How to Become an Investigative Journalist | Maryville Online (2023)

Investigative journalism is a vital part of American society, with the potential to uncover and report on important events and issues. For example, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle highlighted the terrible conditions in Chicago’s meatpacking plants in the 1900s; Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein alerted the public to the Watergate scandal in the 1970s; and, more recently, Brian M. Rosenthal of The New York Times won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for his exposé of the taxi industry in New York City.

How to Become an Investigative Journalist | Maryville Online (1)

While investigative journalism has similarities to traditional journalism, if you’re thinking about how to become an investigative journalist, it’s important to remember that investigative pieces take more time than the typical journalistic piece due to the in-depth research and interviews that must be done. To pursue an investigative reporting career, you should have a love for diving deep into the nuances of the topic you’re focusing on. Those interested in becoming an investigative journalist should consider pursuing a related educational program, such as a

What does an investigative journalist do?

An investigative journalist typically works for a newspaper, website, magazine, radio station, or television station. What an investigative journalist does from day to day can vary based on the organization, but it typically involves researching a specific topic that an editor or a news director has assigned.

(Video) So you want to be an investigative journalist?

Investigative journalism usually deals with serious issues and typically focuses on political events or social trends. Once assigned a topic, investigative journalists will reach out to sources and experts on the topic to arrange interviews. In addition, they often spend considerable time researching their topic and fact-checking sources. Then, it’s time to organize the information; write the story so the audience will easily understand it; review the story to ensure proper grammar, spelling, and style; and ultimately submit it to the editor or news director.

In this modern technological era, the investigative journalist’s job description has changed. Instead of just reporting for a print newspaper, a journalist may also post to a blog or social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter, or even do audio reporting through podcasts. “The Tip Off,” “The Bellingcat Podcast,” “White Lies by NPR,” and “Reveal” are examples of investigative reporting podcasts that go behind the scenes of criminal cases, investigations, and murder scenes.

Investigative journalist careers

Individuals interested in the process of how to become an investigative journalist can benefit from learning about potential career options in the field.

Print Journalism

Print journalism is reported primarily through newspapers, magazines, and books. Investigative journalists in this field usually research topics, coordinate interviews, and write articles about a variety of subjects. Those who spend months or years researching and writing about criminal cases or other major news stories may end up publishing books.

Broadcast Journalism

Broadcast journalism is reported through electronic means. Forms of broadcast journalism include radio, television, and the internet. The goal of broadcast journalism is to disperse news and information quickly to a diverse audience. Investigative journalists research and write stories that are eventually broadcast through different media avenues.

Global and International Journalism

Investigative journalists working in global and international journalism research, investigate, and write stories regarding news and current affairs. They research major criminal cases and investigations going on around the world to share on different news platforms. They write content for TV or the internet and can also present stories through documentaries or news bulletins.

Political Journalism

Political journalism seeks to provide voters with the information they need to make well-informed decisions regarding elections. Investigative journalists working in politics investigate details about the lives of political figures or candidates. They address local and national matters and contribute to a larger social discourse.

(Video) HOW TO BECOME AN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST - Steps To Become a Journalist Who Breaks Big News

Steps to become an investigative journalist

If you’re interested in researching a story that’s meaningful to the public and writing accessible content, investigative reporting may be for you. Here are the steps you need to take to become an investigative journalist.

Earn a bachelor’s degree

Becoming an investigative journalist most often includes earning an undergraduate degree in a field like journalism or attending a program like Maryville’s online Bachelor of Arts in English, which can help you improve your writing and communication skills. English students read various works from all over the world and analyze them in both oral and written form. This type of background will help you prepare to interview individuals and write investigative articles.

Gain experience

News organizations often look to hire someone with prior experience. Job shadowing and internships are great ways to gain experience while you’re earning your degree. You may consider writing for the student newspaper while you’re taking courses, or you could spend a summer shadowing a reporter at a local newspaper or radio station. This type of real-world experience is appealing to employers since they know you’ll already have the journalistic experience to immediately apply to your new job.

Create a portfolio

Another benefit of having prior experience is the ability to create a portfolio of your work for future employers. Carrying a portfolio to an interview shows that you’re professional and accomplished. This will also give employers a chance to look at your work and see if your writing style and topic choices are a good fit for them.

Investigative journalist salary

The salary for an investigative journalist varies depending on the region, work, and organization. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for a journalist was $46,270 in 2019. Salaries have a significant range, varying by industry, location, experience, and education level., which sources data from those in the field, reports that the average annual salary of a mid-career investigative journalist in 2020 is about $67,400.

