Journalist advocates for investigative reporting

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dean Starkman, right, discussed the media’s duty to investigate the financial system at a Thursday Master’s Tea.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dean Starkman, right, discussed the media’s duty to investigate the financial system at a Thursday Master’s Tea. Photo by Sari Levy.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dean Starkman spoke Thursday afternoon about the importance of investigative journalism for the future of the industry.

About 20 Yale students and alumni attended the Calhoun College Master’s Tea featuring Starkman, who works as an assistant managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. Starkman focused on the media’s failure in predicting the 2008 financial crisis before it occurred to underscore the need for effective investigative journalism, or “accountability reporting.”

“Without accountability reporting, the public will be disempowered in confronting major and complex problems,” said Starkman.

Starkman told the audience about Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Richard Lord, whom Starkman said “caught the financial crisis in its infancy” in his 2004 book “American Nightmare.” Through lengthy interviews that connected him to a household facing foreclosure, Lord traced a single household’s mortgage dilemma back to the global mortgage market, using terminology and theories that eventually became well-known after the financial crisis, he said. Starkman added that he thinks Lord was able to uncover a global phenomenon because “he experienced it personally with another family.”

Lord’s investigative report first gave Starkman the idea to look into business reporting in the years before the financial crisis, Starkman said.

Starkman’s research led him to conclude that the financial press failed to perform an accountability report of the financial system during those years, he said, leaving the “public in the dark, powerless against the radicalized financial market.”

His experience with journalism surrounding the crisis further strengthened his belief in accountability reporting as opposed to “access reporting”, he said, which is “all about scoops and speed.”

“Access reporting often presents the orthodox views,” said Starkman, “while accountability reporting is invariably dissident.”

Starkman added that research for accountability reporting takes a significant amount of time and looks at systemic issues, so it can be difficult, risky and expensive. Digital media, he added, is more compatible with access reporting than accountability reporting.

Charles Triest ’74, who nearly lost his home during the mortgage crisis, said he found Starkman’s perspective of the 2008 crisis to be particularly enlightening because of his access to high levels of the financial world.

Mark Youngblood MED ’16 said he thinks that hearing about the financial crisis from someone involved in financial reporting helped him understand the crisis better.

Starkman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his work on the Rhode Island court system.

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