In Trump's America, the competition for investigative journalists is fierce
In the months since the election, America's major newsrooms have been recruiting investigative journalists with the knowledge and skills to dig into government institutions at the federal, state and local levels.
The New York Times, BuzzFeed, ProPublica, The Washington Post and CNN have all posted or filled investigative reporting jobs in the days since the election, and announcements of new hires come on a near-weekly basis.
"It's a ferocious battle for investigative talent," said Carolyn Ryan, a masthead editor who was recently put in charge of recruiting at The New York Times. "It's the most intense I've ever seen, and I've been hiring reporters for a long time."
Case in point: Today, The New York Times announced that it was expanding its investigative team with three marquee hires. Michael LaForgia, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner from the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times, is joining The Times' 16-person investigative department. He'll be joined by Ellen Gabler, a reporter and deputy investigations editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who's won the Livingston award and shared with colleagues the Selden Ring Award, Scripps Howard Award, Gerald Loeb, IRE and National Headliner awards.
The third hire is Brian Rosenthal, a reporter at The Houston Chronicle who has won the Selden Ring Award, a Polk Award and the Scripps Howard Award for Public Service. He's joining The New York Times metro investigative team and will cover City Hall and Albany.
The additions come as newsrooms open their wallets to provide expanded coverage of the Trump administration, an important story that has facets around the world, Ryan said. The New York Times recently earmarked $5 million to cover the Trump presidency, and some of that money is funding the new investigative hires.
"I think after the election, there was a sense of the bigness and the scale of the story coming out of Washington," Ryan said. "And I think there was also a sense, given the tentacles of that story, there were a limited number of reporters who could capture it and dig deep into it."
Marty Baron, the executive editor at The Washington Post, says the results of the election didn't factor into The Post's decision to add investigative reporters. Rather, it was increased demand for accountability journalism among members of the public.
The Post planned to add a rapid-response investigative team "well before the election" that would provide investigative muscle to Post journalists across the newsroom as needed, he said.
"It's heartening to see similar hiring elsewhere, even among especially hard-pressed regional news organizations," Baron said. "Holding powerful institutions and individuals accountable is at the heart of our mission as journalists. It’s encouraging to see readers appreciating the work and, given the resources required to do it right, understanding that it needs to be supported."
Doug Haddix, the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, agrees that the rising demand for investigative reporting is being driven by the audiences that consume it.
"There's a growing realization that more investigative reporting is needed across the industry, and that it makes good business sense as readers and viewers respond positively to in-depth, watchdog stories," Haddix said. "I'm heartened by all the hiring and pleased that IRE helps prepare journalists for such important jobs and continues to support them with training and resources."
The spate of hiring at big national news organizations does have the effect of draining talent from the regional and local papers that serve as a pipeline for their larger counterparts. At the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times, award-winning journalists Anthony Cormier, Alex Zayas, Chris Davis and LaForgia have all taken jobs at larger news organizations in recent months.
Ryan is conscious of the brain drain but says it does have an upside.
"If reporters starting out in their careers who really care about accountability and investigative journalism see that The Tampa Bay Times has provided a pathway to The New York Times or the Washington Post, that can be an incentive to work with their editors," she said.