Investigative reports take time, preparation and resources, but when they are finally published, they can lead to greater public awareness of an issue, change public policy or even land the corrupt in jail.
With all the changes that have impacted journalism in recent decades, there are a myriad of ways to enhance investigative reporting with collaboration, social media and data journalism.
A new course from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and four expert investigative reporters will bring both novices and experienced reporters through the investigative process, offering tips for keeping up with changing technology and reporting practices along with them.
Four expert instructors with experience in cross-border and multimedia investigations for print, broadcast and documentaries will teach the course. They include Lise Olsen, investigative reporter and editor at The Texas Observer; Alejandra Xanic, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and co-founder of Quinto Elemento Lab in Mexico City; Lee Zurik, Emmy-award winning broadcast journalist at Fox TV in New Orleans; and Denise Malan, senior training director for Investigative Reporters & Editors and data journalist.
“We all have experience both working in local newsrooms, in metro areas, and also in working a larger collaboration,” Olsen said. “We're going to be able to give people real options through doing hyper local investigations, for doing complex long-term investigations, for doing quick investigation. You're really going to see the full range of how to do investigative reporting.”
Each instructor will teach a specific weekly module for the course.
In Week One, Lise Olsen will introduce you to investigative reporting, from your first idea to highly complex probes. She’ll show you where to start, explore sources and present case studies drawn from her own experience.
“I’ve done both quick-hit investigations in my career, (that’s how I started), and also I’ve done a lot of investigations that have been very complicated, required a lot of organizational skills behind the scenes,” Olsen said. “And I’m going to be talking about how to get started, how to organize your ideas, how to expand your ideas and make your investigations deeper. And I’ll talk about some examples that people will find very interesting, from a serial killer to a corrupt congressman.”
During Week Two, Alejandra Xanic will help turn your idea into an investigative plan of action, whether you’re doing it on your own or as part of a collaboration. She’ll bring you through the steps of an investigation, and talk about case studies based on her experience, including the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning binational investigation that showed how Wal-mart violated Mexican laws.
As Olsen explained, Xanic has experience through the non-profit Quinto Elemento Lab with helping independent journalists of all levels to investigate and collaborate, even with a small budget.
For Week Three, Lee Zurik will cover investigating on video. He will bring students through the dos and don’ts for conducting confrontational interviews and show opportunities for reporters to incorporate social media and crowdsourcing for investigating corruption, getting information and investigating quickly.
“He is really a national leader in the United States in doing crowdsourced journalism, which he really innovated very strongly first in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” Olsen said. “You’ll learn about the interaction with the public in investigative journalism and also how he’s used data journalism in broadcast. He’s also a master of using social media.”
And finally, during Week Four, Denise Malan will teach data journalism and data visualization tools for improving your investigative reporting, including software and skills to add to your toolkit. As part of that, she will present options for securely sharing information with both sources and collaborative partners.
“Data is an important source for journalists to incorporate into their reporting process. It can help give context to stories by showing the scope of a problem, pinpointing examples to illustrate an issue and uncovering questions no one else is reporting on,” Malan said. “Data potentially can be used in everything from quick-turn stories on a beat to longer investigative projects. It's a matter of getting in the right mindset and learning a few basic tools and concepts to get started.”
Instructors will teach the course using videos, multimedia presentations, readings, discussion forums and quizzes.
Students do not need to have experience with investigative reporting, but rather the “interest and desire” to do it, as well as a willingness to “elevate their work to a higher level,” Olsen explained.
For investigative reporters with more experience, Olsen said the course will help with strategies for tackling stories with inaccessible or difficult sources. The instructors will also address how to organize and secure data, as well as adding data journalism to your investigative portfolio. Finally, they’ll talk about tools for collaboration.
“They'll be able to get engaged at their level,” Olsen explained. “You can interact with the elements of the course that most interest you and that are most useful for you.”
Aside from motivation, the only thing students need in order to participate is access to an Internet connection and a web browser.
The course is asynchronous, meaning there are no set dates and times to participate. However, there are suggested weekly deadlines so students do not fall behind.
The course is free, thanks to a generous grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that has helped the Knight Center offer journalism training for journalists from around the world. However, students who successfully complete course requirements have the option of paying an administrative fee of U.S. $30 to receive a certificate of completion in PDF format. No formal college credit is associated with the certificate.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots that invests in journalism, the arts and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Its goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which it believes are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.
About the Knight Center
The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas was created in 2002 by Professor Rosental Alves, Knight Chair of Journalism at the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas, thanks to the generous donations of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Knight Center’s distance learning program began in 2003 and is funded in part by the Knight Foundation. Over the past six years, the Knight Center MOOCs have reached more than 195,000 people in 200 countries and territories.