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Investigative Journalism: Being a Watchdog, Getting Paid

At journalism’s core lies the responsibility of watchdogging government officials and other powerful interests, public and private. Investigative reporters’ roots dig deeply into ground walked by the muckrakers a century ago in making visible information that business leaders and public officials try to keep hidden. Reporting and distribution of this news is wholly different in the digital era, even if the human conditions requiring such press scrutiny are not.

Acquiring investigative skills and tools is an essential part of the j-school experience. This five-part series of articles entitled 21st Century Muckrakers—with investigative reporters and editors, photojournalists and documentary filmmakers writing about their experiences—offers a rare and useful behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to tell these stories today.
  • 21st Century Muckrakers: A Five-Part Nieman Reports' Series In these collections of stories, students will discover why investigative reporting matters and they will also understand better the work required to do it well, as they must, if they are to serve as the public's watchdog.
    • Who Are They? How Do They Do Their Work? At a time when the search is on to find sustainable business models to support watchdog reporting, these on-the-ground dispatches from journalists will inform j-school students about the value and difficulty of doing investigative journalism.
    • Iraq, Afghanistan and Investigations. Photojournalism and Documentary Films Attention is paid to investigative reporting and photojournalism in the coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We hear also from journalists back home who have used their investigative skills to unearth the mistreatment of soldiers and Marines when they've returned from war with physical and emotional injuries. Photos convey the lives of Iraqi refugees and of soldiers in war zones. Students will come away from this collection of stories with an understanding of how some of the toughest stories related to war can be well reported and well told.
    • Staying Local, Digging Deep Editors and reporters at metro and regional newspapers speak to the difficult circumstances they confront in their newsrooms in trying to do investigative reporting. At a time of diminishing resources, financial and human, the challenges are many. Their insights offer students important clues about what investigative reporting is likely to look like in the future and how it will get done.
    • Investigating Medical and Health Issues Today, enterprising reporters use digital media to dig into what data can tell them. Harnessing technology’s tools, journalists move with increasing speed and thoroughness through reams of documents. These articles will give students a clearer sense of how data trails can create the solid foundation they need to build an investigative story.
    • Public Health, Public Safety, Public Trust Investigative reporters and editors explore what it takes to unearth information that affects people’s health and safety and the public’s trust. No obligation is stronger for a journalist than the effort to bring forth information about injurious policies or situations. Students will hear from reporters who've taken this responsibility seriously.
  • The Nonprofit Model of Investigative Reporting Stories written by digital-age pioneers give j-school students a sense of what it takes to chart nonprofit paths for investigative reporting. Their words can spark student thinking and classroom discussion about possibilities for funding such reporting in the future.
  • University-based Investigative Journalism Centers Efforts to support and produce investigative journalism reside at some universities where j-school students are being taught the skills and their work is being published and broadcast in partnership with local news organizations. Finding out about what's going on at other universities might open the way for doing similar prartnerships with your students.