Industry Views

The State of Journalism in 2024: Why Talk Media Needs Investigative Reporting Now More Than Ever

By Ted Bridis
University of Florida

imThe headlines haven’t been kind to journalism lately. That recent New York Times piece declaring its demise? It wasn’t exactly a morale booster. The Messenger, created to revitalize journalism in the digital age, shut down after just one year. Sports Illustrated was on the cutting block until Minute Media came onto the field with a Hail Mary to save the 70-year-old publication. The Wall Street Journal laid off a slew of talented reporters despite record profits. Yet, some of these decisions have nothing to do with the state of journalism but are based on balance sheets, declining advertising buys, and changing tastes in media consumption.

David S. Levine of the Times of Israel has written, “Journalism is dead. You are on your own.” But here’s the thing: I’m not buying it.

As a journalism professor at the University of Florida with more than 35 years in the industry, I’ve seen my fair share of ups and downs. Remember the rough economic patches of 2001 and 2008? The internet’s constant disruption? We’ve weathered those storms, and we’ll weather this one, too.

In fact, universities like mine are leading the charge in a new era of journalism. The investigative, political journalism and public policy reporting classes that I teach feed directly into something near and dear to me: credibly holding powerful institutions accountable. And we’re building partnerships to help sustain the industry.

Our Fresh Take Florida news service distributes significant reporting by our undergraduate journalism students to major news outlets across Florida. Newsrooms receive high-quality content for their readers, viewers, and listeners. Students earn real-world experience covering challenging subjects and gain exposure with editors and news directors who hire them when they graduate. Every semester, sadly, my classes of young reporters dwarf the size of many professional newsrooms in some of Florida’s biggest cities.

Talk media is especially vulnerable as our journalism industry works its way through these latest challenges. It relies on journalists to unearth those hard-hitting stories, identify credible sources, and separate fact from fiction.

Here’s the truth: Talk media can’t function without a healthy investigative journalism ecosystem. They need that next generation of journalists I’m training — reporters who are not just trustworthy and credible, but efficient and effective in getting the story out quickly. After all, in today’s fast-paced world, talk radio often relies on journalists for its content.

This is precisely why investigative journalism programs around the country and the Collier Prize for State Government Accountability are so crucial. The $25,000 Collier Prize, established at the University of Florida with a generous gift from Nathan Collier, a descendent of the family that founded the pioneering investigative journalism magazine Collier’s in the late 1880s, is one of the largest journalism awards in the country. It recognizes and celebrates the very kind of investigative reporting that underpins strong talk media.

We’re fostering a new breed of investigative journalists who can seamlessly serve the needs of both traditional and talk media. They understand the importance of speed and accuracy, the ability to distill complex issues into digestible segments, and the value of unearthing stories that spark conversation and hold power to account.

The future of journalism isn’t about flashy headlines or clickbait. It’s about dedicated professionals committed to truth, transparency, and giving a voice to the voiceless. It’s about investigative reporting that illuminates injustice and empowers citizens. And it’s about demonstrating to readers, viewers, and listeners that objective, hard-hitting journalism is worth paying for, after a generation where we gave it away free online.

Talk media is dependent to a degree on the success of the rest of the ecosystem, which is an important point. We highlight and identify credible sources who then become guests on programs that can go into a lot more depth than they can with a quote in a 1,000-word story. Talk radio very much has a stake in the success of journalism. They need this next generation of journalists to be better than ever — credible, trustworthy, and ethical but also efficient and effective — working expediently to get the story told because in a lot of cases talk radio is getting its content from journalists.

We are never not going to need journalists. That’s the silver lining — democracy needs journalists. It needs trustworthy, independent, independently minded journalists who seek the truth and report it. That sentiment is alive and well, and talk media needs this kind of journalism now more than ever.

Award-winning investigative journalist Ted Bridis led the Associated Press’ Pulitzer Prize-winning team before joining the University of Florida. He’s known for his expertise in source protection, FOIA law, and uncovering high-profile stories like the Clinton email server and Paul Manafort’s foreign lobbying. Previously, he analyzed national elections for the AP and covered technology, hackers, and national security.

