Investigative reporting, that bastion of journalism once practiced by hard-bitten men and women who moved through major cities, met with sources and filed late-breaking stories, is still a thing. It just looks different today.
Where reporters like New York’s Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill once pounded the pavements for their daily newspaper columns and Canada’s Eric Malling asked tough questions with either a radio microphone or television cameraman in tow, today’s reporters are more likely to carry a smartphone or digital audio recorder.
Print is on the way out, has been for years. The newspapers and magazines that do remain are merely shadows of their former selves, and largely serve to generate revenue for their publishers. It’s all online now. Even local television and radio news broadcasts, while still in existence, are closely tied to their affiliate network teams. The six o’clock news is now 24-hours news. Need breaking news? Download an app that sends headlines and up-to-the-minute stories to your cell phone.
Today’s audience members, many of whom are younger and more tech-savvy than their forebears, have not known a world in which instant news wasn’t available for the asking. Older people as well, especially boomers who created much of this technology in the 1990s and early aughts, are now as comfortable glancing at their phones as they once were turning on the news at noon or dinnertime.
In Canada, a large number of television viewers used to be able to set their watches by the weekly newsmagazine shows, back when investigative journalists like Eric Malling ruled the airwaves, delivering his often thought-provoking, sometimes confrontational and nearly always hard-hitting reports on CBC’s The Fifth Estate, and, later, on CTV’s W5 with Eric Malling.
Across a nation that’s known for contributing numerous natives to the journalism industry — not just locally but globally — the late Eric Malling’s name is often mentioned as the man who in some ways defined investigative journalism in Canada. A quintessential storyteller who loved the art of the scoop, Malling covered news, politics, business, sports, and other topics. Hard-working? Yes. Intelligent? Without a doubt. Tenacious? You bet. He knew the information he needed to tell the story and he knew how to get it. This is why he’s considered a legend today, by both peers and viewers.
Fast-forward to today.
Media outlets continue to crop up every day, most of them online. In the late 1990s when the practice of blogging began to earn its first headlines, ordinary citizens and a number of writers adopted the practice realized that for the cost of a hosting provider and time and interest to write consistently, one could create hir or her own news outlet. The early bloggers were pretty independent and functioned mainly as opinion writers, not reporters. But it didn’t take long before legitimate news agencies realized that the future of their business lay online. It was sort of how Ted Turner must have felt when he decided to launch CNN during the early cable days.
Other news providers followed suit, and a great many more established their own presence by introducing new media companies and online publications that were always available. There were text-only online bulletin board services as well back them, and some continue to proliferate, but those were and are mostly used by specific audiences to exchange messages, not to deliver news.
Then, online audio and video eventually came along, cementing the Internet’s place as the source for all your news, sports, weather, features, and more. And once live streams became possible, online news could be provided live, at any time with real-time coverage.
It’s been a long time since the appointment-TV days of Eric Malling. Some will say that today’s news reporting methods are biased, not really straight-ahead and unfiltered like the reports Malling used to provide. And in many cases, they’re correct.
That said though, Eric Malling’s legacy does live on. When you see a multi-part series or a special bulletin, feature or in-depth interview today, whether online, on television or anywhere else — just remember, Malling was one of the journalists who did it first. And, according to an overwhelming number of Canadians who grew up during that era, as well as many of Malling’s peers, he did it with a style all his own.