5 Questions for Steve Weinberg, Author of "Taking on the Trust"

Last Updated Oct 31, 2008 2:49 PM EDT

Taking on the TrustIda Tarbell took journalism in an entirely new direction, one that made business have to stand up and take notice. The echoes of her reporting remain with us. Steve Weinberg's new book, "Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller," is getting buzz, and since she is a seminal figure in business history, I sent him five questions. Here are his answers:

Big Think: How did Ida Tarbell and other muckrakers change business?
Steve Weinberg: Tarbell, by inventing what we today call "investigative reporting," wrote the first iron-clad expose of powerful multinational corporations. Her documentation reached previously unknown levels for journalism. The direct impact: A U.S. Supreme Court ruling during 1911 breaking up the trusts (think of today's word "anti-trust"). The indirect impact: Corporate officials realizing they might be held to account again by careful, enterprising journalists.

Big Think: Could she have done what she did in today's carefully controlled
corporate communications environment?
Steve Weinberg: Yes. She was a superb reporter who knew how to mine information on the people trail and the paper trail. It's never easy, but it's doable.

Big Think: Would her work resonate in our faster news cycle?
Steve Weinberg: Sure. Faster news cycles do not negate great in-depth journalism. The examples are legion every year.
Big Think: Will blogging or other 'new' media forms produce muckrakers? Or do investigative reporters need a business model that can provides different kind of financial support and visibility?
Steve Weinberg: Bloggers can accomplish first-rate investigative reporting if they possess the same skills on the paper and people trails as Tarbell did. All first-rate investigative reporting takes time, but not necessarily lots of money.

Big Think: What are your favorite business books?
Steve Weinberg: It's difficult for me to think narrowly about "business books." I divide expose journalism into reporting about government and reporting about the private sector. Of course, those two sectors almost always mesh when journalists dig deep enough. That means most investigative reporting in book form involves business somehow. All that said, every book resulting from the collaboration of Jim Steele and Don Barlett is a masterpiece. [Here is a list of their books.]

  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.