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Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, often involving crime, political corruption, or a scandal. An investigative journalist may spend months or years researching and preparing a report, which often takes the form of an exposé. Most investigative journalism is done by newspapers, wire services and freelance journalists. As part of an investigation, journalists make use of:

  • surveillance techniques
  • analysis of documents
  • investigation of technical issues, including scrutiny of equipment and its performance
  • research into social and legal issues
  • studying sources: archives, phone records, address books, tax records and license records
  • talking to neighbors or other parties
  • using subscription research sources such as LexisNexis
  • anonymous sources (for example whistleblowers)
  • going undercover

Investigations at times can take on the appearance of conspiracy theories. For example, Gary Webb's 1996 San Jose Mercury News expose linking the CIA to Nicaraguanmarker contras organizing the distribution of cocaine into the United States led to its widespread condemnation by the mainstream media as "groundless speculation of government conspiracies" that "exceeded the boundaries of acceptable investigative journalism" forcing a public apology and retraction by the Mercury News eight months later with the articles author demoted. Today, journalists and researchers alike agree that while Webb overstated testimonial evidence the reporting was "neither false nor fantastic" and historical consensus is that the basic outline of the story was correct.

Professional definitions

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.

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."

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.

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