Digital Journalism Thesis – Proposal #1: Investigative Journalism

After the “Death of Journalism” in the US: Reinventing Reporting on the Web

Update: I got the thesis approved by my mentor on Nov. 30th! Work on the topic can now start! See for example the resource collection “Readings in Digital Journalism

This is one of the expansions on a post called “What’s Your Thesis”?, in which I list several possible topics for my masters thesis.

How does a profession like investigative Journalism “reinvent” itself?
Raymond Williams describes cultural change in terms of the relations of dominant, alternative and oppositional cultures. In these cultures, practices are constantly newly developed, changed and discarded. He assumes that rather than reinventing themself, dominant cultures constantly adapt or “incorporate” practices developed out of alternative or oppositional cultures. Describing the journalistic in these terms, allows us not only to understand how investigative journalism has changed through the influence of online culture, but also shows us how new models of communication were introduced into mainstream media by practices developed in an oppositional culture.


Rather than killing Investigative Journalism, the “Death of Print” can be seen as a turning point in the practice of Investigative Journalism at which practices developed in an oppositional online culture that are based on new models of communication were incorporated into mainstream media.


With newspaper after newspaper suspending operations in 2007/2008 when the advertisement industry turned their backs on them,  journalists and media critics in the US proclaimed the “death of journalism” in early 2009.  “Experts” were certain that this would mean the end of quality journalism, writing off completely the developments that had meanwhile taken place online.

Through new publishing tools like cheap digital cameras, blogs etc., virtually everyone was able to produce – and publish – journalistic pieces. While major news corporations were struggling and many had to admit defeat, small start-ups and technology savvy individuals developed new ways and forms of investigative journalism in the realms of “Social Media” or “Web2.0”. In these different structures, classical models of communication were broken off and new communication models developed.

This oppositional culture was highly criticized by the dominant media culture. Only when “classical journalism” seemed to be doomed and alternatives thus became more relevant, did the “big players” of mainstream media become involved in the practices and incorporated “digital journalism” into the dominant culture. In order to do so, however, they also had to accept and introduce the new models of communication.


Using Williams as a theoretical framework, I will examine the development of investigative journalism during (X amount of time (last 5 years?)) in order to show the exemplary development of the emergence and incorporation of new models of Western communication into the dominant communication culture.

Structure (+method):

I. Intro / Debate

I will start out with a brief overview over the history of investigative journalism (IJ) in order to identify key elements of IJ in dominant culture, show its development up to the “death of print” and its inability to adapt to new communication models. This will help to situate my research and introduce the reader to the problem.

II. Theory of Culture / Problem described in terms of Theory

Ray Williams, Posthumanism(?), …

III. Analysis

III.1. New Forms: Emergent Culture

I will then go on to provide a “thick description” of new forms of investigative journalism culture developed in the oppositional online culture. I will analyze two of the most successful new platforms used for online-based investigative journalism (wikileaks/youtube?

III.2. Comparison: What is truly “new”? (dominant vs. oppositional)

Based on the descriptions, I will compare these new forms to classical forms of investigative journalism (NYT, XY?) from the first section in order to show how the practices differ and what is really new about these practices.

III.3. Incorporation(!?) of Oppositional Culture

Thereafter, I will show how the “big players” of mass media incorporated the new journalistic practices at the point of “death” of classical models and thus adapted dominant media culture to new models of communication.

IV. Conclusion and Relevance for Communication

Finally, I will explain how this development is exemplary for the adaption of communication models in mass media and communication culture

  1. you really did a good job on digital journalism thesis topic

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