Thirty years ago, The St. Petersburg Times newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Church of Scientology. The religious organization, which evidently considered the newspaper’s coverage unfair, recently hired investigators to investigate, and then …


Thirty years ago, The St. Petersburg Times
newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Church of
Scientology. The religious organization, which evidently considered the
newspaper’s coverage unfair, recently hired investigators to
investigate — journalism-style — the newspaper.

A report by WUSF, an American National Public Radio station in Florida, said the church hired two people who call themselves journalists to review the newspaper’s coverage of Scientology.

Scientology spokesperson Tommy Davis was quoted saying the church “just
took a playbook from the media … Media pay reporters all the time to
investigate things. So we thought it warranted some investigation, and
so we hired some reporters to investigate.”

Christopher Szechenyi (once an Emmy-winning television producer) and
Russell Carollo (who won a Pulitzer for his work on about medical
malpractice in the military) “called Neil Brown, executive editor of
the St. Petersburg Times, who refused to answer their questions,” said
the story.

What would motivate two stellar journalists to hire themselves out as
private investigators? Do they think being hired to do research by a
religious organization is different than being hired by, say, a soda pop
company? A government body? A PR firm?

Unfortunately, Carollo and Szechenyi declined interview requests, wrote
WUSF reporter Scott Finn:  “In a statement, they said they never
misrepresented themselves or who they were working for. They also said
they were paid in advance and had complete editorial control of their
work.” (Well, not quite complete editorial control because, as WUSF noted, the church has not released their work.)

The tale is bizarre on so many levels, but here’s the question that
interests me: where is the line between “journalists” and “private
investigators?”

What kind of organization can call the result
“journalism” when it pays people to investigate things? What kind of employers do real “journalists” work for?

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