All journalism is investigative. Facts are checked; quotes verified. However, the specialty known as investigative journalism is a form that requires a blend of detective abilities, disciplined writing and editing, and the determination to follow a trail when the outcome is uncertain.
Investigative journalism uncovers the crucial information that breaks open a secret, putting into view that which the public needs to know. Primarily, it entails digging deeper into a particular issue or topic, unveiling hidden truths, exposing wrongdoing, and holding powerful entities or individuals accountable for their actions.
The intricate process of publishing an investigative journalism story demands meticulous research, unwavering dedication to uncovering truth, and a commitment to ethical reporting. It begins with a compelling idea or tip, followed by exhaustive research, data analysis, and on-the-ground investigation, to get access to first hand information. The task of fact-checking, corroborating evidence from multiple sources, and ensuring legal and ethical compliance then ensues.
Crafting a compelling narrative that presents complex information in a digestible format, while upholding journalistic standards, is pivotal.
This involves multiple rounds of editorial review, further fact-checking, and addressing potential legal implications that happen in war rooms. In the world of journalism, war rooms are command centers where journalists and researchers collaborate intensively on a particular investigation and determine whether or not a story is worth it. Once finalized, the story is prepared for publication, considering the most impactful timing and suitable platforms.
Post-publication, engagement with the audience, monitoring the story’s impact, and the readiness for potential follow-up stories complete this arduous yet vital process.
However, the strenuousness of publishing an exposé persists as powerful interests or individuals often use money and connections to suppress negative investigative stories. The methods of intimidation vary from strategic lawsuits, government intervention in several countries, funding withdrawals and personal pressure built up on journalists and editors.
Despite this, numerous journalists have made significant contributions to the field with their relentless pursuit of stories that often remain hidden and an unwavering commitment to the truth.
Notably, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, known for their work on the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Nixon, worked for The Washington Post and their investigative reporting was pivotal in exposing political corruption.
Historically, another pioneering investigative journalist known for her work on documenting lynching in the United States is Ida B. Wells, who advocated for civil rights and equality. Renowned for his investigative reporting, Seymour Hersh’ coverage of the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War and his exposés in The New Yorker are widely acclaimed.
The list of prominent investigative journalists is extensive with the likes of David Barstow, Julian Assange, Ronan Farrow, Lowell Bergman, Ida Tarbell, Frederick and Bastien Obermaier, Jane Mayer, Nellie Bly, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman.
At its core, investigative journalism is a beacon of accountability, aiming to hold individuals, institutions, and even governments responsible for their actions. Hence, the emergence of standalone investigative reporting newsrooms came into play in the 1900s. Among the pristine nonprofits are Center For Investigative Reporting, Bellingcat, Frontline, Arizona Center For Investigative Reporting, Center For Investigative Reporting (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Canadian Association of Journalists and Center For Investigative Journalism (United Kingdom).
The first nonprofit newsroom in the United States dedicated specifically to investigative journalism was The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) in Berkeley, California. Founded in 1977 by Lowell Bergman, Dan Noyes, and David Weir, CIR was established with the aim of fostering in-depth, groundbreaking reporting that delved into stories of public interest and social significance.
Emerging consequently, Frontline, a long-running investigative documentary series on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) has been pivotal in shaping American television journalism. Launched in 1983, it stands as one of the foremost platforms for in-depth and comprehensive investigative reporting.The series has been recognized with numerous awards, including Emmy Awards, Peabody Awards, and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, among others.
The landscape of nonprofit investigative newsrooms has witnessed a remarkable global expansion.
Bellingcat is a pioneering investigative journalism organization, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, known for its innovative use of open-source intelligence and digital verification techniques. Founded by British citizen journalist Eliot Higgins in 2014, Bellingcat started off as a small blog but swiftly gained international recognition for its groundbreaking investigations including its investigations into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.
In the digital age, the landscape of investigative journalism has evolved, with the internet expanding the avenues for research and information gathering, offering new tools for analysis and data visualization. Additionally, the rise of citizen journalism and open-source investigations has altered the field, allowing for collaborative efforts in uncovering and sharing information globally.
Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, speaks of the unprecedented challenges and opportunities that social media and the digital revolution have provided the field of investigative journalism: “In brief, the internet has democratized information access, allowing investigative journalists to harness a wealth of data and connect with sources globally. Social media platforms, while occasionally serving as vectors for misinformation, have also proved invaluable for crowd-sourced investigations and for bringing underreported stories to the forefront. The evolution of these tools has been rapid and transformative, making investigative journalism more accessible yet also more complex.”
In the midst of the digital revolution of journalism, fact checking websites and independent fact checkers have become the beacon of investigative journalism. Several independent fact checkers operate out of social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter), Facebook and Youtube, and tackle the plethora of damaging misinformation being put out on such platforms and demand accountability.
Over the years, an arm of investigative journalism has solely been dedicated to accurate fact checking with the emergence of several credible websites such as Polygraph.info launched by the Voice of America (VoA) and the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN). There, however, is a risk of misinformation and the challenges posed by hostile actors and the growing digital age, seeking to discredit credible journalism further jeopardize the integrity of investigative reporting.
When speaking of the future, Higgins seems hopeful in his approach and states how, “(at Bellingcat) we anticipate further integration of technology in investigative practices, with an emphasis on data security and ethical considerations. The role of AI, big data, and user-generated content will likely become more pronounced, requiring journalists to adapt continuously to these evolving tools.”
The realm of investigative journalism is not without its concerns, primarily, shrinking budgets and financial constraints.
Nonprofit investigative journalism newsrooms typically follow a grant based funding model through a variety of sources. Many nonprofits receive grants from foundations, both large and small, that support journalism and investigative reporting. The grants could be project-specific or general operating funds. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Park Foundation, Ford Foundation and the Knight Foundation are considered significant donors in the field of investigative journalism. Additionally, nonprofit newsrooms encourage individual donations from their readers and subscribers.
© 2023 Newsjunkie.net
Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins’ remarks for this article were conveyed to Newsjunkie’s Sasha Virk via email exchange, Dec 2023.