Lawyer blogs driving investigative journalism

Lawyer blogs investigative journalismMark Glaser at PBS’ MediaShift recently asked Friday ‘How will investigative journalism survive in the digital age?.’

With the daily drumbeat of cutbacks at newspaper companies, there is less room for investigative reporters who can take weeks or months to do one in-depth report. If their future isn’t secure at mainstream media outlets, then where will investigative reports come from? TV news? Non-profits like the Center for Public Integrity or ProPublica? Online-only outfits like TalkingPointsMemo or The Smoking Gun? Do you think investigative journalism will survive in the digital age or not? If you think it has a future, how do you see it being financially supported?

When it comes to investigative reporting in the law, I’m pretty optimistic. We’re just getting started, but blogging lawyers are writing about subjects that would never be covered in such depth or with such skill. And if an investigative journalist’s final report is meant to take the form of an exposé, lawyers are up to the task.

David Rossmiller’s coverage of State Farm’s Insurance coverage of Katrina victims and the resulting Dickie Scruggs affair drew national attention. Rossmiller’s coverage, when it came to legal issues, was far more in depth than that of the main stream media. The Wall Street Journal labeled Rossmiller’s blog the blog of record for the Scruggs’ trial. Bill Marler is unquestionably an agent of change when it comes to food safety in the this country. And it’s happening, in large part, via his 13 blogs being run by he and his staff from their Seattle offices.

Marler is all over foodborne illness outbreaks around the country, often before the AP or local reporters. Employees of government agencies and the companies giving rise to an outbreak regularly ‘leak’ stories to Marler knowing he’ll sink his teeth into the story.

Through blogging Marler has gained the notoriety needed to testify before state and national agencies as well as appear at length during a 2 hour CNN special on the safety of our nation’s food supply. And blogging sure didn’t hurt Marler draw experts from around the world to a food safety symposium a couple weeks ago.

Even here at Real Lawyers Have Blogs, I feel we’re playing a small part in exposing the short comings in legal marketing services.

Would Martindale-Hubbell be working on indexing all their lawyer bio’s if we didn’t stay after it? Would FindLaw and be out hawking a lawyer blog service had we not pointed out that what they started to sell was not a blog? Would we have more companies charging $5,000 or $6,000 per month to personal injury lawyers for internet marketing in return for splitting fees with the lawyers? Would large legal tech shows being working as hard to have wifi had we not blogged about shortcomings on that front?

I don’t know the impact we’re all having. But I do think the power of publishing can influence companies’ behavior.

What’s the business model for lawyers doing investigative journalism? Two fold. Passion and and enhanced reputation.

There’s a lot of lawyers who love what we do. We’ve got passion. We went to law school to learn to champion the rights of people. In law school and beyond we honed our investigative, analytical, and persuasive skills. Skills perfect for investigative journalism.

If we can leverage these skills to further enhance our reputation as a thought leader – as a reliable and trusted authority in our niche – we’ll take it. What lawyer wouldn’t like to get paid doing legal work in the area they love for the clients they’d love to represent.

Sure, there aren’t a ton of lawyers viewing blogs this way. But there’s a significant number. And the numbers are going to grow.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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