Is Surveillance Ruining Investigative Journalism?

Investigative journalists are the moles of the industry. They dig and uncover some of the most groundbreaking reports. But in today’s world of surveillance and privacy violations, what will happen to the career?

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Pew Research Center surveyed U.S. members of Investigative Reports and Editors to see how the changes affected their ability to gather news.

Here is what they found:

  • 64% believe the US government has collected data about their communications
  • 38% have changed the way they communicate with sources
  • 18% turn off electronic devices when meeting sources in person
  • 59% only meet with sources in person instead of communicating by phone or email
  • 91% use different passwords for different online accounts
  • 41% have gone through training to protect themselves and their sources
  • 88% think that decreasing sources in the newsroom is the biggest challenge facing reporters today

So what does this say?

It says that monitoring journalists is real (House of Cards real) and it can be dangerous (Zoe Barnes dangerous). It also says that sources are scared to speak to reporters, and without sources there are no stories.

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I have always thought of privacy as something I will never have to seriously worry about. I’m the girl who said, “I have nothing to hide, let the government see whatever it wants to see.” I never thought about the impact it could have on a journalistic career.

Now, once again, the future seems scary.

It seems as though there is no way to end government surveillance. So how can journalists work around it?

They certainly cannot fully reassure sources that third parties will not see their information. The days of “off the record” and anonymous sources are long gone. For every security measure put on source identifiers and information, there are thousands of skilled hackers just waiting to take a swing.

Most reporters are going “old school.” They meet in person and do not communicate over email or even phone to keep sources confidential the best they can. They turn off electronics when they meet in public… just in case.

Others are becoming high-tech. They take classes to learn to code and scramble information to prevent amateur hacking techniques from working. Now, I don’t know what any of that means, but apparently it is not easy.

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And it’s bad timing. Investigative reporting is becoming more venerable at time when it is most necessary. Pew spoke with a reporter who covers immigration: a hot topic and one that requires many sources afraid of consequences if their identities are revealed.

I hope that there will soon be other methods to keep private information… private. And until then I will certainly care more about my privacy and the privacy of sources.

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