Investigative journalist employment outlook

Though traditional newspaper journalism has seen a general decline in recent years, that doesn’t mean that investigative reporting has died. Instead, most cutting-edge reporting has moved to online outlets and journals, offering plenty of opportunities for reporting of all kinds.

As such, many aspiring investigative journalists are turning to freelance work. Freelance journalists don’t work for a specific organization, but instead have the freedom to choose the topics and media outlets for their reporting. Writers who also have experience in multimedia journalism, such as website design or recording, may see improved job prospects.

(Video) Announcing The How to Become an Investigative Journalist Course!

Discover more about becoming an investigative journalist

If you love researching, interviewing, and writing and have a passion for sharing important issues with the public, an investigative journalism career may be a great fit for you.

Starting an undergraduate degree where you develop communication, research, and writing skills can provide you the tools you’ll need to become the next Woodward or Bernstein. If you want to discover more about how to become an investigative journalist, explore how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in English degree program can jumpstart this career path for you.

Recommended Reading

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How Technological Advancements Will Shape the Future of Journalism

Journalist vs. Reporter: What’s the Difference?


(Video) Learn to be an Investigative Journalist | NLP Peace Mapping online course | NLP Meta Model

American Press Institute, “The Elements of Journalism”

Global Investigative Journalism Network, “A Global Tour of 2019’s Top Investigative Podcasts”

Global Investigative Journalism Network, “What the Experts Expect for Investigative Journalism in 2019”, “Average Mid-Career Investigative Reporter Salary”

The Pulitzer Prizes, “Investigative Reporting”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Writers and Authors

(Video) Tips from Bob Woodward on Investigative Journalism


How do I become an investigative journalist? ›

Earn a bachelor's degree

Becoming an investigative journalist most often includes earning an undergraduate degree in a field like journalism or attending a program like Maryville's online Bachelor of Arts in English, which can help you improve your writing and communication skills.

What are the 3 most important qualities of an investigative reporter? ›

If you are aspiring to make a career in journalism, you should have these qualities.
  • A Way with Words. ...
  • Thorough Knowledge. ...
  • Investigative Skills. ...
  • Effective Communication Skills. ...
  • Professionalism and Confidence. ...
  • Persistence and Discipline. ...
  • Ethics are Important Too.
5 May 2022

What skills should an investigative journalist have? ›

Investigative Journalists need strong interpersonal skills, as they need to build relationships with sources. Investigative Journalists need to be confident communicators with strong writing skills, as they write their own scripts.

Are investigative journalists paid well? ›

As of Nov 20, 2022, the average annual pay for an Investigative Journalist in the United States is $49,854 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $23.97 an hour.

How do I start a career in investigation? ›

Steps to Becoming a Criminal Investigator

Graduate from the police academy and become a patrol officer. Earn necessary experience. Earn any certifications required by the local, state, or federal law enforcement agency. Apply for a job as a criminal investigator or earn a promotion.

What are the 7 types of journalism? ›

Common types of journalism
  • Investigative journalism. ...
  • Watchdog journalism. ...
  • Online journalism. ...
  • Broadcast journalism. ...
  • Opinion journalism. ...
  • Sports journalism. ...
  • Trade journalism. ...
  • 8. Entertainment journalism.

What are the 5 W's in investigative journalism? ›

In journalism, the “Five 'W's” are “Who,” “What,” “When,” “Where,” and “Why.” Referring back to the Five “W”s helps journalists address the fundamental questions that every story should be able to answer.

What are the four 4 elements of investigative process? ›

The investigative process is a progression of activities or steps moving from evidence gathering tasks, to information analysis, to theory development and validation, to forming reasonable ground to believe, and finally to the arrest and charge of a suspect.

What are the three 3 skills that an investigator should have? ›

A good Criminal Investigator needs a variety of skills and qualifications that include the following:
  • Good communication and interview skills. ...
  • Ability to use various forms of equipment or technology. ...
  • Thorough knowledge of the law. ...
  • Honesty and good ethics.
22 Aug 2022

What challenges do investigative journalists face? ›

The challenges facing investigative journalism vary by culture and are influenced by politics, financing, time constraints, the commitment of media owners and journalists, and legal restrictions imposed by governments (Baker, 2005; de Burgh, 2008).

