Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. An investigative journalist may spend months or years researching and preparing a report. Investigative journalism is a primary source of information. Most investigative journalism is conducted by newspapers, wire services, and freelance journalists. Practitioners sometimes use the term "accountability reporting".
An investigative reporter may make use of one or more of these tools, among others, on a single story:
Analysis of documents, such as lawsuits and other legal documents, tax records, government reports, regulatory reports, and corporate financial filings
Databases of public records
Investigation of technical issues, including scrutiny of government and business practices and their effects
University of Missouri journalism professor Steve Weinberg defined investigative journalism as: "Reporting, through one's own initiative and work product, matters of importance to readers, viewers, or listeners." In many cases, the subjects of the reporting wish the matters under scrutiny to remain undisclosed. There are currently university departments for teaching investigative journalism. Conferences are conducted presenting peer reviewed research into investigative journalism.
British media theorist Hugo de Burgh (2000) states that: "An investigative journalist is a man or woman whose profession it is to discover the truth and to identify lapses from it in whatever media may be available. The act of doing this generally is called investigative journalism and is distinct from apparently similar work done by police, lawyers, auditors, and regulatory bodies in that it is not limited as to target, not legally founded and closely connected to publicity."
American journalism textbooks point out that muckraking standards promoted by McClure's Magazine around 1902, "Have become integral to the character of modern investigative journalism." Furthermore, the successes of the early muckrakers continued to inspire journalists.
Julius Chambers of the New York Tribune had himself committed to the Bloomingdale Asylum in 1872, and his account led to the release of twelve patients who were not mentally ill, a reorganization of the staff and administration, and, eventually, to a change in the lunacy laws; this later led to the publication of the book A Mad World and Its Inhabitants (1876)
John M. Crewdson of the Chicago Tribune wrote a 1996 article proposing the installment of defibrillators on American airliners. Crewdson argued that based on his research and analysis, "Medical kits and defibrillators would be economically justified if they saved just 3 lives each year." Soon after the article's publication, airlines began installing defibrillators on planes, and the devices began to show up in airports and other public spaces. Ten years after installing defibrillators, American Airlines reported that 80 lives had been saved by the machines.
Video of the 2010 Logan Symposium at University of California Berkeley's Consequences of Investigative Reporting" panel, in which reporters from the Sahara Reporters, the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern, The Washington Post, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, and The El Paso Times talk about the dangers investigative reporters face; their experiences range from threat to life and limb for reporting on corruption in Africa, to subpoenas aimed at a journalism professor and his students for attempting to bring to light a miscarriage of justice; a Pulitzer Prize winner describes reporting on national security as her sources face internal inquisitions; a veteran reporter in Las Vegas talks about taking on casino moguls and organized crime; while a reporter covering the Mexican border explains how she has survived the violent reality of the undeclared war on our border, April 2010
Typewriter Guerillas: Closeups of 20 Top Investigative Reporters, by J.C. Behrens (paperback) 1977.
Raising Hell: Straight Talk with Investigative Journalists, by Ron Chepesiuk, Haney Howell, and Edward Lee (paperback) 1997
Investigative Reporting: A Study in Technique (Journalism Media Manual), by David Spark, (paperback) 1999.
Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism That Changed the World, John Pilger, ed. (paperback) 2005.