November 2009 Archives
(I had toyed with the idea of reserving a lab and doing some online editing practice, but there are no labs big enough for all the students, and the only lab that comes close in size is a computer science classroom that used neither Windows nor Mac computers.)
Investigative journalism is finding, reporting and presenting news which other people try to hide. It is very similar to standard news reporting, except that the people at the centre of the story will usually not help you and may even try to stop you doing your job.
The great British newspaper publisher Lord Northcliffe once said: "News is what somebody, somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising."
There are several reasons why societies need investigative journalism. They include:
- People have a right to know about the society in which they live. They have a right to know about decisions which may affect them, even if people in power want to keep them secret.
- People in power - whether in government, the world of commerce, or any other group in society - can abuse that power. They can be corrupt, steal money, break laws and do all sorts of things which harm other people. They might just be incompetent and unable to do their job properly. They will usually try to keep this knowledge secret. Journalists try to expose such abuse.
- Journalists also have a duty to watch how well people in power perform their jobs, especially those who have been elected to public office. Journalists should constantly ask whether such people are keeping their election promises. Politicians and others who are not keeping their promises may try to hide the fact; journalists should try to expose it.
Strategies (make contacts; listen; make connections.)
Investigative journalism is needed to uncover important stories which people want to hide
Investigative journalists need all the skills of general reporting, but especially:
- an alert mind to recognise story ideas and important facts which people are trying to hide
- an ordered mind to make notes, file information and fit lots of facts together
- patience to keep digging for information
- good contacts throughout society
- courage to withstand threats from people you are investigating
Become familiar with all the different places you can get information, such as company registers and court records
As well as accumulating information, you must also gather supporting evidence in case your story is challenged
You must protect confidential sources of information
Always consult a lawyer if you have any worries about the legality of what you are doing or writing
Double-check everything you do, from the information you gather to the way you write your final story
Work within the law
The goal will be an 800-word news feature. Be ready to talk about the "news hook" -- what current event has recently happened, such that Joe Sixpack would have a reason to care about the story you propose.