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Sept. 11, 2009, 11 a.m.

Why a reporter left mainstream media for a think tank

Why would an award-winning journalist with a long history of breaking big stories in his home state leave mainstream media to work for an ideologically-driven think tank? Mark Flatten says the think tank in question — the conservative Goldwater Institute in Phoenix — made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

I wrote about Flatten’s move yesterday. In an email interview, he said he took the job in large part because Goldwater wanted a watchdog over government power and spending — which was what he was doing at the East Valley Tribune — and would give him the same level of editorial independence. He writes:

During the interview process we were in complete agreement that the reports I produce would have to follow the rules of accuracy and fairness as would be required at a newspaper. When we publish my findings (which should be soon) we plan to include extensive links to original documents so that readers can judge the information themselves. The benefits of doing this are obvious. When I uncover waste, fraud or abuse in government, the people I am writing about will naturally try to dismiss the report as advocacy because of my connection with Goldwater. However, by adhering to the rules of good journalism, and by making it clear to readers where the information came from, the facts in my (reports) will speak for themselves.

Political belief had little to do with the move to Goldwater, Flatten said:

As I like to say half-jokingly, my views tend to be pretty libertarian (small “L”) because I’ve covered government long enough to know it doesn’t do anything very well. I think that is a good fit with Goldwater’s philosophy of being skeptical about government power and spending. I can’t answer whether that was a factor in my being offered the job. As to my decision to take it, the main issue for me was that the people here were clear that they were not looking for an advocate, but rather someone who could report critically about government and follow the rules of good journalism.

Flatten also said he agrees that costly and time-consuming work of investigative journalism “is likely to shift more to non-profit organizations and think tanks to a large degree in the near future.”

POSTED     Sept. 11, 2009, 11 a.m.
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