Editor's Blog - How we work, how we make decisions, how we serve Canadians.

Jennifer McGuire

General Manager and Editor in Chief

Importance of Being Investigative

Categories: Canada

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Greg Weston reporting on investigation into alleged Via rail 'terror plot'

Our critics often question the need for a public broadcaster and the need for a publicly subsidized news service when, they say, so many other stations and networks provide the same service. They often don't have a full understanding of all the services CBC provides, from serving minority audiences to prioritizing Canadian content.

If all we did was cover every news story in exactly the same way everyone else did, I might even agree with them. But we don't. It's true that some days, especially when there's a big story like the death of Margaret Thatcher or the bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon, you'll see some similarities between our news coverage and our competitors'. Breaking news is the price of admission in the news business; CBC News needs to meet that demand before everything else. And I like to think we do that better than anyone else.

What sets CBC News apart from the rest is our investigative journalism. When you think about it, all journalism should be investigative. The problem, especially in this era of the 24/7 news cycle and the many newsroom cutbacks that I referred to last week on this blog, is that there just isn't enough time, or resources, to dig deep into a story.

CBC News isn't the only Canadian news outlet that engages in investigative journalism. It is more the domain of newspapers and these days most of them are going behind paywalls. No other broadcast or online news operation in this country devotes as much attention to high impact original, enterprise or investigative journalism as the CBC does. The main reason we do it is the one I addressed at the start of this post: it's a differentiator. It's also a public service that a public broadcaster ought to perform.

You've probably heard the expression that it's a journalist's role to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. I'm not sure it's quite as cut-and-dried as that, but we do consider it our job to uncover information that's relevant to your lives that some people don't want you to know. We question authority, and, on occasion, we influence change as a result of our coverage. (More on that in our follow-up column by Cecil Rosner, our Managing Editor in Manitoba.)

Good investigative journalism takes time, but those who engage in it on a regular basis develop expertise that makes their work stand out. We have a national investigative unit, headed by Diana Swain, and two programs that have been getting the goods for Canadians for decades: Marketplace, which just wrapped up its 40th season, and the fifth estate, a mere puppy at 38 years on the air. Our Go Public team in Vancouver makes national headlines regularly with stories suggested by you.

We also have smaller groups of reporters spread across the country, coordinated by our Investigative Content Unit in Winnipeg. That unit specializes in stories that can be told from a local angle in as many parts of the country as possible. It also provides expertise and support for investigative journalism going on in local newsrooms.

Take a look at one of their recent projects, and you'll get a better idea of how they work together on a story affecting the health of Canadians, in every region of the country.

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Winnipeg's Gosia Sawicka on the CBC News investigation into thermography

I think that story clearly shows that investing resources in an original story really set CBC News apart from the pack, and led to policy changes that might have prevented a good number of Canadians from having a false sense of security about their health.

That's just one recent example of our investigative work. Our Rate Your Hospital project, led by the fifth estate, continues to have reverberations across the country, with over one million Canadians accessing it. Go Public's revelations about the foreign workers program was picked up by media across the country. And we're especially proud of our contribution to the international investigative project into tax havens.

I know that there are still some who question the need to do this kind of work, or to afflict the comfortable, if you prefer. First, we aren't into muckraking. As I've already said, resources are precious these days, so every story we follow has to be in the public interest, and from our perspective, simply making somebody look bad isn't in the public interest. Our investigative journalists follow a comprehensive set of guidelines covering from double- (or even triple-) sourcing of facts and protecting anonymous sources, to broadcasting interviews when we don't have the person's consent and the re-enactment of events. Our journalists aren't cowboys. They work with their editors, and frequently with senior news management, right up to me, to assess the need to use these tactics to tell the story.

Here's where you can find a lot more information on the practices and principles that guide our investigative work.

Jennifer McGuire
General Manager and Editor in Chief
CBC News

Tags: How We Work, Investigative

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