I've been reading Robert Caro's latest book, Working, detailing how he researched and wrote his magisterial, vividly detailed biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson. Caro began his career as a newspaper reporter. Though his books are historical biographies, his methods are investigative journalism at its very best: deep research into important, often obscure documents, interviewing people who know - both the powerful and the powerless - anyone who can show readers what is actually going on. And finally, clear writing that opens readers'eyes.
It's interesting to note that Caro says while there's no such thing as truth, there are facts. It's the nonfiction writer's job to find the relevant facts and present them directly and vividly. And it's the honest presentation of facts that is the first and most important task of the journalist.
I've been a Vermont journalist for something like 50 years now and last fall, I joined several other colleagues - who consider journalism an honorable, necessary, and at times even a noble profession - to organize a day-long journalism symposium at the Vermont State House, featuring both local and national journalists. Almost 300 people showed up, and I found it heartening to see that many Vermonters still care about good journalism.
It's become almost a cliche to say that journalism is threatened these days. And to be sure the challenges are significant. Many newspapers are struggling financially. Reporters' and editors' jobs continue to disappear. Current politics are often hostile to mainstream media, even going so far as to call journalists “very, very evil people,” and “the enemy.” And the Internet - where reality can be made unreal and vice-versa - continues to strip readers and advertising away from the daily newspapers that once dominated the news business.
Perhaps it's more accurate to say that though the forms of journalism are radically changing, real journalism — the spare, honest reporting of facts, trends, and events — is, in fact, still quite vigorous, both here in Vermont and on the national scene.
And in this cyber-clobbered age, the factual reporting of good journalists is more important than ever.