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If you decided to investigate a story as a team, there are additional necessary steps that need to be planned: The first is to decide on a project manager. This person will be extremely important element because he or she has to ensure sufficient and relevant input from all team members and has to assemble it all together. The second step is to initiate a workshop where the whole team can brainstorm subject matter and emerge with a clear to-do list. You should also decide on a format for this process:

  • ?   When and how do the team members liaise together?
  • ?   When and how and how often does the project manager liaise?
  • ?   What is the editing, revising, feedback and correcting process at every stage of the investigative process?
  • ?   How to troubleshoot when necessary input does not materialise?
  • ?   How to get everyone to agree on final results?
  • ?   Which costs will be refunded?
  • ?   Will the team eavesdrop, go undercover or pay for documents if needed?

Furthermore, roles must be clearly defined so that conflicts of interest are avoided. In the case of a team member simultaneously serving as a board member, these persons will need to recuse themselves from board decisions pertaining to the team’s investigation. Also, the relationship and decision-making process between the project manager and the organisation’s leadership needs to be clearly established; contracts need to be signed between the project manager and the organisation’s leadership and also between the latter and the team’s members.

Aside from these organisational steps, a team should familiarize themselves with the subject matter: Does everyone understand the ins and outs of, and questions surrounding the investigation? What is the team’s interest in this matter as members of the public? Revisiting good investigative journalism practice in this workshop is crucial; it will determine the quality of the end result. Best practice and ethics should be a part of this discussion, too. An initial working hypothesis should be developed and to-do lists drawn up of required background information and sources.

During the investigative process, viability of the subject and achievable goals are determined by the project manager; the working hypothesis is revised; (new) sources are identified and more detailed and corrected to-do lists are communicated to the team. The project manager will target a ‘minimum’ story as the outcome of the project. A ‘minimum’ story is one that, at the very least, will broaden the public’s understanding of a local issue. The manager should also communicate – either upon request of the team or per his or her own initiative – centrally accessed expertise and updates about the team’s progress in such a way that creates synergy. Furthermore, the project manager decides how to use the input from different team members.


Spotlight

The findings of the so called ‘Spotlight Team’ are a good example for a regional, one newsroom team discovery.

In 2002, the journalists of the newspaper ‘Boston Globe’ found out that several cardinals and bishops in the Boston Catholic Archdiocese had covered up the sexual abuse of children by priests. Only after their reports in the United States other media houses started digging and investigating similar cases in their region and country.

The investigation was filmed and released in the movie ‘Spotlight’ in 2015.

VS.

Panama Papers

The so called ‘Panama Papers’ are a good example for international and overwhelming investigative journalism cooperation.

For one year almost 400 journalists from more than 70 countries investigated as a team the data leak of a Panamanian law firm. Eventually they discovered that politicians, athletes, criminals and others use offshore accounts in Panama for illegal purposes. Over 11 million documents have been analysed – a single journalist would never have been able to handle this entire material by himself. This example shows that the size of the team depend on the data amount and the involved journalists.

Finally the results of one of the biggest financial scandals were published 2016 in different media houses and languages around the world.


At this point, you have developed a hypothesis and made a plan to investigate your story. Now you are able to start with the actual research process. The next chapter will lay out different research techniques and explain how to create your own database.