What Is Investigative Journalism? Learn Investigative Journalism Techniques From Legendary Journalists Bob Woodward

Written by MasterClass

May 17, 2019 • 2 min read

Journalism is a vital part of a free, democratic society. And of the different types of journalism, perhaps none is more important than investigative reporting. Investigative journalism shines a light into the world’s darkest corners. The biggest investigative stories stir public debate, inform politics, and shape history.

In recent years, this labor-intensive type of journalism has unearthed scandals such as the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations that led to the global #metoo movement.

At a time when accusations of lying and “fake news” attempt to discredit journalists, this kind of meticulously researched and impartial work is more important than ever.


What Is Investigative Journalism?

When most people think of journalism, they think of day-to-day news reporting. However, investigative journalism happens on a much larger scale. It often takes multiple investigative reporters and editors months or even years to produce a story. What distinguishes investigative journalism is its intense focus on a single topic, such as political corruption or corporate crime.

Investigative journalists will develop a roster of sources and gain their trust over long periods. They conduct extensive interviews and dive deep into archives and public records to find documents that reveal hidden truths. Unlike journalists working on opinion columns and reviews, investigative reporters also need to keep their personal perspectives out of their writing.

This kind of journalism is central to the work of the world’s foremost news organizations, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. The oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit is at The Boston Globe, and is dubbed the “Spotlight” team. The investigative reporting team was responsible for uncovering years of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in 2002.

How To Write An Investigative Journalism Feature

Investigative reporting involves collecting, verifying and assessing information—but on a greater scale than day-to-day newsgathering. The research phase can run for months or years, focusing on a single topic such as political corruption or corporate wrongdoing. Most investigative reporting is written in the form of one or a series of feature stories.
Learn more about how to write an investigative journalism feature, with tips from legendary reporter Bob Woodward, here.

How To Utilize Sensitive and Anonymous Sources in Investigative Journalism

One of the biggest challenges journalists face is interviewing sensitive or anonymous sources. Some sources hold information that is classified but deemed in the public interest. High-ranking government officials, national security staff, members of Congress, and corporate whistleblowers are all examples of sensitive sources. While delicate to deal with, these sources often yield vital information that leads to the exposure of huge coverups, misdealings, and other controversies. Learn more about sensitive sources in investigative journalism here.

Understanding Ethics in Journalism

Journalistic ethics are the common values that guide reporters. They lay out both the aspirations and obligations that journalists, editors, and others working in the field should follow to execute their work responsibly. Some common guiding ethical principles include honesty, independence, fairness, public accountability, harm minimization, and proper attribution.

Most news organizations have their own written codes of ethics, as do professional membership bodies. However, they all have a few key principles in common: they call on journalists to seek the truth, act in the public interest and minimize harm. Learn more about journalism ethics here.

Discover journalism tips and techniques in Bob Woodward’s MasterClass.