Investigative journalism means the declothing or unveiling of matters that are concealed either deliberately by someone in a position of power or accidentally behind a chaotic mass of facts and circumstances and then the analysis and exposure of all the relevant facts to the public. In this way investigative journalism contributes crucially to freedom of expression and media development which are at the heart of UNESCO’s mandate.
Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters dig deep to investigate a single story that may uncover corruption,review government policies or of corporate houses,or draw attention to social,economic,political and cultural trends.An investigative journalist or team of journalists may spend years researching a single topic.Unlike conventional reporting where reporters depend and rely on materials supplied by the govt,NGOs and other agencies, investigative reporting depends on material gathered by reporter’s own initiative.The practice tries to expose public matters otherwise concealed either deliberately or accidentally.
Investigative journalism requires the reporter to dig deeply into an issue or topic of public interest.Sometimes information that benefits one community may not do so for other.
Investigative journalism is not instantaneous.It develops through recognised stages of planning,researching,reporting and has to adhere to accepted standards of accuracy and evidence.The base of an investigative story is the proactive work of a journalist and his /her team.After receiving a story tip journalists develop hypotheses,plan additional research,decide on relevant questions and go out to investigate them.They must compile evidence by witnessing and analysing answers for themselves.The final story should reveal new information or assemble the previously available information in a new way to show it’s importance.A single source can give lot of revelations,access to insights and information otherwise hidden.But till the story from that source is cross-checked with other sources,experiential,documentary and human and the meaning is explored it does not qualify as investigation.
WHO IS AN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST?
Investigative reporting needs greater resources,teamwork and more time than a routine news report.Many stories are a result of team investigations.But it poses problems for small,local and community publications with limited time,money,staff or specialised skills.A journalist may need to seek grants to support an investigation and learn to extract the skills of individuals with the help of specialised expertise.
ARE INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS DETECTIVES?
Yes,we can say that these investigative journalists are sort of detectives.Every investigative story starts with a question.The journalist researches the question to formulate a hypothesis about its possible answer.He/he then does more research like,following paper trails,conducting interviews and putting together a mass of evidence. Journalists apply recognized standards to find out valid evidence adding upto conclusive proof.Because of the presence of laws of defamation like blasphemy exist the standard of a journalist’s investigation and fact-checking should be of substantial importance.Someone may ask that is it okay for investigative journalists to behave like detectives,working undercover and using techniques like hidden microphones and cameras.Investigative journalists do use these techniques.Journalists rely on their own ethics and are not exempt from privacy laws.And so to ensure ethical journalism and avoid prosecution investigative journalists need to carefully understand each situation before taking any action.
While investigative journalists and detectives are similar in many ways they differ in some too.Sometimes the purpose of journalistic investigations is not to prove guilt but to simply bear witness.Detectives stop their work when they can prove who committed the crime.But investigative reporting goes further than simply finding an answer.It gathers the right facts and gets the fact right.It reveals the meaning of the story showing a pattern in events,action or evidence.So investigative stories explain the context of an issue rather than simply pointing a finger at the accused.
So investigative reporting has also been called ‘the journalism of outrage’.Investigative journalists also act as scientists.Their methods need keeping an open mind until they have gathered a lot of evidence to support a story idea. So they are needed to not ignore contradicting evidence and be receptive to changing conclusions if evidence points in a different direction.In all these ways,a journalist’s work resembles the scientific process where researchers put forward a hypothesis and test it to know if it’s right or not.
Investigative journalists are also managers.To do team work on big long-term projects they need to master clear communication and teamwork.
MYTHS ABOUT INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING
MYTH 1—Is it a glamorous career option?
Investigative journalism is not at all related to glamour.It’s not superficial and at times it can be hard,monotonous and dangerous.
MYTH 2—Are journalists bigger than the stories they report?
It is a public service and not a propaganda.It deals with nothing fake, out of limits and nothing here is inconsequential.An investigative journalist has no right to flout professional ethical standards.
MYTH 3––Is an investigative journalist a kind of lone ranger?
From the perspective of film-making it is required to have one hero because action can revolve around a single individual.But in reality investigative journalism is not individual but teamwork.
MYTH 4––Is investigative journalism mainly driven by the private media?
It is true partly.Sometimes government-owned media have undertaken ground-breaking investigations against the government.
MYTH 5––Does investigative journalism focus only on bad news?
The priority for communities and the media serving them is to discover and correct wrongs.But investigative journalism also has a role in uncovering positive news.For eg,counteracting unbalanced and negative images of people or communities could form the basis of real and good investigative stories.