Who is the most famous investigative journalist? ›

10 most popular investigative journalists on Muck Rack
  • Hayden Field, Morning Brew. ...
  • Jen Christensen, CNN. ...
  • Lexy Lebsack, freelance writer. ...
  • Joseph Menn, Reuters. ...
  • Olivia Carville, Bloomberg News. ...
  • Bill Alpert, Barron's. ...
  • A.C. ...
  • Kat Stafford, Associated Press.
14 Oct 2021

What type of journalist makes the most money? ›

High Paying Journalist Jobs
  • Financial Writer. Salary range: $94,500-$127,000 per year. ...
  • Travel Journalist. Salary range: $38,500-$125,000 per year. ...
  • Magazine Writer. Salary range: $39,500-$124,500 per year. ...
  • Investigative Writer. ...
  • Political Reporter. ...
  • Business Reporter. ...
  • Feature Reporter. ...
  • Entertainment Reporter.

What type of investigator gets paid the most? ›

High Paying Investigator Jobs
  • Principal Investigator. Salary range: $94,500-$209,500 per year. ...
  • Polygraph Examiner. Salary range: $50,500-$131,000 per year. ...
  • Forensic Engineer. Salary range: $79,000-$121,500 per year. ...
  • Forensic Analyst. ...
  • Forensic Investigator. ...
  • Director of Investigations. ...
  • Corporate Investigator. ...
  • Investigations Manager.

Is journalism a stressful job? ›

Journalists face countless stresses, such as the daily grind to get stories in by deadline, perfecting the craft, or dealing with sometimes rude, aggressive, even threatening people. Journalists often cover graphic or horrifying events and sometimes feel overworked and overstressed.

How can I improve my investigative skills? ›

How to develop investigation skills for younger students
  1. Frame the question. It is important to frame the question in the right way, so that it is a testable question. ...
  2. Identify the variables. ...
  3. Plan the investigation. ...
  4. Remember the variables! ...
  5. Make predictions. ...
  6. Record results. ...
  7. Obtain more evidence. ...
  8. Consider the evidence.

What type of career best fits an investigative person? ›

11 investigative careers to consider
  • Investigative journalist.
  • Computer programmer.
  • Archeologist.
  • Forensic scientist.
  • Investigations analyst.
  • Medical researcher.
  • Detective.
  • Criminal attorney.
15 Sept 2021

Which is an example of an investigative career? ›

What are the Best Careers for Investigative Types? Investigative types shine in careers in math, science, IT, finance, and education. Careers in these fields enable Investigative types to exercise their skills in analysis, research, experimentation, and problem-solving.

What are the 5 rules of journalism? ›

Five Principles of Ethical Journalism: Implications for Media Representations of Autism Treatment
  • Truth and Accuracy. “Journalists cannot always guarantee 'truth' but getting the facts right is the cardinal principle of journalism. ...
  • Independence. ...
  • Fairness and Impartiality. ...
  • Humanity. ...
  • Accountability.

What are the 4 rules of journalism? ›

The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics enjoins journalists to: Seek Truth and Report It. This includes fact-checking, not intentionally distorting information, identifying sources, avoiding stereotypes, and supporting the open exchange of opinions.

What are the 4 C's in journalism? ›

The 4 C's of journalism: Creativity, curiosity, commitment and compassion — Rebecca Aguilar, the first Latina president of the Society of Professional Journalists, shares her story.

What are the 6 journalist questions? ›

  • Who? (Actor or Agent) Who is involved? ...
  • What? (Act) What should happen? ...
  • When? (Time or Timing) When will, did, should this occur or be performed? ...
  • Where? (Scene or Source) Where did, will, should this occur or be performed? ...
  • Why? (Purpose) Why was or is this done, avoided, permitted?

What are the three principles of investigative journalism? ›

We can note three basic elements here: a) that the investigation be the work of the reporter, not a report of an investigation made by someone else; b) that the subject of the story involves something of reasonable importance to the reader or viewer; c) and that others are attempting to hide these matters from the ...

How do you write a news story? ›

How to Write a News Story
  1. Choose a Recent, Newsworthy Event or Topic.
  2. Conduct Timely, In-Person Interviews with Witnesses.
  3. Establish the “Four Main Ws”
  4. Construct Your Piece.
  5. Insert Quotations.
  6. Research Additional Facts and Figures.
  7. Read your Article out Loud Before Publication.

What are the 7 steps of investigation? ›

The Seven S'S of Crime-Scene Investigation
  • Securing the Scene.
  • Separating the Witnesses.
  • Scanning the Scene.
  • Seeing the Scene.
  • Sketching the Scene.
  • Searching for Evidence.
  • Securing and Collecting Evidence.

