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Investigative journalism

Investigative journalism

Investigative journalism 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. With the decline in income through advertising, many traditional news services have struggled to fund investigative journalism, which is time-consuming and therefore expensive. Journalistic investigations are increasingly carried out by news organisations working together, even internationally (as in the case of the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers), or by organisations such as ProPublica, which have not operated previously as news publishers and which rely on the support of the public and benefactors to fund their work.

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".[1] The empirical evidence for this is consistent with the conflicts of interest between the revenue sources for the media conglomerates and the mythology of an unbiased, dispassionate media: advertisers have reduced their spending with media that reported too many unfavorable details. The major media conglomerates have found ways to retain their audience without the risks of offending advertisers inherent in investigative journalism.

Professional definitions

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."[2] 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.

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]


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."[4] Furthermore, the successes of the early muckrakers continued to inspire journalists.[5][6]


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.

  • Databases of public records.

  • 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.

  • Numerous interviews with on-the-record sources as well as, in some instances, interviews with anonymous sources (for example whistleblowers).

  • Federal or state Freedom of Information Acts to obtain documents and data from government agencies.


  • 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;[7] this later led to the publication of the book A Mad World and Its Inhabitants (1876).

  • 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.

  • Bill Dedman's 1988 investigation, The Color of Money,[8] 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.

  • 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.[9][10][11]

  • 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.

  • John M. Crewdson of the Chicago Tribune wrote a 1996 article[12] 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.[13]

  • 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[14] which includes 165 investigative reporters in over 65 countries[15] working collaboratively on crime, corruption, and abuse of power at a global level,[15] under Gerard Ryle as Director.[16] 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[15] and Paradise Papers.[17][18][19]

Notable investigative reporters

  • Anas Aremeyaw Anas

  • Donald Barlett and James B. Steele

  • David Barstow

  • Lowell Bergman

  • Carl Bernstein

  • Nellie Bly

  • Walt Bogdanich

  • John Campbell

  • John Carreyrou

  • Sarah Cohen

  • John M. Crewdson

  • Bill Dedman

  • Shane Dowling

  • Barbara Ehrenreich

  • Daphne Caruana Galizia

  • Sara Ganim

  • Dele Giwa

  • Glenn Greenwald

  • Veronica Guerin

  • Seymour Hersh

  • Eliot Higgins

  • Anuranjan Jha

  • Naomi Klein

  • Serge F. Y kovaleski

  • Jane Mayer

  • Chris Masters

  • S. S. McClure

  • Kate McClymont

  • Carey McWilliams

  • Michael Moore

  • Greg Palast

  • John Pilger

  • Laura Poitras

  • James Risen

  • Gerard Ryle

  • Roberto Saviano

  • Jeremy Scahill

  • Shane Smith

  • W. T. Stead

  • Chitra Subramaniam

  • Ida Tarbell

  • Rodolfo Walsh

  • Ida B. Wells

  • Bob Woodward

  • Ján Kuciak


  • George Polk Awards

  • Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

  • Investigative Reporters and Editors Award

  • Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting

  • Worth Bingham Prize for investigative reporting

Bureaus, centers, and institutes for investigations

  • Bureau of Investigative Journalism

  • California Watch

  • Centre for Investigative Journalism

  • Center for Investigative Reporting (United States)

  • Center for Investigative Reporting (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

  • Center for Public Integrity

  • Global Investigative Journalism Network

  • Institute for Nonprofit News

  • International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

  • Investigative Reporting Workshop

  • Investigative Reporters and Editors

  • Italian Association on Investigative Journalism

  • New England Center for Investigative Reporting

  • Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

  • ProPublica

See also

  • Freedom of information legislation

  • Muckraker

  • Preventive journalism

  • Rodolfo Walsh

  • Watchdog journalism

  • Whistleblower


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