Most of the time, movies do a terrible job portraying reporters at work. But two scenes have stood out to me as capturing the essence of reporting and journalism at the highest level. The first is at the beginning of All the Presidents Men, when Robert Redford/Bob Woodward works the phones, trying to find out who Howard Hunt is. (Hat tip to Mike Vaccaro for pointing out the genius of that scene to me). The second, and my favorite journalism scene in all of cinema, is in Shattered Glass (the movie about Stephen Glass' frauds at the New Republic), when Steve Zahn/Adam Penenberg (Forbes) detailed to his editor how he deconstructed the existence of Junk Micronics, one of the subjects of Glass' articles.
I apologize, I couldn't find the clips online. But I love them because they show the work. It shows how much time-consuming, detail-checking, shoe-leather pounding, work-the-phones-til-you-get-the-story work goes into journalism at its highest level. I feel like we forget that sometimes, or we think that doesn't matter in this new media age.
Enter Yahoo! and Charles Robinson's spectacular piece of reporting on the University of Miami. You've read it by now, and read the hundreds of reaction pieces. But let's look at it again.
Here's the lead:
KEARNY, N.J. – A University of Miami booster, incarcerated for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, has told Yahoo! Sports he provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 through 2010.
The technical term for that is a Holy Shit Lede. You read that, your jaw drops. But as you read the next few paragraphs, you begin to wonder. A college sports team cheating? No surprise - really, this is news? And the story is based on the testimony of a convicted felon, and admitted con man? Not really a trustworthy witness.
Then you get to the fourth paragraph. Oh god, the wonderful fourth paragraph:
In an effort to substantiate the booster’s claims, Yahoo! Sports audited approximately 20,000 pages of financial and business records from his bankruptcy case, more than 5,000 pages of cell phone records, multiple interview summaries tied to his federal Ponzi case, and more than 1,000 photos. Nearly 100 interviews were also conducted with individuals living in six different states. In the process, documents, photos and 21 human sources – including nine former Miami players or recruits, and one former coach – corroborated multiple parts of Shapiro’s rule-breaking.
That's Woodward on the phone, trying to figure out who this Howard Hunt guy is, taking a third-rate burglary into the defining moment of 20th century journalism. That's Adam Penenberg listing to his editor all the facts, all the calls he made, all the information he gathered to show that this dynamite story in the New Republic may just be a fake.
That is journalism, straight, no chaser.
That's the standard everyone in this business should strive for.
That is the definition of good reporting.