How many basic investigative questions are there? ›

If you can answer: what, why, who, when, where and how; you will have a clear and fundamental knowledge of the whole situation. Within journalism and police investigation the Six W´s of Investigation are used to gather basic information. If all these questions are answered; you have the whole story.

What is golden rule of investigation? ›

GOLDEN RULE OF CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION: Do not touch, change or alter anything until it has been identified, measured and photographed.

What are the three tools of investigation? ›

Tools ​To establish facts and develop evidence, a criminal investigator must use these tools-information, interview, interrogation, and instrumentation.

What makes a successful investigation? ›

A successful investigation begins with the right people, significant support from management, the right supplies, sufficient funding and other identified resources. Investigators need effective tools to complete investigations and this isn't an area where companies can cut corners.

What are the 7 qualities in a successful professional investigator? ›

7 Qualities Found in a Successful Professional Investigator
  • Professionalism. This is a quality required for any career stream. ...
  • Integrity. One of the most important virtues of a professional investigator is integrity. ...
  • Persistence. ...
  • Self-driven. ...
  • Problem Solver. ...
  • Reliable. ...
  • Courage.
15 Dec 2017

What are the investigative techniques? ›

For countless years, criminal investigators have relied on six basic investigative techniques to solve crimes; i.e., (1) the development of informants, (2) use of undercover agents, (3) laboratory analysis of physical evidence, (4) physical and electronic surveillance, (5) interroga- tion, and (6) where permitted by ...

What is the most important skill that an investigator can use? ›

Most Important Skills for Detectives and Criminal Investigators. Listening—Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.

What are some dangers of investigative journalism? ›

These obstacles include a fear of reprisal for reporting on people in power, harassment, torture and death threats, journalists treated as spies and terrorists, increased surveillance, lack of access to information, and a lack of financial support.

What should journalists avoid? ›

Independence and objectivity: journalists should avoid topics in which they have a financial or personal interest that would provide them a particular benefit in the subject matter, as that interest may introduce bias into their reporting, or give the impression of such bias.

What are investigative journalism tools? ›

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.

What are two investigative journalism examples? ›

Ten Noteworthy Moments In U.S. Investigative Journalism
  • 1906: Upton Sinclair exposes conditions in Chicago's meatpacking plants. ...
  • 1953: Murrey Marder dogs Sen. ...
  • 1969: Seymour Hersh exposes the My Lai massacre and cover-up. ...
  • 1971: The Pentagon Papers leaked and published.
20 Oct 2014

Which country has the best journalism? ›

The 10 Best Countries for Press Freedom
6 more rows
3 May 2022

How do you write an investigative article? ›

  1. Stick to facts. You will be much safer if you stick to facts which you can prove are true. ...
  2. Avoid personal comment. Do not put in your personal opinions. ...
  3. Keep your language simple. ...
  4. Avoid vague words. ...
  5. Sub judice reporting. ...
  6. Mistakes. ...
  7. Payments for stories. ...
  8. Concealing crimes.

Does journalism require math? ›

Math is an important part of journalism. Journalism typically requires research into data and statistics. A good journalist needs to be able to understand and interpret numerical data, and this takes math proficiency.

What is the best degree to become a journalist? ›

A bachelor's degree is the minimum education level for most media corporations. A degree in journalism or mass communication is preferred. However, graduates with related degrees like public relations or English may be considered for positions if they have suitable experience to supplement.

Is it hard to get a job as a journalist? ›

Yes, it is hard to become a journalist.

To become a journalist, you will need a bachelor's degree in journalism or related areas such as history, English, government, or public affairs. However, landing a job can come down largely to who you know and your work portfolio.

What is the highest paying job? ›

Highest Paying Occupations
General internal medicine physiciansThis wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year
Family medicine physiciansThis wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year
Emergency medicine physiciansThis wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year
17 more rows
8 Sept 2022

What is pi salary? ›

$204,326. The estimated total pay for a Principal Investigator (PI) is $204,326 per year in the United States area, with an average salary of $133,626 per year.

Is criminology a good career? ›

Criminology is a collective of various subjects and is an expanding field. Graduates can work in NGOs or social organizations that deal with crimes. They can also work for the government in departments that include the judiciary, social reform, or with the police.

