Is the art of reporting really doomed?

The esteemed investigative journalist David Leigh has written a provocative piece in this week’s Media Guardian in which he predicts the demise of the reporter. The media will soon “splinter into a thousand websites, a thousand digital channels,” is the general tone of the piece. The article is an edited extract from the inaugural Anthony Sampson lecture, which he gave at City University in London last week.

I attended the original lecture and after reading the article again, i think much the same as i did last week. That he’s being far, far too pessimistic. He’s right, of course, that newspapers are losing advertising revenue and that the role of reporters is set to change. Right again, when he quotes John Simpson who says that investigative journalism is being cut back, even at the BBC.

But he’s wrong to see nothing but gloom. For a start, the “splintering” of the media has already happened. His own website, for example, enjoys several times more readers online than it does in print, many of them arriving via various different links distributed by the splintered media. He also neglects to mention that some of the biggest scoops of the last decade have been turned up by bloggers, not least the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

But there are other reasons to be cheerfull. As was written in the Cluetrain Manifesto, the internet has begun, “a powerful global conversation … [where] people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed.”

And so they are. There are already a number of anti-corporate blogs, like Tescopoly and Walmart Watch, that demonstrate how communities of interest can work together to create something approaching the power of an old-fashioned investigative report. Indeed, as early as the mid-nineties, when the McLibel Two took on one of the biggest corporations in the world and (sort of) won , the internet has been beating big media to many big stories. Over the horizon, new trends like Crowdsourcing and other forms of network journalism that promise to take some of the tedium out of investigative reporting.

I not saying that people like Mr Leigh can be replaced by people attempting to write the world’s wrongs while still in their pajamas. Just that new technology has the power to create new methods of reporting that can assist journalists, rather than simply threaten to render them toothless and/or redundant.