Investigative reporters are journalists who thoroughly research, investigate, interpret and communicate news and public affairs through newspapers, television, radio and other media. They uncover secrets people would rather keep quiet and dig deep into cases that may involve issues such as misappropriation of public money or public safety. Reporters investigate leads and news tips, read documents, observe events taking place at the scene, and interview people.
They play an important role in our media-savvy society; writing stories and broadcasting news that informs us about current local, national, and international events and the conduct of public officials, corporate executives, special interest groups and others who live in the limelight. The ultimate goal after gathering and synthesizing information is to figure out how to present it logically so that people can understand, enjoy and use it in their daily lives.
The title investigative reporter is quite broad because they do a number of different things. Some cover a "beat" (one news area such as police, city hall or law courts), others report for news services that provide printed material to subscribing newspapers and magazines, such as Reuters, while magazine reporters may do extensive in-depth research because magazines have relatively specialized readerships. Some investigative reporters specialize in one field such as health, crime, business corruption, social events, war and religion.
Investigative reporters are dedicated to providing accurate and impartial news. The reason accuracy is so important is to both to serve the public with correct news and because slanderous and libelous statements can lead to costly lawsuits. It is also important that they know about journalistic ethics and laws related to journalism such as defamation law, but those principles are well covered in journalism school. It is crucial that reporters have a complex understanding of different cultures. Most stories are about diverse and interesting people therefore, reporters must also be culturally sensitive.
Clearly, all good journalism is investigative to one degree or another. Yet the good investigative pieces usually generate a variety of reactions and that is the ultimate goal of the reporter -- creating positive and negative reactions. Some readers support the efforts of investigative reporters while others curse the name of controversial writers. Finally, due to the investigative nature of the reporting, they may often cover stories that take several days or weeks of information gathering.
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Entry Level Salary:
Interests and Skills
Investigative reporters must be naturally curious and have a nose for news. When it comes to interviewing people, they should be interested and respectful about the answers and know what types of questions to ask. Obviously this also requires great people skills and written communication skills. They must be 100 percent accurate in their fact checking therefore people who can pay close attention to details and are scrutinizers would be perfect investigative journalists. They must also be open-minded, because they have to understand and see a story from both points of view in order to cover a story properly. Investigative reporters also have extensive stamina that helps them cope with the pressures of the industry.
Collect local, national and international news through interviews, investigation and observation
Research and verify information from meetings, conferences, court hearings, artistic performances, sporting events and press statements and write stories for newspapers and magazines
Cover all the stories for specific subjects such as health, sports or arts
Write editorials and commentaries on topics of current interest to stimulate public interest and express the views of a publication
Write critical reviews of literary, musical and other artistic works based on knowledge, judgment and experience
Receive, analyze and verify news and other copy for accuracy
Go "live on-location" to provide eyewitness coverage of some events
Translate complex issues into concise, informative articles
Make shorthand notes and/or record information on tape
Conduct interviews as part of research and carry out background research for stories or features
Discuss work with editors
May take photographs
Investigative reporters work both indoors and outdoors in a variety of conditions. Their work is usually hectic and stressful. Since they are under great pressure to meet deadlines, reports are often written with little time for preparation. Successful investigative reporters may work in comfortable, private offices while others work in large rooms filled with the sound of keyboards and computer printers, as well as the voices of other reporters. When on location, they may work in unpleasant situations, such as crime and accident scenes. Similarly, covering wars, political uprisings, fires, floods, and similar "disaster" events can often be dangerous.
Actual working hours are irregular. Investigative reporters may work from late afternoon until midnight or during the day. Sometimes hours fluctuate when a deadline must be meet, or when a story breaks at night. The work also requires traveling to locations in order to cover stories. For some investigative reporters, the travel can be international.
Workplaces, Employers and Industries
Investigative reporters typically work for newspapers, magazines, journals, governments, advertising agencies, private consulting firms, television stations, radio stations and other publishers. Freelance reporters are self-employed and work only on contracts. Investigative reporters are constantly meeting new people, uncovering important information and traveling to sometimes foreign and exotic places. An investigative reporter's career may include anything from reporting from war zones and crime scenes to interviewing world leaders, celebrities and street people. Some of these assignments are quite dangerous and life risking. Nevertheless, dedicated reporters tend to put their lives on the line and risk everything in order to produce a good journalistic story. Most tend to specialize in a particular area, once they are established.
Long Term Career Potential
Many entry-level reporters that work on small publications can become investigative reporters with experience. Starting on a smaller publication is considered valuable by editors and publishers and a move to a larger station or publication is often a deserved promotion. Experienced investigative reporters may advance to editorial, production and publishing positions. There is also the possibility of winning various journalism awards, recognitions and even a Pulitzer prize for an award-winning piece.
Since journalism is such a highly competitive industry, competition for even entry-level reporter jobs is tough. Investigative reporters with experience often write columns in newspapers, magazines and on television or move into related occupations such as technical writing, advertising copywriting, public relations and media consulting organizing large events, educational writing, fiction writing, screenwriting or editing. In the broadcast sector, some reporters move up to become producers and beat writers. Many investigative reporters become independent freelance writers or work as freelancers in conjunction with their day job. Although the Internet is taking over our traditional print media, there are still reporters needed for writing positions in these mediums.
Most investigative reporters have a university degree or college diploma in journalism or a related field, such as communications or English, however it is not 100 percent crucial in certain areas of journalism. Newspapers, however, usually require some form of formal training at a minimum and a few years reporting experience just to get one's foot into the door. Some people get liberal arts degrees and then attend a one or two year postsecondary college program in journalism.
Investigative reporters must possess a detailed knowledge of the geography, history, economy, politics, media law and social life of the communities and countries in which they work. Columnists and critical reviewers also need specialized knowledge in a particular area such as theater or international politics. Newspaper and magazine reporters can gain practical experience by working on high school and university publications or small rural weekly publications. Broadcast journalists should look for experience or volunteer work at smaller, rural or local community cable television or radio stations.
Most investigative reporters start at small publications or broadcast stations as general assignment reporters or copy editors. Large publications and stations hire few recent graduates; as a standard industry rule, they require all reporters to have at least several years of experience. Experienced investigative reporters suggest constantly writing, reading and practising your writing skills as a tool for success. Lately, there are so many places to get published and have your voice heard, such as school publications and the Internet. The more practice one earns, the better chances they have of landing a job.
There are also many journalism scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships awarded to college journalism students by universities, newspapers, foundations, and professional organizations.
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