The long-term decline in newspaper circulation presents the conservative movement with an excellent opportunity to increase its influence with the media. Falling readership and tighter budgets are forcing newspapers to dedicate fewer staff to investigative reporting. As a result, they are increasingly relying upon nonprofit organizations to fill the gap.
A 2005 Arizona State University study found that 37 percent of the 100 leading daily newspapers had no full-time investigative reporters. A majority had two or fewer.
Although the largest newspapers have usually been reluctant to use reporting from other organizations, experts say the resistance is breaking down as they get squeezed financially.
Stephen B. Shepard, dean of the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and a former BusinessWeek editor, says newspapers are “looking for alternative means of paying for ambitious journalism.”
If conservative nonprofit organizations significantly increase their use of investigative reporting, then the movement will be able to partly offset the liberal bias of the mainstream media.
Despite their political agenda, newspapers and TV networks like scandals simply because they make great headlines. Experience shows that they will cover scandals exposed by conservatives.
For instance, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) has been successful in publicizing earmark abuse and criminal profiteering from government spending.
In March 2006, following a 10-month investigation, NLPC filed a criminal complaint with the US Justice Department. It charged that Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WV), a member of the House Appropriations Committee and then-ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee, illegally profited by funneling millions of dollars in earmarks to friends and associates who then cut him in on lucrative business deals.
NLPC suspected that Mollohan was shady because his personal wealth, as disclosed on his Financial Disclosure Form, which all congressmen must file every year, went from extremely modest assets to having $6 million to $24 million in assets over a four-year period.
The story was extensively covered by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Associated Press, CNN, ABC, and other news outlets. Mollohan was subsequently forced to resign from the Ethics Committee, due in part to pressure from Nancy Pelosi who wasn’t thrilled that Mollohan put the lie to her charge that Republicans had fostered a “culture of corruption” on Capitol Hill.
A federal Grand Jury is currently investigating Mollohan.
NLPC BROKE THE Mollohan story only because it had the staff, expertise and time to conduct a thorough investigation. It is highly unlikely that a major newspaper would have bothered to do such research. Even newspapers that have the investigative tools are unlikely to pursue such a story because they aren’t certain it will necessarily lead to a headline-grabbing scandal.
The Mollohan case clearly shows that by aggressively getting involved in investigative journalism conservative nonprofit organizations stand to enormously change the terms of the media debate, perhaps in much the same way that Fox News and Talk Radio revolutionized media coverage.
However, the media’s increasing reliance on nonprofits also poses a threat.
The Left understands the importance of nonprofit investigative journalism as well. And, unfortunately, the Left has more money and is rushing to fill this media vacuum.