INTERVIEW with: Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are the nation's most honored investigative reporting team, and authors of the New York Times bestseller America: What Went Wrong ?
This is part two of a two part interview. The First half of the interview is here.
thanks to Don Caldarazzo for help with transcript checking.
The audio for this podcast is here.
speaker 1 Rob Kall, Interviewer
Speaker 2/ Donald L. Barlett, Interviewee
Speaker 3/ James B. Steele, Interviewee
Rob Kall: My guests tonight are Donald Barlett. And James Steele.
They're the authors of "Betrayal of the American Dream", a new book that is just... really kicks butt. Donald Barlett and James Steele are the nation's most honored investigative reporting team, and they're authors of the New York Times bestseller "America: What Went Wrong?" They've worked together for more than forty years, first at the Philadelphia Inquirer (1971--1997), then at Time magazine (1997--2006), and now Vanity Fair.
Rob Kall: All right, let's talk about the media. I want to talk about your experience. Now you are highly honored and celebrated journalists. I'd like to get some advice from you for writers nowadays. There are a lot of bloggers, there are a lot of amateur writers out there. How can people, who have a lot of time because they're out of work, or because they're passionately caring and interested in this" how can they learn from your experience? What advice would you give them as writers and journalists?
Barlett and Steele, image from their website, barlettandsteele.com
James Steele: [Jim Steele here] We have always, and this hasn't really changed" we've always suggested that unfortunately people have to kind of connect the dots. There's no one place that you're going to see everything. But you just [have] to be informed, because information comes in so many different directions, you really have to try to pull some of that together. And you know, that's what our business ought to do more of. That's what Don and I tried to do over the years. We've tried to connect those dots on a lot of these big issues. But more of it needs to be done. And the problem now in some ways, it's almost a blizzard of information that people half the time don't know what to go to, what to look at, what to believe. And the internet is both a marvellous creature, but also the purveyor of a lot of nonsense. So it's in some ways harder then ever to connect the dots than the old days. But it's still what has to be done to know what's happened.
Donald Barlett: And one good sign out there is the investigative reporting today, some of it is the best it's ever been. And contrary to what people like to think. There's always been investigative reporting, but it was very little of it for, you know, most of the life of journalism. It's really only come of age since the "70s, and as bad as things are in journalism right now, there's some remarkable investigative reporting going on. And somehow this has got to be further expanded, you know, that's for, you know, people to figure out how to do. But what it does show you, is that the potential is there. We just have to find a way to get people to do it.
James Steele: The way we did this project is a perfect example of how things are changing. Years ago it would be your newspaper and maybe a couple of other people on the paper, but Don and I partnered with a non-profit Foundation, based in an American university in Washington D.C. They provided some of the research help. And also as a vehicle to start posting some of the researchers, we went along, which then led us to some of the people whose interviews are in the book. That's the kind of collaborative thing that would have been unheard of, really ten years ago, twenty years ago.
Rob Kall: Can you describe that in more detail. That's very interesting!
James Steele: Well, what's happened with the shrinkage of a lot of newspapers and magazines, is that many non-profit entities have grown up around the country. An old friend of ours, by the name of Chuck [Charles] Lewis founded one twenty-seven  years ago, called the "Centre for Public Integrity' in Washington. Chuck later went on to take a sabbatical of his own, and end up teaching in an American university. And then there founded another entity there called the "Investigative Reporting Workshop'. And that's the one we partnered with on this project. But in addition to that, those there are four to five dozen of these non-profits around the country now. Some of them are on a State-wide basis" former reporters for newspapers who've gotten enough foundation money that they're providing this. "ProPublica' in New York is an example of a national one, that actually won a Pulitzer Prize this year with another entity which I can't remember. So, the idea, you know there's a lot going on, and a lot of it is just going to take a different shape than it did in the past. And nobody knows how this whole non-profit will eventually shape out. Which ones will survive, which ones won't. What kind of a business model is ever going to be there that will support them. The field remains in tremendous turmoil in that sense. But we feel, and as Don said, that there's a lot of great reporting going on, and the public wants this, the public needs it, and we're hopeful that this will continue in one form or another, just not the way we've seen it in the past.