exploratory reporting

Although in-depth reporting has deep roots, the thrust of U.S. journalism until the 1960s was a chronicling of events: meetings, speeches, crimes, deaths, and catastrophes. That changed dramatically in 1972. Two persistent Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein not only covered a break-in at the Democratic national headquarters, at a building called the Watergate, but also linked the crime to the White House of Republican President Richard Nixon. The morality questions inherent in the reporting forced Nixon to resign, and 25 aides went to jail. The Watergate scandal created an enthusiasm for investigative reporting and in-depth approaches to news that went far beyond mere chronicling, which is relatively easy to do and, alas, relatively superficial.

Investigative Journalism. Dogged pursuit of meticulous factual detail became a new wrinkle in 20th century journalism after Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward unearthed the Watergate scandal. For months, they pursued tips that a break-in at the Democratic Party national headquarters in the Watergate hotel, office, and apartment complex in Washington, D.C., had been authorized high in the Republican White House and that the White House then had tried to cover it up. In the end, for the first time in U.S. history, a president, Richard Nixon, resigned.

The roots of investigative reporting extend back to the muckraking period in U.S. history. Ida Tarbell, a leading muckraker, uncovered abusive corporate practices at Standard Oil in 1902, triggering government reforms that broke up the Rockefeller oil monopoly and paved the way for antitrust legislation. Today’s newspapers continue this tradition. But is anybody listening? The New Orleans, Times-Picayune won a fistful of awards for John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein’s 2002 series “Washing Away,” a chilling prediction of the Hurricane Katrina disaster that came true three years later. Government didn’t do anything at the federal, state, or local level.

Because all reporting is investigative in the sense that it seeks truth through inquiry, the term investigative reporting is tricky. Consider the following definitions and examples.

Investigative Journalism Examples Review each definition and example. Consider the reasons why or how these examples exemplify the definition. Test yourself on how well you understand these definitions by dragging and dropping each example into the appropriate position.

Definition Example A story that would not have been revealed without the enterprise of a reporter.

2013 Polk Award for a series on how California treats mentally ill patients. (Ryan Gabrielson, California Watch)

A story that is pieced together from

2012 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Penn State

diverse and often obscure sources.

sex abuse scandal. (Sara Ganim, Patriot News; Harrisburg, PA).

A story that may be contrary to the version from officials, who might have tried to conceal the truth.

2013 Polk Award for a secretly taped video of presidential candidate Mitt Romney telling donors that 47% of the U.S. electorates were undeserving drains on the society, which perhaps cost Romney the election. (David Corn, Mother Earth magazine)

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