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Undercover journalism is a form of journalism in which a reporter tries to infiltrate in a community by posing as somebody friendly to that community. Journalists who are famous for their undercover reports include:
- Hunter S. Thompson
- Donal MacIntyre
- Alex Dolan
- Nellie Bly
- Pam Zekman
- Matt Taibbi
- Günter Wallraff
- 60 Minutes and Dateline NBC correspondents
- Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed)
- Carmelo Abbate
The role of undercover journalism has become the topic of much debate as moral and ethical lines have been crossed. The nine elements of journalism as outlined in a book by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel are as follows:
- Journalism's first obligation is to tell the truth.
- Its first loyalty is to the citizens.
- Its essence is discipline of verification.
- Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
- It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
- It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
- It must strive to make the news significant, interesting, and relevant.
- It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
- Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
As reporters have gone undercover some of these guidelines have been bent and broken in order to uphold others on the list. Undercover reporting has brought to light numerous atrocities throughout history, yet often these reporters sacrifice ethical and moral code in the process.
Notable Undercover Journalists
Hunter S. Thompson was known for his undercover work reporting on the California based motorcycle gang, the Hells Angels. His book, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, profiles the gang as Thompson spent roughly a year embedded among the Angels, during a time when their notoriety was at an all time high.
Elizabeth Jane Cochran wrote under the pseudonym, Nellie Bly, she became known for her undercover work for the New York World, titled Ten Days in a Mad-House when she checked herself into an insane asylum as a patient to report on cruelty and neglect. After ten days she was released and later went on to help a grand jury prosecute the mental ward.
Gunter Wallraff is a German journalist known for his undercover work, Ganz unten "The lowest of the low," on exposing the oppressive conditions faced by the immigrant workforce in Germany. He sought employment in German factories, pharmaceutical companies, and a wide array of odd jobs for roughly two years before publishing the book.
Donal MacIntyre is an Irish journalist who went undercover to expose employment standards in the Adventure Sports industry following the Lyme Regis canoeing disaster. He also won an award for his undercover work exposing drug dealers and private security firms that work in collusion after living in character for eleven months.
Alex Dolan is a journalist and science teacher best known for her undercover work exposing poor student behavior in her British classroom for the filming of a Channel 4* documentary Undercover Teacher.
Related to this are books such as "Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffin, in which a white novelist dyed his skin black and traveled the southern United States, and "Self-Made Man" by Norah Vincent, a woman who dressed and passed herself off as a man.