Mar 6, 2019 in Informative

Stories that Changed America

Carl Jensen is the Director and founder of Project Censored. It is America's oldest research project on censorship in the news media. He has been involved in various types of media for over five decades as a newspaper reporter, publisher of a weekly newspaper, public relations practitioner, executive of advertising, educator, as well as, an author. He spent almost 15 years with the firm Batten, Barton, Durstine, & Osborn . This is an advertising agency with a worldwide reach. While there, he was an award-winning copywriter and eventually vice president. He left the firm in 1970 in order to resume his studies. He specialized in mass communication. Carl Jensen received his sociology degrees (B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.) from the University of California in Santa Barbra in 1971, 1972, and 1977 respectively. This essay explores explicates Carl Jense’s contribution to America.

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He later taught various medi courses at the SSU from 1973 up to 1996. He is credited with establishing the institution’s B.A. degree program in Communication studies as well as its Journalism Certificate program. The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in the year 1988 for awarded Jensen what they termed as creating a new model through which media could be constructively criticized . He was honored by the Giraffe project in the year 1988 for what the organization termed as ‘…sticking his neck out for the common good…” as well as for being a good role model for a society that is caring. As we can see, he has a very rich history in the media, and many a media student can feel his input. His experience in the field can be seen in his book Stories that Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century. It is crucial to understand his background since he draws from his many years of studying and authoring books that touch on freedom of the media that span many decades even before the onset of the Internet.

The Book’s Thesis

In his book Stories that Changed America, Jensen proves that the journalists’ pen is more powerful than the sword or gun and offers sufficient evidence to back this claim up. The book describes the various backgrounds of more than twenty authors and relives the stories that have shaped America’s historical landscape.  He starts from Lincoln Steffens who was the King of the muckrakers that managed to expose political corruption in various cities to Jessica Mitford that was referred to as the queen of the muckrakers that managed to revolutionize the funeral industry in the 60s.There was also Bernstein and Woodward that won the Pulitzer prize for their exposes that brought down the administration of Richard Nixon.

A brief introduction offers the reader with an insight into the significant role that investigative journalism played in America at the turn of the 20th Century and manages to speculate what is expected from the field of investigative journalism in the beginning of the 21st century. The core of the book contains a short biography of these authors as well as their work’s representative excerpt.

Role of Investigative Journalism in Democracy

During the 1970s, journalists and reporters played a crucial role in unearthing political corruption. Journalists in Washington followed up on clues of what was thought to be a petty burglary that took place at the Watergate office building. These clues led them all the way to the White House. This reportage culminated in a congressional investigation and the eventual resignation of Richard Nixon. The press' performance during this scandal has been held as a mirror that showed the very best that journalism could contribute to the country's democracy i.e. holding government and any other powers accountable to the society. This eventually became a growing trend in the newsrooms of America. The journalism profession was ushered into an era in which it enjoyed high levels of credibility and trust that led to high numbers of students enrolling in journalism schools across the country .

 However, more than thirty years later, this situation has changed remarkably. This field of journalism does not appear to be a bright star it once was in the core of American News reporting. Sensationalism and tabloids have thus replaced it. 

Why Does it Matter in a Democracy?

Investigative journalism is important in a democracy due to its various contributions to the system of democratic governance. Its overall role is easy to understand in looking at the fourth estate model of the press. This model the press should make the government accountable through the publishing of information that touches on matters of public interest even if such information illustrates abuses or even crimes that have been committed by those who are in positions of power. By looking at it from this angle, it can be concluded that investigative journalism is one of the most significant contributions the press can make to any democracy. It is directly linked to the democratic logic of regular checks and balances that should be present in every democratic society worldwide.

It thus provides a precious mechanism for the monitoring of performance levels of institutions that are tasked with delivering services to the public. These include civic organizations, publicly held companies, as well as other governmental bodies. The role played by the media in the contemporary democratic space means politicians are very sensitive to any type of news, especially bad news that mostly causes incidents of public commotion. The publishing of any new items that touch on economic or political wrongdoing mostly leads to judicial and congressional investigations .

In situations whereby the government fails to carry out any more inquiries or the investigations being conducted are plagued with suspicions and problems, investigative journalism may contribute to greater accountability through monitoring the activities of these institutions. This branch of journalism can look at how well these particular institutions are fulfill their constitutional obligations in the midst of press reports that are revealing some form of dysfunction, wrongdoing, or dishonesty in society and government . At a bare minimum, investigative reporting serves to retain important agenda-setting powers that remind political elites and citizens the existence of various issues that need to be carefully looked at and revised. It should however be noted that there are no guarantees that increased press attention may lead to judicial and congressional actions to conduct an investigation and prosecute those that are responsible for the wrongdoing.

Investigative reporting also contributes to a better democracy through nurturing an informed society and its citizenry. Information is a very crucial tool in empowering a public that is vigilant and can hold the government accountable through public participation and voting activities. With the growth of politics that is largely media centered in the modern democracies, the media has managed to eclipse all other institutions as the principle source of information about processes and issues that directly affect the population.

Increased accesses to public records as well as laws that ensure public business is done during open sessions are crucial to the overall work of the investigative journalist. In societies whereby defamation and censorships laws have been enacted, journalists and their media houses are very unlikely to write and publish on subjects that are considered too controversial due to the looming lawsuits that may bring them to their knees. With this in mind, it is also crucial for governments to cultivate a legal and political environment in which the investigative journalist will thrive and inform the public.


Most of the discussions on ethics that guide investigative journalism have mainly centered on methodology specifically the question; is any method valid reveals government’s wrongdoing? Is it ethical for journalists to employ deception in their bid to unearth the truth? The public is often less willing to accept the fact that journalists used any method they could in order to get the information that they need . This is especially common in jurisdictions where the credibility of the press is very low. The press also needs to be credible in the eyes of the public. This is all it needs to do; however, quite often, its actions work to undermine the credibility that it has managed to build. The fact that the public believe that reporters can get to any story at whatever cost should be an important consideration. An expose that relies on questionable means to obtain information, works further to reduce the press' legitimacy and overall public standing of journalists and their media houses. Ethical considerations are not restricted to methods but corruption amongst journalists as well. This ranges from journalists that accept bribes, or pull out of exposes or offer cash incentives to sources to doctor their information to make the expose more sensational for the purposes of higher ratings.


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