Can journalists be shy? ›

He wants people to know that there are a lot of shy journalists; they just have to be comfortable being uncomfortable! He believes introverts naturally possess skills necessary to be a good reporter: since they're typically quiet, they know how to listen.

Do journalists get PTSD? ›

Feinstein and colleagues found that, compared to other journalists, war journalists reported higher weekly alcohol consumption and higher scores on measures of depression and PTSD. The lifetime prevalence rate of PTSD in war journalists was 28.6%, and the lifetime prevalence rate of depression was 21.4%.

How many hours do journalists work a day? ›

Most journalists work a full-time, 40-hour per week schedule. However, the schedule of a journalist may vary based on the needs of their assignment. Some journalists may need to work weekends, evenings and overtime to gather the information they need for a story.

What's the difference between a journalist and an investigative journalist? ›

An investigative journalist, or team of journalists, may spend months or years researching a single topic. Unlike conventional reporting, where reporters rely on materials supplied by the government, NGOs and other agencies, investigative reporting depends on material gathered through the reporter's own initiative.

What is the highest paying job in journalism? ›

High Paying Journalist Jobs
  • Financial Writer. Salary range: $94,500-$127,000 per year. ...
  • Travel Journalist. Salary range: $38,500-$125,000 per year. ...
  • Magazine Writer. Salary range: $39,500-$124,500 per year. ...
  • Investigative Writer. ...
  • Political Reporter. ...
  • Business Reporter. ...
  • Feature Reporter. ...
  • Entertainment Reporter.

Does investigative journalism still exist? ›

Some journalists, in fact, claim that all reporting is investigative reporting. There is some truth to this—investigative techniques are used widely by beat journalists on deadline as well as by “I-team” members with weeks to work on a story.

How do I become an investigative journalist without a degree? ›

Here's a step-by-step guide:
  1. Take Online Courses. While a college degree isn't necessary to become a journalist, there are some courses that can help you develop the skills you need. ...
  2. Get Experience. One of the best ways to learn about journalism is to get experience. ...
  3. Build Your Portfolio. ...
  4. Network. ...
  5. Find a Job.
30 Aug 2022

What tools do investigative journalists use? ›

Tools for documents

Most information that investigative journalists handle comes in the form of text documents, like Word files, PDFs or scanned images. Storing and searching sets documents can be done with DocumentCloud, which is more appropriate than e.g. Dropbox.

Which country is best for journalism? ›

Best countries to study journalism
  • Journalism in USA.
  • Journalism in UK.
  • Journalism in Canada.
  • Journalism in Ireland.
  • Journalism in Spain.
  • Journalism in Fiji.
  • Journalism in Australia.
  • Journalism in Cyprus.

Which journalism degree is best? ›

We've handpicked the 10 best ones for your consideration.
  • General Journalism. If you want to be a journalist, it makes sense to earn a degree in journalism, right? ...
  • Broadcast Journalism. ...
  • Photojournalism. ...
  • Radio, TV and Digital Broadcasting. ...
  • Publishing. ...
  • Communication and Media Studies. ...
  • Public Relations and Advertising. ...
  • Media Arts.

What is another name for investigative journalism? ›

Practitioners sometimes use the terms "watchdog reporting" or "accountability reporting." Most investigative journalism has traditionally been conducted by newspapers, wire services, and freelance journalists.

Can you be a freelance investigative journalist? ›

Despite all this, the ranks of freelance investigative reporters remain strong. Driven by independence and the freedom to choose one's story and outlet, freelancers find many rewards.

Can you be a self taught journalist? ›

Believe me when I say you don't always have to take a specific academic program to write or tell stories professionally — you just need a strong work ethic, patience, and curiosity.

Is it too late to become a journalist? ›

It is never too late to start something new, and journalism might be the right thing to help you find fulfillment and make a difference in the world.

Can you be a shy journalist? ›

He wants people to know that there are a lot of shy journalists; they just have to be comfortable being uncomfortable! He believes introverts naturally possess skills necessary to be a good reporter: since they're typically quiet, they know how to listen.


1. What Is Investigative Journalism? - David E. Kaplan
(Global Investigative Journalism Network)
2. BBC Journalism Trainee Scheme: Become a news journalist at the BBC
(BBC Careers)
3. Lessons in investigative journalism: Carol Marin at TEDxMidwest
(TEDx Talks)
4. How to be a good investigative journalist ?
(Studio Blue Cat)
5. How do journalists find news? - BBC My World
(BBC My World)
6. Careers in Journalism : What Is an Investigative Journalist?
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