By Annie Gaus
Special to the Guardsman
In order to understand why investigative journalism matters in 2019, look no further than an app that many of us use constantly: Facebook.
Just one year after The Guardian UK’s explosive Cambridge Analytica report, which revealed that vast amounts of user data was harvested for clandestine political targeting, the Zuckerberg empire is as vulnerable as it has ever been.
Week after week, reports of data misuse, internal disarray and other sleazy practices have left the social network in the crosshairs of angry lawmakers, regulators, the public and even its own shareholders as its share price suffered under the weight of its many scandals.
In my job, as a tech reporter for the financial news site TheStreet, I wrote constantly about Facebook’s travails throughout 2018, and always strove to explain the implications for consumers, investors and the advertising-led business model that made Facebook one of the most powerful corporations in the world. For me, the events of 2018 also underscored the impact of investigative journalism today.
In my beat, news reporting is often sourced from press releases, public financial filings or industry events organized around a specific topic that a reporter can use to build sources. But the stories that make the biggest impact — and reverberate outside the sometimes insular world of financial news — are sourced from exclusive documents, data or human sources that aren’t always obvious to the untrained eye.
That’s what led me to enroll in the Investigative Journalism course at Free City. To elevate my game as a career journalist, I wanted to learn the sourcing techniques that drive so much of the work I admire, but that I haven’t yet had the time or opportunity to learn firsthand. I hope that by gaining a better grasp of what information lies where and how to acquire it, through avenues such as sunshine law requests and other specialized data sources, will open up a richer field of story ideas and help uncover more stories that make a major impact.
After all, the Cambridge Analytica report was much more than just a tech story. In time, those facts exposed the fundamental lie of Facebook’s stated mission of benevolently bringing the world closer, added a new layer of complexity into the investigations of Russian election interference, and brought new scrutiny to the vast and unchecked power of Silicon Valley across the world. More facts are a net positive for society, and I hope to contribute meaningfully to that goal.