Industry News

KWAM, Memphis Nabs Regional Murrow Award

Starnes Media Group’s news/talk KWAM, Memphis “The Mighty 990” wins its first Regional Edward R. Murrow Award from the RTDNA, in which it was recognized for its digital platform. Starnes Media Group owner Toddim Starnes comments, “When I bought KWAM I promised our listeners that we were going to bring fair and balanced journalism back to the radio. I’m incredibly proud of our dedicated and hard-working team of broadcasters at KWAM.”

Industry News

NPR Cancels Four Podcasts Amid Staff Cuts

As reported by NPR’s David Folkenflik and Mary Yang, the public media giant has dropped four podcasts as part of a companywide move to cut costs. The podcasts “Invisibilia,” “Louder Than a Riot” “Rough Translation” and “Everyone & Their Mom” are being dropped in order to close what’s being reported as a budget gap of $30 million. NPR CEO John Lansing says, “We literally are fighting to secure the future of NPR at this very moment by restructuring our cost structure. It’s that important. It’s existential.” The report notes that “NPR intends to cut back its workforce from approximately 1,200 to about 1,050 employees. The nonprofit network’s layoffs represent its largest reduction in staff since the 2008 recession.” In other moves, NPR is bringing its newsroom and programming divisions together as Lansing notes the “current separation artificially cleaved NPR’s journalism and editorial creations.” At this time, none of the NPR radio programs have been canceled. Read the full story here.

Industry News

News Staff Moves at Audacy’s WCBS-AM and WINS in New York

Audacy announces several personnel moves at its all-news stations WCBS-AM and WINS-AM/FM in New York City. Journalism pros Brigitte Quinn and Lynda Lopez will handle midday anchor duties with Lopez joining 1010 WINS and Quinn moving from WINS to sister station WCBS 880, where she will host and serve as managing editor of the 10:00 am to 1:00 pm “Newsline” program. Additionally, Audacy is promoting reporter Sophia Hall to Long Island bureau chief. Ivan Lee is brand manager for the two news stations and he says, “Since we embarked on our journey of two unique brands but one cohesive news organization, we have made tremendous strides increasing our coverage of the tri-state area and today’s announcements continue that exciting trend. Lynda’s knowledge of New York City is a perfect fit for the legendary 1010 WINS, while Brigitte and ‘Newsline’ allows WCBS 880 to go beyond the headlines. Plus, Sophia’s experience will make sure that we have focused coverage on one of the largest and most important parts of our listening area – Long Island.”

Industry News

News Notes

  • Audacy’s Cadence13 podcast studio and Tenderfoot TV announce the expansion of their relationship through 2024, with an agreement that includes the renewal of hit series “Up and Vanished,” “To Live and Die in LA,” “Culpable” and “Radio Rental”; a new slate of weekly podcast series; ongoing series development; and a first-look opportunity at new limited series. Cadence 13 chief content officer Chris Corcoran says, “Tenderfoot TV is at the top of its game and we’re thrilled to expand our relationship with them and continue to create innovative, thought provoking and compelling content.”
  • Virtual News Center adds Radio Cleveland, Inc’s WMJW, WAID, WKDJ, and WCLD in Cleveland, Mississippi to is roster of affiliate stations. Virtual News Center is providing local newscasts anchored by JP bZet.
  • The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that sports talk WNML, Knoxville personality John Hyams is retiring from the station after 25 years on air. He currently co-hosts the “SportsTalk” show with John Wilkerson. Hyams began a journalism career in the 1960s and transitioned to sports radio in 1998. He worked for many years at the News Sentinel. He says, “Not everyone can say they have loved their job spanning seven decades. I can. But now it’s time to say good-bye… But I’m ready for the daily grind to end. I’m ready to pass the torch. As the great John Ward once said when he retired: ‘It’s time.’”