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InsiderOnline Blog: April 2010

Resource Bank Provides Lessons from Think Tanks Doing Journalism

Over the past several years, quite a few state-based free market think tanks have started doing investigative journalism. These organizations have decided that exposing government malfeasance is an important part of their mission of keeping big government in check. And in many cases, they’re also filling a void in local reporting created by the closure or downsizing of traditional media outlets.

On Thursday in Miami, Resource Bank featured a panel on think tanks doing journalism. The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity has played on important role in helping think tanks establish themselves as outlets for quality journalism. Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center, moderated the panel. The panel also featured Clint Brewer, editor of the Tennessee Center for Public Policy Research’s; Steven Greenhut, editor in chief of the Pacific Research Institute’s; and Kathy Hoekstra, who produces investigative videos for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Research and writes articles for the Center’s Michigan Capitol Confidential.

Each of the outlets represented on the panel have broken some big stories over the past year. In December, uncovered the secretive system of judicial accountability in Tennessee. It’s a system that in most cases prevents the public from knowing whether judges have even been punished. The report prompted the state Senate to hold hearings in January.

This month, ran a six-part investigation of the Greenlining Institute, a leftwing community organizing group that specializes in shaking down private foundations to support their favored philanthropic causes. The series was co-published by the Washington Examiner.

Hoekstra had a big hit in January with an investigative video revealing the hypocrisy and self-dealing of leftwing agitprop artist Michael Moore. Moore’s film, Capitalism: A Love Story, criticized cozy relationships between big business and government. “We want our money back,” was Moore’s mantra throughout, but the film itself received taxpayer money through Michigan’s film incentive program. The film received the taxpayer subsidy while Moore himself sat on the film program’s advisory council. Before being appointed to the advisory council, Moore had criticized the program as an example of welfare for corporations.

The panelists described their roles not as replacing “old media,” but as filling in the gaps—covering the stories that traditional news outlets could not or did not want to cover. Greenhut said he makes it a point not to go around bashing “old media,” because he sees opportunities for working collaboratively with newspapers. He still writes a weekly column for the Orange County Register.

Stverak emphasized that the goal of each of these journalism projects is to do journalism that meets the highest standards of the profession. The question on a lot of people’s minds is: If a news outlet is part of a think tank with a policy agenda, then how can readers trust the reporting they get from that outlet? Each of the panelists gave their own versions of the same answer: News outlets succeed only by building the trust of their readers over time, and that trust is built by producing a quality product. Stverak’s take is that in order for journalists working at think tanks to overcome the presumption that their reporting is driven by an agenda, they have to work extra hard to make sure they are meeting the highest standards of the profession.

For more on this topic, see also John Hood’s article “Uncovering the Culture of Corruption: How Investigative Journalism Complements the Work of a Think Tank,” in the summer 2007 issue of The Insider.

Posted on 04/26/10 03:22 PM by Alex Adrianson

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