Investigative reporting is a form of Journalism, in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. An investigative journalist may spend months or years researching and preparing a report. Practitioners sometimes use the terms “watchdog reporting” or “accountability reporting.”
Most investigative journalism has traditionally been conducted by newspapers, wire services, and freelance journalists. Investigative journalism is finding, reporting, and presenting news which other people try to hide. It is very similar to standard news reporting, except that the people at the centre of the story will usually not help you and may even try to stop you doing your job.
- Most newspapers, radio and television stations get a lot of requests from people to “investigate” some alleged wrongdoing. In many cases these are silly matters, lies or hoaxes. But you should spend some time on each tip-off, to decide whether it will make a story.
- Sometimes, the story might only affect one person and be so trivial that it is not worth following up. Remember you have limited time and resources, so you cannot follow every story idea. Use your news judgment.
Keep your eyes and ears open
- Always be on the lookout for possible stories.. Good investigative reporters do not let any possible story clues escape. They write them down because they might come in useful later.
- Listen to casual conversations and rumour. Careless words give the first clues to something wrong, but never write a story based only on conversation you have overheard or on rumour.
Get the facts
- Investigative reporting means digging up hidden facts. People will try to hide things from you. You must gather as many relevant facts as you can. Your facts must be accurate, so always check them.
Fit the facts together
- As you gather the facts, fit them together to make sure that they make sense.
- You must always check your facts.
In addition to gathering facts, you should also gather evidence to support those facts.
People may threaten you to try to stop your work. We need courage to face them. All threats should be reported immediately to your editor or your organisation’s lawyer.
Journalists have no special rights in law. Unlike the police, journalists cannot listen in to other people’s telephone calls or open their letters. Journalists cannot enter premises against a person’s wish. You must work within the law, but more than that, you should not use any unethical methods of getting information.
Investigative journalists need all the skills of general reporting, but especially:
- Should be alert to recognise story ideas and important facts which people are trying to hide
- an ordered mind to make notes, file information and fit lots of facts together
- Patience to collect or dig the information
- Good contacts throughout society.
- To have some courage to stand against threats from people you are investigating. Submitted by Chitra Murugesan, I MA JMC, 2022.