Investigative reporting, demystified

Tuesday, Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), will come to class and talk about what we mean when we use the words “investigative reporting” and how ordinary journalists can use pretty basic reporting skills to do great work that brings about change.

I can think of a fair number of examples of this from my seven years here: stories done by students who stuck with a subject long enough to shed light on the dark corners.

But it takes time and money, and new business models are evolving to sustain “stakeholder journalism” (which includes investigative reporting). Think Spot.Us.

Or how about ProPublica, which published this piece about the dangers of dialysis and won several awards, including one from IRE. I heard the reporter, Robin Fields, talk about reporting this story. It’s not magic, just hard work and knowing where and how to mine for information. The result is a story that could prompt changes that could save patients’ lives.

And then there’s this one from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that quite likely has made the world a safer place.

Read them both before tomorrow, and notice how transparent the reporters are in explaining how they did the story.

Why is that important?

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4 Responses to Investigative reporting, demystified

  1. Ryan Cornell says:

    ProPublica also just won a Pulitzer for national reporting!

  2. I think the most shocking things about these articles are the dates they were published. We see a lot of influential investigative journalism of the past, but it seems a rare thing to see articles that are so relevant to our lives today.
    Ever since I started looking into journalism as a career, it worried me that there wasn’t very much investigative reporting around. Maybe online journalism will have the ability soon to create a sustainable method of investigative reporting. I feel like websites such as could make huge advances in the field because not only are people helping to fund the reporting, but they are also pointing out large problems in society.
    It’s hard to stay optimistic about journalism with the current economical situation and, of course, all of our 1000-level courses that should be renamed “The Death of Journalism,” but it is reassuring to see people doing great journalism.

    • reedkath says:

      Natalie, for some reason I just saw this comment today — and I am very curious to know what you mean by this comment: “…and, of course, all of our 1000-level courses that should be renamed ‘The Death of Journalism,’….”. When you have a second, let’s chat about this. My impression from giving job recommendations and watching my students’ progress out there in the world is that journalism is very much alive, though it is taking some surprising new forms. I wonder how the idea is being conveyed in our school that there’s no future for it.

    • catnewhouse says:

      One investigative publication I worked with, that seems to be sustaining itself pretty well, is The Chicago Reporter. The Reporter is run by a nonprofit organization called the Community Renewal Society, so it will often receive grants and donations to fund its journalism. Those donations are hugely important considering that the Reporter itself has a small audience, so I doubt subscriptions are enough to pay for long hours of investigative work. I think the nonprofit model works so well in this case because the Reporter is a focused publication, so people know when they donate that they are funding investigative stories about race and poverty in Chicago–much like story-specific donations with Spot.Us.

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