Center for Investigative Reporting’s Michael Montgomery visits media class
By Saskia Hatvany
Tower Staff Writer
The main challenge faced by investigative reporter Michael Montgomery is: How do we tell a story of critical importance to society?
Montgomery is a journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), a media organization founded in 1977 in Oakland. He spoke to the Survey of Mass Media class on March 28.
CIR’s alternative and nonpartisan approach to storytelling sets it apart from other media organizations. The donation-based organization typically aims to tell stories that will engage the public on an emotional level while encouraging critical thinking by presenting views from all sides of any given story.
“What’s most important is that we engage our audience with human stories,” Montgomery said. He began by showing the class a series of before-and-after portraits taken of inmates who had been in prison for 30 years.
The visuals were emotionally impactful in representing the physical passage of time. This allowed viewers to become more emotionally connected to the inmates’ stories.
Montgomery’s primary focus, however, is more auditory than visual: podcasts.
CIR’s “Reveal” is a branch of the organization that publishes their multiplatform work, which includes podcasting.
Its mission is to “engage and empower the public through investigative journalism and groundbreaking storytelling in order to spark action, improve lives and protect democracy.”
Montgomery played an interview conducted by Al Letson, an African American reporter for Reveal, who sought an honest conversation with white nationalist Richard Spencer.
At first glance, this kind of interview sounds like a recipe for disaster, but surprisingly, Letson and Spencer’s conversation was calm and, at times, friendly.
One student, Shani Shay, shared her insight after listening to the interview. To her, the interview with Spencer highlighted the fact that racism is less of an individual issue and more of a global and cultural problem. “It’s an overall system of racism that’s not personal,” she said.
The Center for Investigative Reporting’s nonpartisan approach sets it apart.
Montgomery explained Letson’s goals for this interview.
“Al thought it was really important to do an interview and really try to call him out,” he said, “but not in a two-minute sound bite kind of way.”
He said that this sort of interview is “kind of subtle” but is able to have an impact without necessarily giving Spencer a platform to spread his ideals.
This is one example of the careful reporting for which CIR is known.
Montgomery also discussed the oversimplification of the news and investigative reporting because of social media and how this is especially challenging for Reveal.
Many of the important stories they publish, he said, are complex and in-depth. As a result, podcast episodes can be anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour long.
Despite the trend of short and sharable media, Reveal strives to protect its integrity.
“We’re still figuring out a strategy where we can reach people through social media without compromising the investigations,” Montgomery said.