Credit: Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

Investigative journalism is where a lot of the hardcore journalistic skills shine: spotting something to investigate, gaining evidence through FOIs (freedom of information requests) and working with whistleblowers.

But how do reporters cultivate these tricky skills? At an event held by JournoResources, Rosa Furneaux, investigative global health reporter of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), offered tips to land your first investigative scoops.

Furneaux is an award-winning journalist that has since joining the Bureau in the early days of the pandemic, been working to uncover Pfizer's vaccine contracts in Latin America, expose the baby formula industry's unethical marketing techniques in Asia, and reveal the global spread of a substandard, contaminated cancer medicine putting tens of thousands of children at risk.

Spotting a story

Furneaux says a simple idea for a feature article can turn into an investigative piece, like this piece on Oakland’s fire department. A sharper investigative angle can be found by asking three simple questions:

  • Is the problem systematic?
  • Who is to blame?
  • Is there hidden information missing or not being reported?

Working with sensitive sources

Furneaux often works with hard-to-reach contacts, like Government officials, former Pharma company employees and whistle-blowers. Avoid sending sensitive information on open platforms such as Twitter DMs. Instead, opt for a secure spreadsheet with all your source's contact information.

Remember to remain in contact with them in the build-up and aftermath of the story’s publication.

Firing off an FOI

FOIs are an investigative journalist’s best friend, as an official method to method of gaining information from public authorities, such as Government departments, local councils, and NHS England. The steps a journalist should take when sending an FOI request are as follows:

  • Check whether the information you require is already in the public domain
  • Draft your request
  • Research who you need to send the FOI to
  • Consult an editor or mentor if you have any doubts about the content
  • Send it and wait at least 20 working days for a response

Skills to sharpen

If you want to work in investigative journalism, editors and hiring managers often seek someone who is analytical, well-organised and persistent.

Furneaux also suggests how important it is that you provide evidence of long-term, self-led stories which will demonstrate initiative and originality.

Investigative journalism is a lot like other types of journalism in that it fundamentally requires you to be a story-go-getter and not accept no for an answer. Most newsroom roles will give you the chance to develop these skills.

"Don’t be afraid to go into a job that’s in feature news or profiles just because you're desperate to become an investigative reporter," she says.

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