Communication Investigative Reporting
by
James L. Aucoin
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0099

Introduction

With the establishment of the service organization Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) in the mid-1970s, a general acceptance arose that investigative reporting is different from routine daily journalism. Most would agree that investigative reporting is journalism resulting from a reporter’s own initiative that reveals to the public important information once hidden or unknown. It involves extensive reporting that results in the exposure of corruption, political malfeasance or misfeasance, violation of civil rights, misused power, or other actions or inactions that bring harm to people. In conjunction with the acceptance of investigative reporting as a journalistic genre in the 1970s, scholars from journalism, political science, and sociology began to study the practice as a separate genre with an individual history and distinctive social and political impacts. Scholars have traced exposés back to the first newspapers in the 17th century. Investigative reporting became a regular feature for American and British newspapers, though, during the era of the cheap mass-market newspapers like the New York Tribune in the mid-19th century. The practice became a newspaper staple during the scandal-seeking sensationalistic era of the later 19th century, when reporters such as Nellie Bly became celebrity investigators. The practice, in a slightly different format than what would emerge later, reached a high mark in the United States during the first two decades of the 20th century, when popular magazines like McClure’s found financial success bringing muckraking articles to middle class audiences until the start of World War I. (Muckraking bibliography will be provided in a separate chapter.) From then through the 1960s, investigative reporting was mostly done at smaller publications, though there are a number of significant exceptions, such as the exposure of the Teapot Dome scandal by Paul Y. Anderson at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the feisty columns out of Washington, DC, by Drew Pearson. The Watergate scandal of the early 1970s signaled a revitalization of the practice when reporters at the Washington Post and other news outlets revealed misdeeds of the Nixon administration. The enormous ramifications from exposure of political corruption in the United States electrified the practice in the United States, Canada, and Britain. From the 1980s investigative reporting became institutionalized in newsrooms. During the 1990s and early 21st century, investigative reporting spread throughout the world. During the first decades of the 21st century, legacy daily newspapers and TV outlets practiced less investigative reporting. What has developed, though, is a thriving production of investigative stories by nonprofit journalism organizations for print, broadcast, and online outlets throughout the world.

Anthologies

Until the early 21st century, there were no collections of investigative reporting articles. Finding articles was difficult, though often some would be included in general journalism anthologies because investigative reporting tends to be among the best journalism produced. Otherwise, scholars sought out original publications. Some reprinting of investigative articles occurred as examples in texts, but no comprehensive overview of the genre was available until Shapiro 2003, which was the first book-length collection dedicated solely to investigative reporting examples and it further benefited scholarship because it includes examples from throughout American history. Pilger 2005 provides examples of investigation from print publications beginning in the mid-1950s. Sloan and Wray 1997 is important because it provides a collection of examples of the practice that would be difficult to find elsewhere. Harber and Renn 2011 provides examples of the practice from South Africa and Hunter 2012 edits a global compilation of investigative stories that gives a broad view of the practice throughout the world Serrin and Serrin 2002 collects examples of investigative and muckraking journalism from the 18th century to the 20th century.

  • Harber, Anton, and Margaret Renn, eds. 2011. Troublemakers: The best of South Africa’s investigative journalism. Johannesburg, South Africa: Jacana Media.

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    This collection offers copies of the articles that were finalists for the Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Reporting and provides an overview of the quality and depth of the reporting being done by journalists in South Africa.

  • Hunter, Mark Lee, ed. 2012. The Global Casebook of Investigative Journalism. London: Centre for Investigative Journalism.

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    This is a free download from the Centre for Investigative Journalism, found at tcij.org. This is the first attempt to make investigative stories from around the world available to a general audience. The work was funded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris.

  • Pilger, John, ed. 2005. Tell me no lies: Investigative journalism that changed the world. New York: Thunder’s Mouth.

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    This collection of investigative reporting articles focuses mostly on print journalism appearing from World War II to 2003. A noted investigative journalist, Pilger provides extensive commentary on the works. The collection favors, for the most part, iconoclastic reporters such as Jessica Mitford and Eric Schlosser. The collection includes international examples.

  • Serrin, Judith, and William Serrin, eds. 2002. Muckraking: The journalism that changed America. New York: The New Press.

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    The Serrins organize their collection of investigative and muckraking stories by general topic: the poor, the working class, public health and safety, women rights, politics, muckraking, freedom, and sports.

  • Shapiro, Bruce, ed. 2003. Shaking the foundations: 200 years of investigative journalism in America. New York: Thunder’s Mouth.

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    This anthology provides a historical collection of investigative reporting and muckraking. The author offers an expansive definition of investigative journalism that includes exposés from early America through the end of the 20th century.

  • Sloan, William David, and Cheryl S. Wray, eds. 1997. Investigative Writing. In Masterpieces of reporting. Vol. 1. 305–386. Northport, AL: Vision.

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    Nestled within the larger anthology of examples of great reporting is this chapter on investigative reporting. It begins with “Inside the Madhouse,” by Nellie Bly from the late 19th century, and ends with examples from the late 20th century.

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