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The Netherlands – (C9) Watchdog function and financial resources

Score in short:

The worldwide financial crisis did not affect the time or the budget made available for investigative journalism. Even before the crisis economies had been imposed, mainly as a result of shrinking revenues from advertising and recent take-overs of broadcasters and publishers.

Score in detail:

Four of the journalists we interviewed say that the paper they work for allows them adequate time and financial resources to engage in investigative journalism. Four more admit that they can do so only occasionally, while two others claim that their newspaper leaves no room at all for investigative work. All our interviewees agree that the worldwide financial crisis, which hit the Netherlands too in the autumn of 2008, did not affect the time or the budget made available for investigative journalism. even before the crisis economies had been imposed, mainly as a result of shrinking revenues from advertising and recent take-overs of broadcasters and publishers.

Although de Volkskrant emphasizes general news reporting, the paper still continues to employ a substantial number of investigative journalists. The Volkskrant journalist whom we interviewed insists that investigative work at de Volkskrant is not funded from some insignificant item on the budget, but that the paper considers it an essential part of its task. NOS goes even further, claiming that it has more people doing investigative work than ever before, in an attempt to compensate for the decline in investigative journalism on the part of the newspapers by means of investigative programs produced by individual broadcasting organizations within NPo.

By its own account, RTL has little scope for investigative journalism, yet it has for some six years had a special staff of four journalists who specifically try to get the latest scoops in the field of domestic news. even, which is after all an Internet news medium with a proportionately small newsroom, is very well aware of the importance of investigative journalism and has recently recruited a free-lance journalist for this particular purpose. By contrast, regional papers do have to cope with shrinking budgets for investigative work. Time pressure at De Gelderlander has increased so much that journalists barely have time to do their normal work of news reporting, as they are expected to make extra efforts to generate general regional news and to write pieces for their paper’s website. occasionally one journalist may be given time to conduct an investigation, but that is a matter of days rather than of months. The journalists working for BNR Nieuwsradio, Het Financieele Dagblad and NRC Handelsblad/ also say that in their newsrooms as well investigative work is only done on an ad hoc basis. Journalists of the FD Mediagroep are supposed to be polyvalent and to be able to assume many different roles: they have to write for Het Financieele Dagblad, work for the newscasts of BNR radio, and provide news content for the newspaper’s website and for the channel. Huub Wijfjes confirms this picture: in the past ten years, he has seen investments decline and records grow poorer in the areas of economic affairs and regional and local politics. He adds that, as far as investigative journalism is concerned, the emphasis has shifted away from solid, in-depth research to cursory, superficial revelations without any social relevance.

Among the reasons for the relative decline in investigative journalism in many newsrooms, NRC journalists cite not only the current focus on the quest for cursory news, but also the uniform nature of the various journalistic training curricula. The (Flemish) editor-in-chief of NRC, who was appointed in September 2010, has promised that one of the spearheads of his policy will be the structural integration of investigative journalism in the paper. Actually, Piet Bakker and Huub evers believe that investigative journalism will not disappear entirely. The former argues that there appears to be a market for investigative journalism, as testified by the success of a number of investigative books; the latter points to the American trend of rich philanthropists supporting investigative journalists with grants. In this context, the Vereniging van Wetenschapsjournalisten in Nederland (the ‘Association of Scientific Journalists’) needs to be mentioned. The Association seeks to make and maintain contacts with institutions and agencies that play a role in journalistic work as far as science and technology go. More precisely, it promotes the information flow from research and scientific institutions in order to safeguard and guarantee the quality of journalistic reporting. Furthermore, there is the Fonds voor Bijzondere Journalistieke Projecten (‘Fund for Special Journalistic Projects’), which enables journalists and writers in general to set up projects of a special nature or quality. The Fund seeks to find new angles from which special projects can be carried out.