Originally Posted Online: May 01, 2011, 4:22 pm
Last Updated: May 02, 2011, 1:38 am

Augustana's student journalists praised by Pulitzer Prize winner

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By Brandy Donaldson, bdonaldson@qconline.com

Photo: Brandy Donaldson
Brant Houston

Like beginners in many professions, budding journalists dream of long, illustrious and critically-acclaimed careers, perhaps one similar to that of decorated investigative journalist and media expert Brant Houston.

Mr. Houston's acclaim includes a Pulitzer Prize he earned while with The Kansas City Star for the paper's in-depth reporting of the infamous walkway collapse at the city's Hyatt Regency Hotel in 1981. His accolades are almost innumerable from there.

Mr. Houston shared his expertise with Augustana College's brightest journalism students at the Communications Studies Department's Fourth Estate Awards Banquet Sunday.

The "fourth estate" is a moniker assigned to the news media eons ago.Mr. Houstonhas been a member of the fourth estate since 1976 and certainly knows a thing or two about the business, its quirks, secrets and nuances -- particularly investigative journalism.

"Modern Investigative Reporting...Disappearing or a New Golden Age?" That is the question Mr. Houston posed to the students, who were present at the ceremony because of their notable award-winning achievements as student journalists.

"Watchdog reporting is alive and well on this campus," Mr. Houston said in compliment to the Augustana Observer student newspaper, the staff of which received many critical accolades this year.

That indeed was a high mark coming from Mr. Houston, who today serves asthe executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. (IRE) and as a professor of investigative and advanced reporting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Over the years, he has developed a "life-long devotion to investigative journalism," he said.

"It is a profession majoring in curiosity, research, truth-telling, helping the weak, afflicting the strong, hopefully writing well and figuring out how to explain and point out the systemic flaws that need to be corrected in our society," Mr. Houston said.

He went on to clearly outline the answer to his question regarding investigative reporting.

"As an optimist, as all of us as investigative journalists secretly are, I do not think we're seeing the death of investigative journalism, but definitely a golden age," he said. "The need for investigative journalism is greater than ever.

"Think of all the material we have out there -- public waste, financial scams, poverty problems, a damaged health care system, mismanagement of city halls, lax law enforcement, a polluted environment, energy costs skyrocketing -- the list goes on and on. And although it sounds a little bleak, that's good news for investigative journalists."

With many of the students who sat before him Sunday preparing to enter the fourth estate, Mr. Houston urged them to consider his beloved line of work.

"Deep down, the public knows it needs good investigative journalists to find out what's really happening, why it's happening and what can be done about it," he told them in conclusion.