The History of Investigatve Reporting

The following are three short stories on some of the best investigative work that has been seen so far:

In 1872 Julius Chambers was committed to the Bloomingdale Asylum. Chambers was a reporter for the New York Tribune and had himself committed so he could investigate reports of inmate abuse. His report resulted in the reorganization of the administration and staff at the asylum. Twelve patients were released and lunacy laws were changed. In 1876 as a result of his reports, a book, A Mad World and Its People, was published.

Ida M. Tarbell of McClure’s Magazine published a history of John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Co. Tarbell interviewed Standard Oil magnate, Henry Rogers, regarding Rockefeller and the Standard Oil’s business practices. Tarbell’s series was made into a book in 1904. Besides interviewing Rogers and other executives, Tarbell went through documents from regulators, antitrust lawyers, and academic experts. Her reports lasted for nineteen issues and provided insight into Standard Oil’s tactics against rivals, railroads, and anyone who got in the company’s way.

In 1973, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, writing for The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Watergate break-in and the Nixon Administration’s crimes. The break in occurred on June 17, 1973 and they were the first to report on dirty tricks used by the Nixon reelection campaign. Woodward continues to work at The Washington Post reporting on politics, intelligence and Washington affairs.

I found these stories on

What does it take to be a good investigative journalist? Some of you might be surprised that you don’t always have to do such extravagant things as check yourself into an insane asylum. In this day and age, almost everything you need to know can be found on the internet. As a journalists, you must be able to find and interpret public documents that can be found on the internet.

Along with finding public documents, one must be able to conduct good interviews. If you have not done so already for a class or publication, I would recommend finding a public issue and finding someone to interview on it for practice. It is so important that you develop interviewing skills in college. For those of you tha don’t know already, an interview must be more of a conversation than anything else. It is important to prepare good questions, but you also need to be able to ask questions on the spot.

Accessing public documents and being able to conduct good interviews, in my mind, are the two things it takes to become a good investigative journalists. What are your thoughts?


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