James Hamilton

Readings & Prep

        James Hamilton's work on the economic and societal impacts of investigative journalism raises many important points about the current media landscape. By taking an economical approach, Hamilton sheds light on the fragile environment in which accountability reporting currently exists. Hamilton's most recent book, Democracy's Detectives: Economics of Investigative Journalism, explores the limitations of the high costs of accountability reporting when the fruits of a newsroom's labor and investment are nearly impossible to monetize. Through his study of over 12,000 award recipients for investigative journalism, Hamilton found that for "each dollar spent on investigative reporting, there can be over $100 in benefits to society." The high likelihood that the public will benefit from investigative journalism only proves its high value within our culture. But what about the cost? Many smaller or rural news producers simply can't afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars that is often invested in high-quality investigative reporting. Hamilton suggests that the growing efficiency of data research and algorithms, combined with partnerships and donors, may make investigative journalism possible for smaller outlets. Another solution to the high-cost, according to Hamilton, could be found in the growing reader interest. If outlets become known for generating quality investigative stories, there is a higher likelihood that readers will pay more for access which further alleviates the cost of the reporting for producers. Finally, Hamilton's potential solution of officially classifying investigative reporting as a public good provides framework for further cost reduction because of the access to government resources. While maintaining neutrality, the government would be able to support journalists by including the field in "research and development competitions focused on algorithms, data and technology." By splitting the high cost between donors, government grants and furthering  technology crucial to investigative journalism, this powerful method of reporting may become more affordable and widespread. This week's readings spoke to my deep curiosity and affection for investigative journalism and I look forward to hearing more insights from Hamilton's presentation in class. 

Questions for Lecture- 

How does crowdsourced investigative journalism play into this? The work still goes into fact-checking the information but does spreading the work across a public social platform alleviate the cost?

 Ex. David Fahrenthold using Twitter for Trump charity 

Discussion & Reflection

         I appreciated the opportunity to speak with Dr. Hamilton on a small scale during our class discussion. In fact, my day last Thursday was centralized on him and his work because he spoke in our class and my other class, Fact vs. Fiction. I think the economic perspective he offers on the public benefit of investigative journalism is an important part of the conversation that is often missing. As an advertising and journalism student, I am quite aware that data technology is replacing traditional advertising practices at an alarming rate. I constantly wonder how I will use what I’ve learned in the SOJC to make a living, whether it be in advertising or in another media profession. Our discussion with Hamilton helped me understand how I could use emerging technology, specifically algorithms, to streamline strategic processes while using the outcomes to support my craft, rather than replace it. Hamilton’s insight on the economics of investigative journalism reinforced my belief that media’s benefit to society is complicated and often underestimated. Society’s relationship with journalism, especially in such divided and inflammatory times, is increasingly fragile. Hamilton’s work provides evidence that investigative journalism and the development of algorithms are both ways to strengthen that relationship both culturally and economically.