff Notes® venting if it didn’t include embedding. God (aka my editor Tim King) knows how many times we’ve argued about my ambivalence. It can be the 4th Estate’s Heaven or Hell. The sarcastic punsters invoke “In bed with,” and obviously that bias occurs. Reporters are writing in real time as events unfold. As it’s usually in the “If it bleeds it leads,” majorly catastrophic mode, often breaking but minimally informed, preliminary news reports need discretionary follow-up and sorting out.

Yet embedding, as it has in Tim’s case, provides insights and personally poignant information that humanizes the story. It’s a fact that humans track, that is notice and follow, tragedies that they either relate to or relish. I say relish because there are a lot of sickos out there who savor the pain of others and then too there are those who just feel better because it wasn’t them or theirs impacted.

There are always those bizarre anomalies that do vex one’s brain, you’re bound to eventually get you’re General David Petraeus and Paula Broadwells. The world got the worst of both aspects and their potential, and both deserve the umbrella sobriquet “Betrayed Us.” As in “General Betrayed US” via the literal mistress media embedment.

My personal jury is still out about embedding, but with the drawing down, the “sonnentod” (extinguishing death) attributed to economic considerations seems disingenuous. Like sex, even a little fact checking, a little digging for a few details not on the surface or some PR flack CYA, some careful ex-parte examination and background scratching is better than none.

Since when didn’t TV media have big $$$? Considering what they get for 30-second commercial that sounds sketchy. CBS® is reportedly (who said irony died on 9/11?) getting $4 million per spot for this year’s Super Bowl. Rates have risen 3-5 times in the last decade alone.

Hey, maybe if we HAD investigative journalism, MM would take the advice given by Deep Throat in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:  “Follow the money.” With obscene income and internet access available over the entire globe, why can’t they afford foreign bureaus, find out and tell us what all of that sponsor/ad money is being spent on. Piers Morgan and Christiane Amanpour’s hair stylists?

William Gibson, often described as the father of cyberpunk literature and apparently the one who coined the word “cyberspace,” wrote recently:  “The future is already here... it's just unevenly distributed ."

In that context online aggregators who generate no original stories and desk jockey journalists plus bloggers constitute the integral parts of that global network distribution system future, composed entirely of interdependent information technology infrastructures, telecommunications networks and computer processing systems.

As for roving reporters, traveling with your subject and THEIR favored camera crew can actually cough up some humorous scenes, albeit not always intentionally so.

Case in point, I drove to a theater in Los Angeles in the summer of 1967 to see the much-anticipated release of Albert Grossman’s “Don’t Look Back” starring hip idol Bob Dylan. It was supposed to look like cinéma vérité, shot on the run, documentary style, and years later, as soon as it came out on VHS (remember that?), I bought a copy.

I’ve watched and re-watched that 6+ minute scene where Dylan gets interviewed on the jet plane flying over the Atlantic by Horace Judson, Time Magazine®’s London Bureau Arts and Science Correspondent.

Dylan DID appear mischievous, taunting, baiting and mildly abusive when Horace (in his smarmy, Oxford, tut tut old chap, here, here my good man, elitist elocution) made the fatal error of asking Dylan about Time Magazine while the camera and microphone were hot. If you can’t take the heat then don’t even go near Dylan’s Kitchen.

This particular Time interview gave Dylan a chance to tear into the veracity of such populist pulp piffle, his distaste for MM hounds and why no one on the street reads things like Time for reality or truthiness:

"'You can't print the truth. You'd go off the stands in an hour if you printed the truth about anything. I could explain to you why I'm not a folk singer, but you'd never understand. You can't tell the truth."

This would add merit to the argument that we never had truthful insights, just Wall Street and Park Avenue packaged glitter.

Not as cryptic as Dylan’s lyrics but yet one of those “Department of you can’t make this stuff up,” Albert Grossman died at 60 while flying over the Atlantic to Europe. On every occasion that I watch that Time Magazine interview portion, I’m uncomfortable but certain that Horace wanted to crawl under his seat and his career died a little too.

Did Dylan ever watch that Jack Nicholson film “A Few Good Men” where, as a USMC Colonel, Jack angrily screams those famous lines at attorney Tom Cruise “You can’t handle the truth!” Quintessential movie moment, maybe the screenwriters had watched Dylan’s archives?

One thing is for sure, without non-MM, independent outlets that do investigate and stand behind their core values are the last bastions, the last waltz for truth.

Twitter®, Facebook®, Instagram®, YouTube®, Linked®, MySpace®, text-messaging, etc. aren’t about THE truth, they’re about exclamatory promotion and metrosexual self-absorption.

Don’t get me started on the creation and now de-evolved blogging concept. It started as a ray of egalitarian hope, but trolls absconded with its essence. Now it’s best summed up by Steven Soderberg: 

"Blogging isn't writing. It's graffiti with punctuation."

