Fake news is old news, but a more sub­versive type of reporting deserves greater reproach: straight-up lazy jour­nalism.

In excuse for CNN’s mis­guided han­dling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inves­ti­gation, the network’s Pres­ident Jeff Zucker this week defended lazy reporting: “We are not inves­ti­gators. We are jour­nalists, and our role is to report the facts as we know them, which is exactly what we did,” he told The New York Times.

If any­thing, “reporting facts as we know them” is careless. Lazy jour­nalists trust their sources, follow popular nar­ra­tives, and accept facts at face value without doubting them­selves or their data. Good reporters question even the facts.

CNN isn’t alone in lazy jour­nalism (nor is it wholly lazy; it actually has a team devoted to inves­ti­gation, making Zucker’s comment more of a shame). Every jour­nalist faces temp­ta­tions to slack off, and many — of all political, or apo­litical, stripes — give in. Dead­lines approach too fast for fact-checking. Sleep sounds better than a rewrite or another phone call. A story that fits the nar­rative sells better. Suc­cessful jour­nalists, glam­orized in this age of Twitter and tele­vision, easily grow over­con­fident.

And people eat it up.

Thus, we have not only an over­hyped Mueller report, but also the recent one-sided cov­erage of Cov­ington Catholic High School, the 2006 slinging of Duke lacrosse players’ rep­u­ta­tions, and the 2014 Rolling Stone debacle at the Uni­versity of Vir­ginia. And even less egre­gious examples: hastily posted online articles tagged with cor­rective editor’s notes, and aggre­gated news stories that don’t con­tribute infor­mation but merely march along with the pack.

In my own reporting, I’ve come to rue the articles I sub­mitted too soon, prone to mis­spelled names or other factual errors that could have been fixed with just a little more effort.

It’s a shame that lazy jour­nalism takes flight because it under­mines the hard-earned, thoughtful reporting that jour­nalists (even main­stream media jour­nalists!) produce. The most cel­e­brated moments of jour­nalism have involved true inves­ti­ga­tions — and some­times, they’ve tipped off law enforcement, not the other way around.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s inves­ti­gation of the Watergate scandal took months of digging — and ren­dezvous in a parking garage — that prompted gov­ernment inves­ti­ga­tions and even­tually led to Nixon’s res­ig­nation. The Boston Globe’s uncov­ering of the extent of the Catholic Church’s clergy sex abuse likewise sparked wider inves­ti­gation and legal justice. Recently, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News con­structed a database of Southern Baptist Church leaders con­victed of sexual assault.

Far from stealthy sleuthing adven­tures, most inves­tigative reporting involves Sisyphean tasks at an office desk: culling through data, reading legalese-ridden reports, filing Freedom of Infor­mation Act forms to little avail. None of these are glam­orous; none get posted online in an afternoon. But in jour­nalism, as in most things, glory doesn’t come without hard work, care, and probably working around a gov­ernment road­block.

To bolster media cred­i­bility, thorough and thoughtful jour­nalism — the ques­tioning, rea­soning, data-driven kind — deserves more encour­agement from editors and appre­ci­ation from con­sumers (whose clicks do play a role in the health of the media). Good jour­nalism doesn’t have to be Hol­lywood-worthy: Even a basic news report should involve “inves­tigative” aspects of fact checking and source ver­i­fying.

Lazy jour­nalism doesn’t just risk the journalist’s rep­u­tation; it puts sources and sub­jects and con­sumers in harm’s way as well. Jour­nalists can take pride in their role of truth-digging and sto­ry­telling only insofar as they work hard to do it right.

  • Camus53

    Smart young adults (stu­dents) too) should leave their minds, their souls and yes their hearts open and not drink from the same well water but explore other sources too.

    Yes approach with caution, skep­ticism. Perhaps take a sip before heartily taking a drink. Hope­fully, you will satisfy your thirst, not be dis­ap­pointed, made sick, even die. Linger not, move on to find other life drinks, they are out there, some easy to find, others not.

    At some point…hopefully after many years and journeys… you will have sampled enough to know when you have indeed found the right source and will, no doubt, as most do, settle in, content, sat­isfied, nour­ished, rewarded for your quest to find this one, this best, this only drop of water you will ever need.

    Until…for many…you may hear in the dis­tance, the sound of other waters… dripping, flowing, calling. Do you seek or do you stay? Content or curious? Sat­isfied or still longing for the fountain of life’s magic elixir?

    Lazy jour­nalism? Lazy edu­cation? Lazy life? Lazy pol­itics? Lazy love? Listen…with your minds, your hearts and souls… the waters call for those who listen.

    Ille­gitimi non car­borundum