Investigative journalism

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Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, such as serious crimes, racial injustice, 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. With the decline in income through advertising, many traditional news services have struggled to fund investigative journalism, due to it being very time-consuming and expensive. Journalistic investigations are increasingly carried out by news organizations working together, even internationally (as in the case of the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers), or by nonprofit outlets such as ProPublica, which rely on the support of the public and benefactors to fund their work.


University of Missouri journalism professor Steve Weinberg defined investigative journalism as: "Reporting, through one's own initiative and work product, matters of importance to readers, viewers, or listeners."[1] In many cases, the subjects of the reporting wish the matters under scrutiny to remain undisclosed. There are currently university departments for teaching investigative journalism. Conferences are conducted presenting peer-reviewed research into investigative journalism.[2]

British media theorist Hugo de Burgh (2000) states that: "An investigative journalist is a man or woman whose profession is to discover the truth and to identify lapses from it in whatever media may be available. The act of doing this generally is called investigative journalism and is distinct from apparently similar work done by police, lawyers, auditors, and regulatory bodies in that it is not limited as to target, not legally founded and closely connected to publicity."[3]


Early newspapers in British colonial America were often suppressed by the authorities for their investigative journalism. Examples include Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick and Benjamin Franklin's New England Courant. Journalists who reported on the doings of the British authorities would later contribute to revolutionary sentiment in the run-up to the American Revolution; one prominent example was the Boston Gazette, contributed to by Samuel Adams among others.[4]

American journalism textbooks point out that muckraking standards promoted by McClure's Magazine around 1902, "Have become integral to the character of modern investigative journalism."[5] Furthermore, the successes of the early muckrakers continued to inspire journalists.[6][7]

The outlook for investigative journalism in the United States was improved by the 1960s with the Freedom of Information Act and New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. The invention of the photocopier also offered an assistive tool to whistleblowers.[4]

The growth of media conglomerates in the U.S. since the 1980s has been accompanied by massive cuts in the budgets for investigative journalism. A 2002 study concluded "that investigative journalism has all but disappeared from the nation's commercial airwaves."[8] Non-commercial journalism has increasingly stepped-up to work on this growing need for in-depth investigations and reporting. One of the largest teams of investigative journalists is the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) launched in 1997 by the Center for Public Integrity[9] which includes 165 investigative reporters in over 65 countries[10] working collaboratively on crime, corruption, and abuse of power at a global level,[10] under Gerard Ryle as Director.[11] Working with major media outlets globally, they have exposed organised crime, international tobacco companies, private military cartels, asbestos companies, climate change lobbyists, details of Iraq and Afghanistan war contracts, and most recently the Panama Papers[10] and Paradise Papers.[12][13][14] The investigative Commons center opened in Berlin, Germany in 2021 and houses the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Forensic Architecture, and Bellingcat.[15]


An investigative reporter may make use of one or more of these tools, among others, on a single story:

  • Analysis of documents, such as lawsuits and other legal documents, tax records, government reports, regulatory reports, and corporate financial filings.[16]
  • Databases of public records.[17][4]
  • Investigation of technical issues, including scrutiny of government and business practices and their effects.
  • Research into social and legal issues.
  • Subscription research sources such as LexisNexis.[18]
  • Numerous interviews with on-the-record sources as well as, in some instances, interviews with anonymous sources (for example whistleblowers).[4]
  • Federal or state Freedom of Information Acts to obtain documents and data from government agencies.
  • OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence) databases and tools that contain free and open resources that anybody can use.


