Investigative journalism is time-consuming, expensive and risky. Journalists often need to convince their editors that the endeavour is worth undertaking when day-to-day events can produce a satisfactory newspaper.
So why do it? Because facts, coupled with great stories, can change things. A quick glance at the Pulitzer Prize winners of the last couple of years shows the impact a good investigative report can have on different communities or policies. In 2018, the prize went to the Washington Post, who were credited with changing the course of the Senate race in Alabama by revealing a candidate’s alleged past sexual harassment of teenage girls. In 2017, it went to Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre, who uncovered the flood of opioids flowing into West Virginia. And in 2016, it went to two reporters from different Floridian newspapers, who had uncovered escalating violence in the state’s mental hospitals.
Furthermore, investigative journalism is integral to strengthening democracy. If a newspaper’s report never goes beyond official press releases, then we allow those in power to set the agenda. The principle of holding the government to account fails when the media does not ask tough questions or examine the claims and counter-claims of competing factions.