Sometimes like the Notre Dame/Manti Te’o fiasco, MM are incredibly unreliable as sources. Without investigative journalism, that scandalous hoax would have never been uncovered, now would it? What if Heisman Trophy voters had given it to him, mournfully influenced by his canard? Would they admit that they were empathetically swayed?

Would he pathetically return it voluntarily or would they, like Reggie Bush, have to come knock on his door, take it back from his and his metaphorically phony dead girlfriend’s grubby paws? Then again, Lance Armstrong pretty much lowered the bar down to, maybe below, sea level on that one. All 3 should find their careers DOA.

The Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg set a high standard for my generation, as did All The President’s Men by Woodward and Bernstein, so it’s sad to see that gigantic and filthy rich mega-media corporations are morphing into uniform aggregators.

It’s not just at the national level either. The LA Times began shutting down its hard copy Orange County bureau over 10 years ago. Now it no longer exists, they rent out most of their commercial space in Costa Mesa to the OC Register. They’ve reduced their online presence and to compensate for hard copy revenue shortages they charge you to peek behind the vacuous headlines or go into archives.

MM journalists have home offices niches to save $$$ for their bosses, no water cooler to hang around and swap info, simply underfoot with their families reminiscing about the good old days when they actually interviewed people in situ.

Speaking of which The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) predicted that in “Glory Days”:

“And I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it, but I probably will. Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory of, well time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days.”

Certainly, MM here in Laguna Beach succumbed years ago. We have 5 outlets total, two of which are solely available online. The hard copy papers pay ZERO or perhaps $50/column at most, and when you pay peanuts for submissions you get monkeys. And hacks. And rank amateurs. And mostly retirees who got a “C” in that one creative writing class they took in college.

The purported writing is so dumbed-down, so grammar school, it's basically DING DONG SCHOOL meets ROMPER ROOM meets MY WEEKLY READER. Nothing too deep, too challenging or God forbid critical of our blissful little seaside superficial bubble. Anything that would scare off or discourage tourists (and their money) is marginalized if not outright omitted.

This is why the free hard copy papers, wrapped in (you guessed) cheap thin plastic protectors, get tossed onto driveways each week, end up being run over or thrown where they belong: Into the trash---hopefully the recycled bin. The ones on throwaway racks get dislodged or tossed as litter, wind up in our storm drains or blown pell-mell in the dispersing Santa Ana winds.

Know what’s really funny? My city has banned once use plastic bags at stores as of 2013 but refuses to ban those paper covers. Now THAT’S media pressure, our politicians are afraid to bite the hand that feeds their egos, that gives them bully pulpits and publicity.

Meanwhile, in our city, what purports to be journalism is basically artiface, pre-digested bliss, homogenized, soft-spoken and uncontroversial pablum, or porridge-like, tasteless, feel good gruel. No one digs deeper than an inch, let alone drills down hard. We’re stuck with the news equivalent of those asinine happy face emoticons.

The columns and articles are infomercials, marketing ploys, and some are unpaid advertisements in disguise as revelations. Many columnists are just merchants pitching product or services. No integrity, just blatant promotions of the amateur writers or those so shallowly interviewed.

The content of all 5 is cookie-cutter, nearly identical, and in the case of letters and guest columns (which the media pay nothing for), so redundant and lowest common denominator drivel as to beg for indifference by general readership. Most of the blogs or comment sections just provide the submitter with an ego boost.

They say that you get the government you deserve, so maybe America is getting the investigative journalism it deserves: Almost none, unless you take personal responsibility, the curious and truth seeking individual go online and look for it.

Yes, there’s a morass, an overwhelming pile of small, confusing in content and levels of truth, independent media sites. It takes a while to dig through, but it beats being uninformed and totally ignorant, which is to me far worse.

Now that MM have admitted that they’ve given up, basically become aggregators of others hard, at times life-threatening work, delegated their trust to unknown news assets, everything online is up for grabs and questionable. isn’t perfect, I’m not extolling it to the avoidance or exclusion of other news sources…..nor should anyone uncritically swallow everything they read anywhere whole, as kool-aid party line propaganda, intact as gospel. is cutting edge, heck plain EDGY and at times unpleasant---Just like life its own self! The public needs, it craves new giants like Upton Sinclair, Hunter (Gonzo) Thompson, H. L. Mencken, Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and one of my native California favorites, Joan Didion.

Cynical, skeptical, jaundice-eyed people committed to lifting that 3rd high voltage rail, expose those dangerous and risky subject areas that the mere mention of can be physically hazardous or career-destroyers: All to gamble and let their readership see what’s under that deathly rail.

