Investigative journalism

Investigative journalism is a type of reporting in which reporters deeply investigate a topic of interest, often involving crime, political corruption, or some other scandal.

De Burgh (2000) states that: "An investigative journalist is a man or woman whose profession it 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".

An investigative journalist may spend a considerable period researching and preparing a report, sometimes months or years, whereas a typical daily or weekly news reporter writes items concerning immediately available news. Most investigative journalism is done by newspapers, wire services and freelance journalists. An investigative journalist's final report may take the form of an exposé.

The Investigation

The investigation will often require an extensive number of interviews and travel; other instances might call for the reporter to make use of activities such as surveillance techniques, analysis of documents, investigations of the performance of any kind of equipment involved in an accident, patent medicine, scientific analysis, social and legal issues, and the like.

Investigative journalism requires the scrutiny of details, fact-finding, and physical effort. An investigative journalist must have an analytical and incisive mind with strong self-motivation to carry on when all doors are closed, when facts are being covered up or falsified and so on.

Some of the means reporters can use for their fact-finding:

Investigative journalism can be contrasted with analytical reporting. According to De Burgh (2000) analytical journalism takes the data available and reconfigures it, helping us to ask questions about the situation or statement or see it in a different way, whereas investigative journalists go further and also want to know whether the situation presented to us is the reality.


Some of the potential consequences for the subjects of successful investigative journalism include:

  • indictment and conviction
  • loss of job
  • loss of professional accreditation
  • payment of fines
  • loss of personal and professional reputation
  • domino consequences for family members/associates involved in unrelated criminal acts discovered through the process of investigation

Consequences for society as a whole include:

  • revision of institutional policies
  • changes in the law

Professional references

In The Reporter's Handbook: An Investigator's Guide to Documents and Techniques, Steve Weinberg defined investigative journalism as:
Reporting, through one's own initiative and work product, matters of importance to readers, viewers or listeners. 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.

See also


  • Investigative Journalism: Context and Practice, Hugo de Burgh (ed), Routledge, London and New York, 2000.

Further reading

Investigative Reporting: A Study in Technique (Journalism Media Manual), by David Spark, (paperback) 1999.
Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism That Changed the World, John Pilger, ed.

External links

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