• Don’t miss the newest edition – The Chinese manual READ MORE
  • New: Case studies on investigative reporting from the Balkans READ MORE
  • Great news for journalists from Nepal: Our Nepali edition is online! READ MORE

It is glamorous and can be career-defining to the point of celebrity.

Perhaps this is why the people on the cover of ‘All the President’s Men’ are not the Watergate journalists but the actors who played them: Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. So wake up! Reality shows that investigative journalism is hard, humdrum and sometimes dangerous work.

Journalists are bigger than the stories they report.

Investigative journalism is a public service, not an ego trip, and being an investigative journalist gives you no right to flout professional ethical standards.

The investigative journalist is a kind of Lone Ranger.

From a film-making point of view, it is practical to have one hero because action can revolve around a single individual. In reality however, investigative journalism is not sustainable unless it is a team effort.

Investigative journalism is mainly driven by the private media.

Partly, this is true. But there are also well-known examples where government-owned media have undertaken ground-breaking investigations against government.

Investigative journalism focuses only on bad news.

The priority for communities and the media that serve them is to discover and correct wrongs. But investigative journalism also has a role in uncovering positive news. For example, counteracting unbalanced, negative images of people or communities could form the basis of real and good investigative stories. Besides that, it is this type of investigative journalism – also known as ‘muck-raking’ – that makes the public unhappy. Simple scandal-mongering may have no purpose beyond appealing to people’s nosiness about the private lives of others. To be worth investigating, a scandal must go beyond personal misbehaviour into issues that truly affect the public interest.

Investigative reporting is simply good reporting.

This definition comes out of the traditional view of journalists as ‘watchdogs’, whose mission is to sniff out wrongs, point fingers at those to blame, and report in a way that brings about change. And that is certainly part of their role. It is important that corrupt individuals are stopped. But if an investigative report does not look beyond the criminals to the faulty system that permits such behaviour, it has simply cleared the ground for a new crop of crooks to do exactly the same thing (and has possibly taught them how to do it better). An investigative story needs to identify underlying problems and alert those who can close exposed loopholes. If those in power fail to do so, a further investigative story is needed to find out why. So, while investigative journalists must draw on all the skills of good reporting – observation, research and the determined pursuit of answers – these criteria alone do not completely define their work, nor make it distinct from other professions.