Yes, newspapers and magazines are dying and to some extent dead as an informational medium. What’s happening with the intentional reduction and in some places extinction of investigative journalism is startling. No one will try putting the seemingly disparate but ultimately connected pieces together anymore, mysteries will not be solved, the public will become less informed, less knowledgeable about the world and how it truly, interactively functions.

If you’ve read this far, I’m not saying that you need be a powerless spectator. You’re not stuck back there serving as the Greek chorus. Maybe your local paper (or would publish your thoughts, your take on a subject that you found time to inspect? Just keep in mind they’ll pay you zilch, have no expectations other than if you go negative you’ll piss off a lot of people.

Back at the online ranch, is a passionate family that’s never met simultaneously, yet I believe, I hope, that we respect one another. OK, I do have issues with Daniel Johnson, but we just leave each other alone. Sometimes, especially with males, immature solutions are intuited. Families don’t always get along. Strong personalities and opinions can add to that. :+) :+) :+)

At least we attempt to do our homework at, we are leaders who post from every corner in an independent attempt to inform a broad-based readership----and I don’t think any of us gets their hair and nails done at upscale, $100 a pop Fifi’s Boutique Salon.

As for investigative journalism, is as good place to start as any “For the times they are a-changing.”

Please visit:

FYI: If a project near you has some interesting enviro-aspect(s) that you think is/are worthy of coverage and our readers attention, feel free to contact me with a very brief synopsis. Water-related “Blue Interventions” are my specialty!


Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger Bütow and his OMO columns are written exclusively for Salem-News-com. Born and raised in the LA Harbor area, son of a German immigrant father, he moved to Orange County in 1965 and has lived in Laguna Beach since 1972. In 1998, he began his professional career in environmental review processes (CEQA, NEPA, MND, MND and EIR/EIS). He's a rare mix of cross-trained builder, writer and consultant as he brings his extensive construction experiences dating back to 1972 into his eco-endeavors. He has tremendous field and technical expertise in successful watershed restorations, plus wastewater, urban runoff, water quality monitoring/improvements and hydrologic mechanisms. He's built everything from commercial spas to award-winning private residences, and provided peer review and consultant analyses for single homes, subdivisions and upscale resorts.

View articles written by Roger Butow Read Roger's full biography on the Staff Page

His resumé is extensive, try an online GOOGLE search of his personal journey and historical accomplishments. His consultation fees are reasonable and if you've got a major project that alarms you, that needs creative intervention, then he's your man. His credentials and "CV" can be provided upon request.

Contact him at his office: (949) 715.1912 or drop him an email:


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Roger E. Butow January 22, 2013 7:08 am (Pacific time)

Thanks Karl. I did get a mild correction email, Mainstream Media refer to themselves as MSM, not MM as I wrote. Meanwhile, it was also pointed out in the same direct email to me that the recent turn of events might be for the best. Power to the people: Now the general populace with camera phones, etc., can seize control of the informational flow. That is true to an extent. The beating of a sick homeless man by Fullerton police, etc., the videos taken by disinterested, independent 3rd parties have altered the flow. This, though an unintended consequence of MSM surrendering, has and will continue to expand more personalized stories online. Ones like you're alluding to Karl, more anecdotal narratives, ones more like Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson pursued where the journalist and the story are one entity, a totality. And yes, as you've noted, more personal, more conversational in tone.This is why I included that Laurie Anderson quote: Whether at 1 foot away (phone), at 3 feet away (computer screen), or at 10 feet (TV monitor), the world of access has changed---shrunk to a great degree. Ironically, it was NYT tech reporter Nick Bilton who wrote a book a few years ago about this 1, 3, 10 world, lectures at a NY City college on the same general subject. HOW we get our information determines to a certain extent WHAT we get and the opinions we eventually form. Many have their resources, their news input defaulted to system preferences that determine each day (through search engine spiders) what they read. People are not only impatient but have limited time, so their electronic devices "triage," winnow down to what resources they trust and/or have interest in. Customizing info resources is limiting, can be incestuous too, so that's also a consequence, albeit intentional.

Karl Davis January 22, 2013 4:00 am (Pacific time)

There aren't many places to go for news without feeling like your brain is getting scrubbed, I like Salem-News because the information tends to originate from the source. People seem to cover topics they know a great deal about, it keeps things interesting and conversations stimulated, that is for sure.

Roger E. Butow January 21, 2013 2:15 pm (Pacific time)

Aggregator Inside Climate News has reported that the NY Times is dismantling its entire environmental department.
"Once the Times' environmental desk is dismantled, the nation's top five newspapers by readership—the Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal—will have about a dozen reporters and a handful of editors among them whose primary responsibility is to cover the environment."
No independent investigations other than those by NGOs, plus client focused, complaint-based injury attorneys and enviro-consultants will take place.
USEPA or State versions are a function of political will, can't be trusted and they'll use the same "Budget Constraints" argument hence lack of staff violation inquiries time allotted.

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