  • Julius Chambers of the New-York Tribune had himself committed to the Bloomingdale Asylum in 1872, and his account led to the release of twelve patients who were not mentally ill, a reorganization of the staff and administration, and eventually to a change in the lunacy laws;[19] this later led to the publication of the book A Mad World and Its Inhabitants (1876).
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett's 1892 Southern Horrors documented lynching in the United States, exposing in the pages of black-owned newspapers as a campaign of oppression and intimidation against African Americans. A white mob destroyed her newspaper press and office in retaliation for her reporting.[20]
  • Ida Tarbell's 1904 book, The History of the Standard Oil Company, exposed the nefarious practices and methods of the monopoly of the company, and led to its dismantling.[21]
  • Upton Sinclair's 1905 book The Jungle exposed unsanitary conditions in American meatpacking plants, and led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Nellie Bly, a pseudonym used by Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman in the late 19th century, famously feigned insanity as part of her 1887 undercover investigation into and subsequent exposé regarding the inner-workings of the Women's Lunatic Asylum in New York City. Published to wide acclaim as a series of articles in the New York World which were later compiled and further detailed in her book Ten Days in a Mad-House, Bly's revelations led to both a grand jury investigation of the asylum and increased funding for the Department of Public Charities and Corrections.[22]
  • Between 1972–1974 Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered and exposed a variety of incriminating information regarding President Richard Nixon's 1968–1972 presidential campaign. The information exposed, prompted Nixon's resignation in 1974 and was then on recognized as the Watergate scandal.[23]
  • Bill Dedman's 1988 investigation, The Color of Money,[24] for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on racial discrimination by mortgage lenders in middle-income neighborhoods, received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting and was an influential early example of computer-assisted reporting or database journalism.[25]
  • Brian Deer's British press award-winning investigation for The Sunday Times of London into the worldwide MMR vaccine controversy which revealed that research, published by The Lancet, associating the children's vaccine with autism was fraudulent.[26][27][28]
  • The Daily Telegraph investigated claims that various British Members of Parliament had been filing dubious and frivolous expenses claims, and had done for many years in secret. The House of Commons Authority initially tried to block the release of the information, but the expenses were leaked to the Telegraph. The newspaper then released pieces of information which dominated the news for weeks and caused considerable anger in the UK.[29]
  • John M. Crewdson of the Chicago Tribune wrote a 1996 article[30] proposing the installment of defibrillators on American airliners. Crewdson argued that based on his research and analysis, "Medical kits and defibrillators would be economically justified if they saved just 3 lives each year." Soon after the article's publication, airlines began installing defibrillators on planes, and the devices began to show up in airports and other public spaces. Ten years after installing defibrillators, American Airlines reported that 80 lives had been saved by the machines.[31]
  • Project Censored regularly investigates stories which have gone undercovered by other outlets.
  • Hopewell Chin'ono, the award-winning Zimbabwean journalist who investigated and exposed the Covid-gate scandal in Zimbabwe in June 2020. US$60 million was siphoned to a shadowy company called Drax that is linked to President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The exposure resulted in the dismissal and arrest of Health Minister Obbidiah Moyo. Hopewell Chin'ono was arrested on flimsy charges in an apparent attempt to silence him.[32]


See also[edit]

