The Miami Herald’s stories on sex trafficking charges against billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein illustrate a counter-intuitive trend: Investigative journalism is thriving as the news media industry struggles.
In announcing new charges against Epstein 11 years after the financier secretly got a sweetheart deal from federal prosecutors in Florida to settle nearly identical allegations, New York prosecutor Geoffrey Berman said Monday that his team was “assisted by excellent investigative journalism.”
“It’s really gratifying,” Aminda Marques Gonzalez, president, publisher and executive editor of the Herald, said Tuesday. “You hope your work will have impact. It’s beyond your expectation to have your work cited as the basis for an arrest.”
While Berman did not cite the Herald by name, it was obvious he was referring to the work of journalist Julie K. Brown, who in a series of stories, including a big investigative piece last November, reported on at least 60 women who said they had been sexually abused by Epstein between 2001 and 2005, when they were minors. Eight agreed to be interviewed.
The Herald’s story, which Brown spent 18 months on, came as news organizations are finding that investigative work helps them stand out and is rewarding in a rough business climate. Recent examples include stories looking into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s behavior before and during his presidency and sexual misconduct by public figures.
“It used to be said in this business that we couldn’t afford to do investigative journalism,” said Martin Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post. “Now we have to do investigative journalism. First of all, it’s at the core of what readers expect of us and increasingly, it’s at the core of our business model as well.”
Three weeks ago, the Post announced it was adding 10 new positions devoted to investigative journalism – increasing its staffing in this area from eight to 26 since the beginning of 2017.
The newspaper won a Pulitzer in 2018 for its revelations about sexual misconduct by Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. The Moore story was part of the Post’s “rapid-response” team; along with the traditional long-term projects, news organizations are seeking more nimble investigative teams that respond to breaking news.
Besides adding staff, Gonzalez said she has tried to establish a culture at the Herald where departments throughout the newsroom are pursuing enterprise projects. What she doesn’t want is an investigative team “isolated in a corner of the room, which used to be the case.”
The New York Times also has emphasized an investigative ethos across the newsroom. The Times won a 2019 Pulitzer for an exhaustive study of Trump family finances and, in 2018, shared a Pulitzer with The New Yorker for reporting on sexual misconduct.
“Broadly speaking, with the attacks on the press and on facts there has been a reinvigoration of the investigative mission of journalism,” said Matthew Purdy, deputy managing editor who oversees investigations at The New York Times. “I don’t mean just at the Times but across the industry. It’s sort of unmistakable.”
Big investigations aren’t new. There’s a history of memorable digging on Watergate and the Pentagon Papers. And Baron was editor at the Boston Globe when it published a series of stories revealing priests’ history of sexual abuse and the church’s ensuing cover-up, which was chronicled in the 2015 movie “Spotlight.”
But when the newspaper industry’s financial downturn intensified in the 2000s, investigative units were often cut. Many of the news organization’s bean counters saw them as luxuries, said Doug Haddix, executive director of the organization Investigative Reporters & Editors.
IRE’s membership is now at a record-setting 6,178, up from around 4,000 in 2010, Haddix said. Its Houston conference last month set an attendance record. Where the typical IRE conference attendee once worked at a newspaper, now a member is just as likely to work in television or at a non-profit web site. Sold-out IRE workshops show reporters and editors are looking to become more employable by learning digital journalism and how to better mine public records, he said.
Things were looking so dire a decade ago that Michael Hudson thought he’d be using his skills in a different profession by now, perhaps as a private investigator. Instead, he’s global investigations editor at The Associated Press, which has beefed up investigation teams internationally and domestically. The AP also is creating a dedicated team focused on investigations that spin off breaking news.
The AP won a 2019 Pulitzer for investigations around the conflict in Yemen, and in 2016 an all-female team of investigative reporters won a Pulitzer for breaking news about slavery in the fishing industry in Southeast Asia.
“I feel like there’s been a really heartening turnaround,” Hudson said.
While the mission is important, news organizations say the work helps the bottom line. The AP found its Yemen stories were very popular with readers. Many of the Post’s new subscribers cite investigative work as a reason for signing up, and those are the stories readers are drawn to, Baron said.
In the body of the digital version of Brown’s project last November, the Herald invited readers to click if they wanted a subscription. The newspaper collected as many new subscribers in a couple of days that it normally gets in a couple of weeks, and Gonzalez was stunned to find that roughly three-quarters of them lived outside of the Miami area.
They were subscribing to support the journalism.
Public Hearing Today On Port Authority’s Planned Hikes At Bridges, Tunnels And Area Airports
A public hearing will be held this morning in Manhattan to discuss the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s proposed fare hikes.
Last month, the agency laid out plans to raise tolls at bridge and tunnels and increase fares on PATH service and the trains to John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty international airports. It also wants to apply a $4 surcharge to app-based car services when they pick up riders at New York City-area airport.
Under the proposal, tolls at the George Washington Bridge, Lincoln and Holland tunnels and outerbridge crossings would increase by $1. EZPass discounts would be reduced by 25 cents.
