Investigative reporting is America at its best

David Shumway is one of our regular community contributors.


Investigative reporting hits on critical but sometimes overlooked issues, and is fair, un-sponsored and non-prejudicial.

As a reader and a citizen, I really appreciate investigative reporting. The press has always questioned the establishment; it was even called “The Fourth Estate” in England, after the three societal segments: lords, clergy, and commons. In the U.S. it’s often called the “the fourth branch of government” after the legislature, executive, and judiciary. But since it’s purposefully independent of government, I think it’s more like the fourth pillar of checks and balances.

Long ago, such reporting was sensational, often with little evidence or specifics. In recent years responsible media publish factual, well-researched and fair investigations, replacing the “yellow” journalism of days gone by with investigative reporting.

Investigative reporting hits on critical but sometimes overlooked issues, and is fair, un-sponsored and non-prejudicial. It has become an important part of modern news and newsgathering. It has its own national organization, Investigative Reporters and Editors, which sponsors workshops, training, conferences, and even “boot camps” where journalists can sharpen their skills.

Amazon offers several books on investigative journalism, and even an Investigative Reporter’s Handbook. There are dozens of on-line do’s-and-don’t’s-type sites, with enough precautions to scare me from even thinking about it. One of the biggest concerns is avoiding defamation, followed by staying out of on-going court cases, accuracy, and avoiding personal opinion. So an investigative reporter has to be not only an excellent gatherer of information, but an excellent investigator backed up by an excellent lawyer and an excellent editor. But somehow they manage. It definitely takes an exceptional person.

Investigavie reporters also seem fearless and relentless, not easily put off. A century ago the printing press might be literally destroyed and people persecuted, beaten or even injured for their exposés. Now, as mentioned, it’s litigation (which may be just as scary).

A fair investigative report is truly America functioning at its best, and it couldn’t happen in many other countries. Information that might have been secreted away is provided by law (albeit sometimes slowly and reluctantly), investigators work in the public interest without sponsored outcome, reports are not censored, the presses remain intact, and the team need not fear physical persecution. And the greatest payoff: subjects are exposed to the light of day, and are usually forced into public response and often into corrective action.

So let’s applaud unbiased investigative reporting, appreciate the free and independent media that report its findings, and support this nation under law which allows it to happen.