Investigative journalism is a particular type of reporting in the media that can usually drive fear into the hearts of the subject of investigation.
In my early days as a journalist I have worked on the investigation desk of many newspapers.
A journalist on an investigation desk usually thinks himself to be a cut above the rest in the editorial; presents himself as a kind of ‘special ops guy’, a man/woman with that peculiar nose which can ferret out all sorts of wrong doings. Sometimes, placing himself way above the normal operating procedure of the editorial, even thinking that he can stretch the rules or bend them to achieve that particular goal which is to get a scoop.
This type of journalism became most popular after the Watergate scandal when Woodward and Bernstein used all sorts of methods to expose the misconduct of an American president which ultimately led to his resignation.
But what exactly is Investigative Journalism? I never really dwelt that much on the makings of it until I stumbled upon Victor Ivan’s recent book “Innocence of the Pen Questioned”. Victor is a senior journalist, a man whose pen has been mighty. He has exposed many situations for the good of the community and as I read through this book which starts with a bit of history of the Ravaya newspaper (of which he is editor), I discovered that it took a turn in Chapter II, which bears the headline ‘Investigative Reporting’. He breaks down Investigative Journalism and gets to the core of what this brand of journalism actually is.
For me as an ex-journalist, it was particularly fascinating to see how he analysed it, and why I dedicate this column in a business publication to this subject is because this book is a ‘must read’ to those who interact with the public and media on a day to day basis.
As I picked up the phone and spoke to him about the book, I figured out one thing, that investigative journalism does not exist for ‘muck raising’. It is a special technique in the media profession, something similar to surgery in medicine; something that has to be handled with care and a lot of respect.
“Disclosure of good news (uncovering of an offence of public importance which was kept hidden from public knowledge) that may lead to arouse public sensation, cannot always be treated as investigative reporting” says the book which is exhaustive in its study of the various nuances in this stream. “Essentially, investigative reporting does not imply mere reporting of who, what, when and where: it is rather telling your reader / listener about how and why a thing had happened, after making an in-depth analysis of it. “ Victor says.
“Investigative reporting is to explore and uncover the facts which were deliberately hidden in violation of ethical and legal norms. In doing so, the investigative reporter will be able to open the mouths which were shut and the doors that were closed.”
Why understanding this kind of reporting becomes important to the business world is because one can easily find oneself in the middle of some adverse media attention. This understanding can prove invaluable when one is struggling to comprehend what is going on in the mind of the reporter, especially when your end of the story has not been given and you are mulling over what the best response should be.
In my experience I found that most Corporates in similar situations, tend to employ the ‘silence is golden’ rule, rather than contradict what the paper has said by setting the record straight. The key word here is ‘record’, as newspapers are really history books being written on a day to day basis.
Corporate and public relations people reading Victor’s book will get an in-depth knowledge of what investigative journalism actually is and what it’s not. This is the key towards manoeuvring that maze of newspaper articles when one is in the spotlight of the media.
When I started this article I described what an investigative journalist thinks about himself and by and large I know this to be true because I have been one of the breed. But after reading Victor Ivan’s book I realised something important ethically speaking i.e. it’s not what you deliver as a scoop or expose in the name of investigative journalism; it is why you deliver and how you deliver it that matters. It is the intrinsic values of the journalist, the editorial and the overall media culture that makes the story credible in the eyes of the reader/viewer. If this is not achieved it becomes sensational reporting and a mere flash in the pan in the annals of journalism.
(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)