Lack of investigative journalism a scandal too

Last month, while writing about Iowa getting an “F” grade for its open-records law, I commented:

The Register’s editorial board writes a lot about open-records law, and I give them credit for that. Unfortunately, under Gannett’s ownership, the Register hasn’t devoted nearly enough resources to solid investigative reporting.

I wish the editors were assigning more reporters to dig into the information that’s already publicly available.

Former Register editorial page editor Gil Cranberg develops that thought in an op-ed for the independent weekly Cityview, which asks why journalists did not uncover wrongdoing at the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium (CIETC):

The “CIETC scandal” was truly scandalous – as we’re reminded by the trials that kicked off last week – but it’s a mistake to blame it on a lack of “transparency” or to make it a poster child for Senate File 2378. The overpayments to CIETC executives were hiding in plain sight. The state auditor found them, and made a fuss, without having to issue subpoenas. For all of the ink spilled about CIETC I’m not aware of any that was used to explain how and why the press missed the huge overpayments until many months later when the auditor cried foul.

Sure, it helps to have strong laws to let the sunshine in. But inexperienced citizens can only do so much to uncover wrongdoing. If sunshine laws are to be effective, they have to be implemented by a press with the staff and space to make people sit up and take notice.

Unfortunately, the press is deep into retrenchment mode. Notice how page widths have narrowed? That means less space for news coverage. It’s the rare paper that trumpets how many fewer reporters, copy editors and editors it has, but loss of staff is unmistakable.

In the same issue of Cityview, the author of the “Civic Skinny” column delights in noting that the Des Moines Register just got shut out of the Pulitzers again,

as it has been every year since 1991. What’s more, alack, no Gannett newspaper won a Pulitzer – or was even a finalist this year.

If you want to win a Pulitzer, it helps to put some resources into investigative reporting.

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