August 6, 2012
In her provocative book, Brooke Kroeger argues for a reconsideration of the place of oft-maligned journalistic practices. While it may seem paradoxical, much of the valuable journalism in the past century and a half has emerged from undercover investigations that employed subterfuge or deception to expose wrong. Kroeger asserts that undercover work is not a separate world, but rather it embodies a central discipline of good reporting the ability to extract significant information or to create indelible, real-time descriptions of hard-to-penetrate institutions or social situations that deserve the public’s attention. Together with a companion website that gathers some of the best investigative work of the past century, Undercover Reporting serves as a rallying call for an endangered aspect of the journalistic endeavor.
With a forward by Pete Hamill, Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception (Medill School of Journalism: Visions of the American Press has a companion “Undercover Reporting” database that emerged from the research for the book. Created in collaboration with New York University Libraries — it is a hand-curated resource for scholars, journalists and student researchers that gathers some of the best investigative work of the past nearly 200 years.The database, www.undercoverreporting.org chronicles undercover journalism dating back to the 1800s.
The archive, “Undercover Reporting,” includes an array of stories, ranging from the slave trade in 1850s to efforts to boycott Jewish-owned businesses in the U.S. in the late 1930s to treatment of soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the 21st century.
In the book:
Kroeger posits that this type of journalism is not separate from the profession’s conventional practices but, rather, embodies some of its most important tenets—the ability to extract significant information or to create indelible, real-time descriptions of hard-to-penetrate institutions or social situations that deserve the public’s attention.
“Much of this material has long been buried in microfilm in individual libraries and thus very difficult to retrieve,” said Kroeger, who conceived and directed the project. “Most digitized newspaper archives do not go back past the 1980s or 1990s and even for those that do, it’s difficult to search without exact details of the piece you are seeking.”
“Researching the book changed my perception of the practice and its role in journalism history, making clear how early reporters were experimenting with the method–notably northern reporters working to expose the slave trade in the south in the years leading up to the Civil War,” explained Kroeger.
The database is searchable by keyword, reportorial theme, media outlet, date, or author, or can be browsed by series. Scholars, student researchers, and journalists can search by writer, publication, story topic, or method (e.g., prison infiltrations, shadowing migrants, impersonation, etc.). It also includes critics’ reactions to these tactics—for instance, their response to the use of hidden cameras, according to NYU.NYU says the database is a joint endeavor of Professor Brooke Kroeger of NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and the university’s Division of Libraries, where the Digital Library Technology Services team developed the online platform that hosts the database, with consultation from the Libraries’ Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing and its Collections and Research Services. The project is supported by NYU’s Humanities Initiative and the university’s Faculty of Arts and Science. The CJR podcast titled “Brooke Kroeger,” listed midway down the page, provides a good explanation of the project.
“Undercover Reporting” serves as a rallying call for an endangered aspect of the journalistic endeavor.
Here is the link to the original press release.
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Upcoming Virtual Events: “The Branded Journalist: Nellie Bly Changes the Game.” Ephemera Society of America, Jan. 14, 2020, 3pm. Nellie Bly: Pioneer of Investigative Journalism.” American Woman Writers National Museum, March 10, 2021, at noon;