Communication Professor Jay Hamilton directs Stanford’s journalism program, which is teaching students how to use ‘big data’ to tell stories with public policy impact.

Story originally published by Stanford News 

With media outlets losing advertising revenues to digital platforms, some newsrooms no longer have the resources for investigative and public service reporting.

The inability of news outlets to perform this traditional “watchdog” role puts democracy at risk, said communication scholar James Hamilton, who is concerned about what could happen – or not happen – when there are no reporters covering substantive issues in their communities.

“Without investigative reporting, how will the public know what their elected officials are doing and which policies are working?” Hamilton asked.

Hamilton, who is also trained as an economist, estimated that it can cost newsrooms up to $300,000 and six months of a reporter’s time to do a deep dive into public interest issues like crime and corruption. In one case, it cost a newsroom $487,000 to produce an investigative series on local police shootings.

But many media outlets are losing money – and jobs. Newsroom employment dropped 45 percent between 2008 and 2017, according to a recent Pew survey.

And cutting jobs means cutting coverage of the stories that play a vital role for democracy, Hamilton said. “Important stories are going untold.”

The Stanford Journalism and Democracy Initiative (JDI), a cross-departmental collaboration, could change that.

Read more: Stanford scholars are helping journalists do investigative journalism through data