John Cook doesn’t call himself a journalist. And, despite his title at Gawker Media – executive editor for investigations – he isn’t a fan of the term “investigative journalism."
“Reporting is reporting,” he tells Assistant Managing Editor Eric Umansky and Senior Reporter Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica in this week’s podcast. “Anytime you’re trying to find something out, you’re doing investigations.”
Cook, the first to report Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address as secretary of state back in 2013, rejects the idea that investigations are defined by a months-long process and a huge presentation.
“I like the idea of taking that thread and just doing what you know of it, putting it out there,” he says. “Do a little post, raise questions, see what comes back.”
In the case of the Clinton emails, he did his due diligence in seeking comment from Clinton and the White House, but didn’t feel the need to dig deeper before publishing. Instead of trying to verify the absolute truth of a claim, he says, “be honest about what it is, and what it isn’t.”
But, Eisinger asks, in that kind of reporting, “does Gawker lose something in your tradeoff for speed and willingness to publish things that you think are true, but are not necessarily true – you know, publish what you know – and if you’re losing something, is it worth the tradeoff?”
Cook says the tradeoffs are worth it, though he acknowledges that there are times when it makes sense to hold back. Umansky notes that Cook once said he'd publish all the Edward Snowden documents, for example, but didn't do so once he had them.
Cook admits to changing his position, saying that he and colleagues at The Intercept decided not to publish information about National Security Agency surveillance in certain countries, knowing that lives could be in danger. “That’s the kind of judgment that wouldn’t get made if someone were to just dump everything,” he says.