MYTH 6––Is investigative reporting simply good reporting?
This definition comes out of the traditional view of journalists as ‘watchdogs’ whose mission it is to sniff out wrongs,point out the guilty ones and report in a way that brings about change.And it is certainly part of their role.It is true that corrupt individuals have to be stopped but if an investigative report does not look beyond the criminals to the faulty system producing them the problem does not get removed from it’s roots.An investigative story needs to identify underlying problems and encourage those who can expose loopholes.So investigative journalists must have the skills of good reporting,observation and research.
WHY DO INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING?
Investigative journalism is time-consuming,expensive and risky.It is thought that investigative journalism is a product of ‘western culture’ and would not work in a developing country.But it really doesn’t require any extensive time and resources and there have been instances of watchdog journalism where journalists have generated great investigative stories based on determination and commitment.
Investigative journalism also helps to build democracy. Such kind of reporting that does not investigate beyond official releases allows those in power to set the agenda. The democratic principles like popular participation, accountability and transparency of government fail when media does not ask tough questions or give information and analysis that investigates beyond the claims of competitors. For the life of democracy, investigative journalism is very important.
HOW TO BECOME AN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST?
Investigative journalists are not made overnight but they have certain traits that when nurtured can help them to become a great investigative journalist:-
1.COURAGE-Investigative journalists should have the courage to stand up for their cause and work, they must take initiative, take up the challenge to uncover the truth bravely and feel spirited when solving a case. They must have a strong motivation for their cause and nothing should shake them from doing it.
2.PASSION-Mostly investigative journalism is a tough endeavor, time and energy consuming that can get powerful people annoyed with you. If you like an average life, a stable income with regular promotions, being invited to dinners and parties, enjoying a safer life with little desires to make it big then investigative journalism is not for you. But if you enjoy challenges, have a passion for truth and justice and want to serve your audience with stories that matter irrespective of the time and energy it may cost you then you are on the track to be a good investigative journalist and you must go for it.
3.CURIOSITY-Investigative journalism starts with asking questions. The questions can be about events in the news or about things you see or hear about in daily life.
4.INITIATIVE–Many newsrooms operate on limited resources and run on tight deadlines. Investigative journalists need to take the initiative, do their own preliminary research and shape the idea into a solid story plan. Sometimes an investigative grant may be needed to carry out investigation.
5.LOGICAL THINKING,ORGANISATION AND SELF-DISCIPLINE-Investigative reporting takes time and because of legal boundaries fine-grained verification. So you need to be a careful planner to make the best use of your time and make sure the story fits together.
6.FLEXIBILITY–Sometimes an investigation can take unexpected turns. It may happen that the first question turns out to be a dead-end or leads to a far more interesting but less obvious question. So then investigative journalists need to be prepared to rethink and redesign their research.
7.TEAM SPIRIT AND COMMUNICATION SKILLS-You may have seen how in movies the investigative reporter is portrayed as a ‘lone wolf’. There may be times when secrecy is so important that a story cannot be shared with others for some reason. But very often the best stories come out of a cooperative effort that uses all available skills.in the newsroom. An investigative story may need knowledge of anything from science to health to economics and sociology and no one journalist however broad their area of knowledge can be an expert in all these areas. Good contacts and networking form part of the teamwork. Good communication is just one other one.
8.WELL-DEVELOPED REPORTING SKILLS-It does not necessarily mean having a degree in journalism but having enough training and experience to know how to identify sources, plan story research, conduct interviews.
9.BROAD GENERAL KNOWLEDGE AND GOOD RESEARCH SKILL-It’s important to understand the context of the investigation to avoid dead ends by identifying relevant facts and questions. But if the investigation leads into an unfamiliar area, investigative journalists must familiarize themselves with the background, conventions, terminology and issues of that area quickly. The ability to converse with an expert, use search engines and read useful books are needed here.
10.FAIRNESS AND STRONG ETHICS-Investigative stories may put the security, jobs or lives of sources at risk. So an investigative journalist needs to have strong, thoughtful personal ethics to make sure sources and subjects are treated respectfully and protected from harm. Newsrooms supporting investigative stories need to be guided by ethical codes.
11.DISCRETION–Gossip does not make good investigative reports. Loose talk can put the investigation and lives of those involved at risk. Also it can tip off rivals who can come in the way of your working. So discretion is very important.
12.CITIZENSHIP-Investigative journalists are often attacked as being ‘unpatriotic.’ But investigative journalists are concerned for the public interest and work on stories that help make their communities better.