2. Go It Alone or Build a Team?

2. Go It Alone or Build a Team?

There are many compelling reasons to conduct an investigative story alone:

  • >   The scale is manageable
  • >   You have most, if not all, of the resources or contacts
  • >   You are not sure if you can trust your colleagues

However, an investigative report can often morph into something much larger than one person can investigate. Having more hands on deck not only makes the work more manageable, but having more eyes on a story lends a sense of perspective — so you know you are not getting too carried away.

If you decide to investigate a story as a team, there are additional steps that need to be taken: The first is to decide on a project manager. This person will be extremely important because she or he 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 communicate?
  • ?   What is the editing process like?
  • ?   How will the team handle setbacks during the investigation?
  • ?  How can we get everyone to agree on the final story?
  • ?   What expenses will be covered?
  • ?   Will the team eavesdrop, go undercover or pay for documents if needed?

Roles should also be clearly defined to avoid conflicts of interest. In the case of a team member simultaneously serving as a board member of a news organisation, this person must recuse himself from board decisions pertaining to the team’s investigation. Also, the relationship between the project manager and the organisation’s leadership needs to be clearly established — sometimes through contracts.

A team should also familiarize themselves with the subject matter: Does everyone understand the ins and outs of the investigation? What is the team’s interest in this matter as members of the public? Best practices and a code of ethics should be a part of this discussion, too.

The project manager, effectively the leader of the investigation, should continually stay on top of the goals for the team, and communicate these steps to the rest of the team. The project manager also ensures that the story, at the end of the day, will at least broaden the public’s understanding of a local issue. The project manager is also the bridge between team members, and to the news organisation’s leadership.

Team A
Team B
Panama Papers
The findings of the ‘Spotlight Team’ are a good example for a regional, one-newsroom team discovery.

In 2002, a small team of ‘Boston Globe’ journalists discovered that several cardinals and bishops in the Boston Catholic Archdiocese had systematically covered up the sexual abuse of children by priests.

Only after their reports were published did other media houses start digging up similar cases in their region.

The investigation was dramatised in the 2015 movie, ‘Spotlight’.
The ‘Panama Papers’ are a good example of international cooperation.

For one year almost 400 journalists from more than 70 countries investigated the data leak of a Panamanian law firm. They discovered that politicians, athletes, criminals and others use offshore accounts in Panama for illegal purposes.

Over 11 million documents have been analysed – a feat a single journalist could never have handled by himself.

The results of one of the biggest financial scandals in the world were published in 2016, in hundreds of news outlets and languages.