Organizations, Publications and People


  1. ^ Weinberg, Steve (1996). The Reporter's Handbook: An Investigator's Guide To Documents and Techniques. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-13596-6.
  2. ^ "The Global Media Defence Fund Backs the Largest-Ever Investigative Journalism Conference". Unesco. 29 September 2023.
  3. ^ de Burgh, Hugo, ed. (2000). Investigative Journalism: Context and Practice. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-19054-1.
  4. ^ a b c d Sterling, Christopher H., ed. (2009). "Investigative Journalism". Encyclopedia of Journalism. Vol. 2. SAGE Publications. pp. 788–794. ISBN 978-0-7619-2957-4.
  5. ^ Sloan, W. David; Parcell, Lisa Mullikin (2002). American Journalism: History, Principles, Practices. McFarland. pp. 211–213. ISBN 978-0-7864-1371-3.
  6. ^ Tichi, Cecelia (2013). Exposés and Excess: Muckraking in America, 1900 / 2000. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-0375-2.
  7. ^ Hess, Stephen (2013). Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978–2012. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 978-0-8157-2540-4.
  8. ^ McChesney, Robert W. (2004). The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the 21st century. Monthly Review Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-58367-105-4., citing Just, Marion; Levine, Rosalind; Regan, Kathleen (November–December 2002), "Investigative Journalism Despite the Odds", Columbia Journalism Review: 103ff
  9. ^ Vasilyeva, Natalya; Anderson, Mae (3 April 2016). "News Group Claims Huge Trove of Data on Offshore Accounts". The New York Times. Associated Press. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  10. ^ a b c "About the ICIJ". The Center for Public Integrity. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  11. ^ "Gerard Ryle". Center for Public Integrity.
  12. ^ Fitzgibbon, Will; et al. (5 November 2017). "The 1 Percent- Offshore Trove Exposes Trump-Russia Links And Piggy Banks of the Wealthiest 1 Percent – A new leak of confidential records reveals the financial hideaways of iconic brands and power brokers across the political spectrum". International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  13. ^ Grandoni, Dino (6 November 2017). "Analysis | The Energy 202: What you need to know about Wilbur Ross and the Paradise Papers". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  14. ^ Disis, Jackie Wattles and Jill (6 November 2017). "Paradise Papers: What you need to know". CNNMoney.
  15. ^ Oltermann, Philip (27 June 2021). "Berlin's no 1 digital detective agency is on the trail of human rights abusers". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 28 June 2021.
  16. ^ Hahn, Oliver (2018). Digital Investigative Journalism. Springer International Publishing. pp. 145–146.
  17. ^ "10 tools for investigative journalists". International Journalists' Network. Retrieved 26 June 2023.
  18. ^, Michael Kissiah (22 June 2022). "LexisNexis Solutions for Law Enforcement and Investigators". Private Investigator and Investigation Resources. Retrieved 26 June 2023.
  19. ^ "A New Hospital for the Insane". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. December 1876.
  20. ^ "Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Anti-lynching and the White House". WHHA (en-US). Retrieved 15 April 2024.
  21. ^ "Ida Tarbell: The Woman Who Took On Standard Oil - Connecticut History | a CTHumanities Project". Connecticut History | a CTHumanities Project - Stories about the people, traditions, innovations, and events that make up Connecticut's rich history. 6 January 2022. Retrieved 15 April 2024.
  22. ^ Paranick, Amber (8 November 2022). ""Behind Asylum Bars:" Nellie Bly Reporting from Blackwell's Island. | Headlines & Heroes". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 15 April 2024.
  23. ^ Elving, Ron (16 June 2022). "In new edition of classic Watergate expose, Woodward and Bernstein link Nixon, Trump". NPR.
  24. ^ Dedman, Bill (1989). "The Color of Money". Power Reporting.
  25. ^ "Bill Dedman of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution".
  26. ^ Godlee, F.; Smith, J.; Marcovitch, H. (5 January 2011). "Wakefield's article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent". BMJ. 342: c7452. doi:10.1136/bmj.c7452. ISSN 0959-8138. PMID 21209060. S2CID 43640126.
  27. ^ Ziv, Stav (10 February 2015). "Andrew Wakefield, Father of the Anti-Vaccine Movement, Responds to the Current Measles Outbreak for the First Time". Newsweek. New York. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  28. ^ Boseley, Sarah (2 February 2010). "Lancet retracts 'utterly false' MMR paper". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  29. ^ "Exclusive: the real story of the MPs' expenses scandal". The Telegraph. 7 May 2019. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 15 April 2024.
  30. ^ Crewdson, John (30 June 1996). "Cardiac Arrest at 37,000 Feet". Chicago Tribune.
  31. ^ Kovach, Bill; Rosenstiel, Tom (2010). Blur: How to Know What's True in the Age of Information Overload. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 58–60. ISBN 978-1-60819-302-8.
  32. ^ Muchena, Deprose (20 July 2020). "Zimbabwe: Authorities continue their crackdown on dissent with arrest of investigative journalist and activist". Amnesty International. Retrieved 4 January 2021. Zimbabwean authorities must stop misusing the criminal justice system to persecute journalists and activists who are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The authorities must stop using the police and courts to silence dissent.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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