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Four things investigative journalism is not

Four things investigative journalism is not

Margaret Looney | January 23, 2013

CNN dispensing with its investigative unit while adding reporter holograms is just the latest example of how the news media industry too often undervalues investigative reporting.

This recent segment on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" is comedy, but provides an all-too-real glimpse of how the media industry lacks a clear grasp on why investigative journalism is important.

At a recent Center for International Media Assistance event in Washington, veteran investigative journalist David Kaplan helped define this vital practice by first explaining what investigative journalism is not:

It is not leak journalism.

"Getting a document leaked by a powerful official and writing it up that day is not investigative reporting,” said Kaplan, director of the Global Investigative Journalism Network and author of Global Investigative Journalism: Strategies for Support, a report which features a directory of 106 investigative journalism nonprofits worldwide, a guide to sustainability practices and useful survey data that delves into these nonprofits' funding and structure.

It is not beat reporting.

“Some journalists think all good reporting is investigative reporting,” Kaplan said. But investigative reporting calls for more depth and digging. “Beat reporters use investigative techniques but the two are not synonymous,” he says.

It is not critical reporting.

Investigations take time--weeks, months or even years. “Investigative journalism may have critical elements, but just because you’re writing something that is tough and critical does not mean you’ve done the digging that investigative reporting involves,” Kaplan said.

It is not crime and corruption reporting.

Defining investigative journalism as crime and corruption reporting sharply limits the discipline’s scope, although Kaplan believes there is some crossover. “But great investigative journalism focuses on education, abuse of power, following money, great business stories,” he said. “Just because you’re covering crime and corruption on a beat does not mean you’re using the tools of investigative reporting.”

So what is investigative journalism?

It’s a systematic approach to a hunch, requiring in-depth, original research and reporting, Kaplan said.

It follows the scientific method of forming and testing a hypothesis, along with rigorous fact-checking, unearthing secrets, a focus on social justice and accountability, heavy use of public records and usually, data.

Kaplan pointed to a quote from Gordana Jankovic of Open Society Foundations that accurately sums up the practice: “You need reporters who can find the links and correlations between events. You need the resources to find and expose what is purposely hidden.”

To view the livestream of the CIMA event, click here.

Image: screen grab from The Daily Show segment.

@margylooney

Comments

What Investigative Journalism is not

Completely, I agree with David Kaplan on the points he raised in this article. Sadly, media operators in the developing world barely understand this. How I wish there would be tailored training to sensitize media managers in our part of the world on what indeed Investigative Journalists and Investigative Journalism is not. Good write up. I'm so enlightened too...

dispensing the CNN investigative unit

It is obvious why CNN did it. Investigative reporters cannot do the type of manipulating journalism CNN is doing. I think a respected investigative journalist would never work for CNN.

Investigative journalism

Awesome! I'm almost blown away by this. Indeed, Kaplan has hit the nail on the head.