There is a case for investigative journalism, which presents an underlying problem in the form of one or more cases. The purpose, aside from entertainment value in a documentary style, is to uncover a bad law, abuse of a law, corruption or waste (to name a few) and to show how it is being exploited in real world examples. Unless simply a tabloid, whose sole purpose is to entertain, entice, shock and/or gossip about the life or travails of an individual, a good undercover investigation must present a problem to be solved. When laws need to change or enforcement needs to tighten up, or a company’s abuse of trust needs to be brought forth so that people can make informed decisions about who to do business with, investigative journalism is a valuable tool that benefits the media company financially and society as well.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of Fox Undercover work, particularly during the tenure of former Exec Producer Jonathan Wells, completely fails to present stories as a general interest problem (even though they may be generally salacious). Instead, they just ambush the government worker who is doing his or her job, even if the parent agency is wasteful in having them do it. What is the point to that, we have to ask ourselves. If the government is wastefully putting someone to work operating a traffic signal, is the operator a criminal? Have we solved or even presented for solution an underlying problem, or just made everyone shake their head and agree? This is a very consistent problem with Fox Undercover and we feel that it is poor and unproductive journalism. Society is helped, when underlying problems are exposed. The focus should not be on the person, even if they are a criminal. There are thousands of worse criminals, already locked up in jail, if we want to be angry at someone.
In Newspaper Research Journals, 2003 paper on Journalism andYellow Journalism by Lawrence N. Strout, the author points to several categories of “yellow” and potentially unethical journalism:
- Yellow Journalism refers to negligent and flamboyant reporting which often misrepresents or conceals facts.
- Ambush journalism, which many journalists say is sensational and unethical (though it remains legal), is when a reporter “surprises or chases” down a subject, resulting in an interview where the interviewee doesn’t have time to prepare and is on an uneven playing field where the reporter has cornered them and they may not be able to answer succinctly.
- Gotcha journalism, which journalists seem to agree, is unethical, where a report is designed to paint the impression of a person in a way that was already decided by the reporter, in order to insure that the viewer only comes away with one opinion.
So we wonder why a journalist who falls so deeply into at least two of the three categories in so many of his stories, not only is headlined throughout an entire day’s worth of trailers by a TV station, but is actually out teaching the next generation of journalists at some of the local colleges(Northeastern and Emerson both list Beaudet as an instructor, speaker, or faculty).