For PATH riders, a 10-day SmartLink card would rise from $25 to $26. A 30-day unlimited card would go from $106 to $110.25.
The AirTrain fee to JFK Airport would increase from $5 to $7.75, and a $4 fee would be added for all taxi and ride-sharing pick-ups and drop-offs at area airports, similar to fees charged at airports in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance said it will ask its 22,000 drivers to strike if the plan is approved.
The money would be used to pay for long-planned improvements at JFK, Newark and LaGuardia airports, as well as new projects, like increasing capacity and reducing delays on PATH trains.
A final vote is set for September. Today is the first of six hearings.
July 16, 8 a.m.
23rd Floor, 150 Greenwich St., New York, NY 10007
July 17, 8 a.m.
3rd Floor, 2 Montgomery St., Jersey City, NJ 07302
July 18, 7 p.m
EWR Terminal One Redevelopment Outreach Office
79 West Jersey St, Elizabeth, NJ 07202
July 22, 7 p.m.
College of Staten Island
Williamson Theatre, 2800 Victory Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10314
July 29, 7 p.m.
Hilton Hasbrouck Heights
650 Terrace Ave, Hasbrouck Heights, NJ 07604
July 30, 7 p.m.
JFK Building 14
3rd Floor, Building 14, Jamaica, NY 11430
Trump administration freezes fines for fuel-economy violations
The EPA hasn’t yet released its final ruling on a proposal to freeze fuel economy standards. However, a different federal agency—NHTSA—has finalized a rule to freeze fines on automakers who exceed the standards.
The fines have been set at $5.50 per 0.1 mpg, per car the automakers produce that doesn’t meet the standards, since 1997. These fines have amounted to tens of millions of dollars a year for automakers. For automakers with budgets approaching $100 billion a year, however, they amount to small change.
Some companies have opted to simply pay the fines instead of improving the fuel economy of their cars.
In 2015, in response to a Congressional mandate to raise fines for non-compliance across the government, NHTSA proposed to raise the fine to $14 per car per 0.1 mpg. Auto industry lobbyists complained that the proposal would cost automakers $1 billion annually, but when environmental groups along with New York, California, and several other states sued NHTSA, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the increase could go forward.
On Friday, the agency released a statement saying the new rule freezing fines at $5.50 faithfully follows Congress’s intent in setting the penalty rate at the highest reasonable amount according to the statute.
Even if the fines were raised, it may have been a moot point with the EPA (in conjunction with NHTSA) planning to freeze fuel economy requirements at 2020 levels through 2026. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler has said he expects to finalize that proposal by late this summer, though automakers and 23 states have now stated their opposition to it.
Mayor Attacks Trump as Immigration Raids Spark Fear, Protests in NYC
As a nationwide crackdown on immigrants sparks concerns and protests in New York City neighborhoods, the mayor on Sunday called the raids a “political act” by President Trump intended to help him win re-election.
Mayor de Blasio said the raids weren’t about security or enforcing the law. “This is a political act by this president, he’s politicized a United States government agency to help him win re-election,” de Blasio said as residents confirmed sightings of ICE agents knocking on doors as early as Saturday.
No one has been arrested, the mayor said, and there were no reported raids in the city on Sunday by midday.
“There were two attempts here in Sunset Park and no one was arrested because no one open their doors. And I think that is emblematic of people understanding they have rights,” the neighborhood’s Community Board Chair Cesar Zuniga told News 4.
Protests were held across the tri-state over the weekend as immigrant advocates advised those who feared being deported of their rights.
In Brooklyn, community members surrounded two plain-clothed NYPD officers who were grabbing dinner at a taco spot and asked them to leave because they mistook the police for ICE agents.
“You’re terrifying people in the neighborhood right now,” one protester said to the officers in a video of the exchange.
After the mixup, the NYPD says its officers will be wearing the department’s windbreaker jackets to distinguish themselves to avoid future confusion. The 72nd Precinct’s Deputy Inspector Emmanuel Gonzalez also assured that officers will not engange in helping ICE with the round ups.
“The NYPD does not ask anyone for documentation in their citizenship in this country,” Gonzalez said.
A senior US official told NBC News on Sunday that ICE raids had begun as part of an operation expected to target 2,000 immigrants in 10 major U.S. cities including New York over the next few days.
De Blasio, who is one of at least two dozen Democrats running for president, came under criticism himself on Saturday when he was campaigning in Iowa during a massive midtown Manhattan blackout. He canceled campaign events and returned to the city on Sunday.
At a news conference on the blackout, he also fielded questions about the ICE raids, which he called “horrible.”
Trump is “stoking fear and he’s trying to pit immigrant against citizen in a way that’s very, very cynical,” de Blasio said. “But then when the moment of truth comes, suddenly it’s all fear, no action.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan would not answer questions about the operation at an unrelated briefing in Washington on Sunday on the emergency management response to Hurricane Barry.
In 2012 under the Obama administration, there were over 1,000 ICE arrests per day on average. However, families were not targeted then as they are now.
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