In 1972, the young reporting team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein almost single-handedly uncovered the evidence of the political scandal of the century and forced the resignation of a corrupt President. Thirty years later, another corrupt administration lied the nation into an ongoing war with the complicity of a media that served as cheerleaders rather than fact-checkers. What happened? How did the grand tradition of investigative journalism disappear in a single generation’s time? Has the rise of the media conglomerate and the lowest-common-denominator “if it bleeds, it leads” coverage killed honest reporting for good?
The Elaine and George Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism is Brandeis’s vehicle for restoring the power of a truly free press. The Institute will celebrate it’s birthday next month, marking six years as the nation’s first investigative reporting center housed at a university. Its directors are well aware of the trials facing the news industry; the Institute’s website states that it was founded “to help fill the void in high-quality public interest and investigative journalism—and to counter the increasing corporate control of what Americans read, see, and hear.” As technological advances change the way we access news, it’s important that the voids that traditional news outlets leave are filled with well-trained, ambitious muckrakers. Rather than killing investigative journalism, the online revolution can be a restorative purge — and the Schuster Institute puts Brandeis at its forefront.
Just like the University, the Schuster Institute is built around the pillar of a commitment to social justice. Its major projects involve exposing governmental and corporate abuses, freeing wrongly-incarcerated prisoners, and uncovering gender inequalities in society. While it’s important that they avoid bias, journalists can maintain objectivity without losing their conscience, much like biologists who employ the scientific method while developing medications. I’ve always considered the pursuit of truth to be a desirable end in it’s own right, but it can also be the means to building a better society — perhaps our most important goal as a species.
In short, I believe that journalism has the potential to do almost limitless good in the world, and I’m proud that Brandeis approaches it with such seriousness and humanity. But the news is only useful if it reaches people and inspires them to action, and I’d like to help in whatever way I can. So Innermost Parts is going to start an effort to publicize Schuster Institute reports on campus and explore ways that Brandeis’s awesome activist clubs can work to address the issues they raise. You can check out the Institute’s archives here, and check here for opportunities to work directly with the Institute.