Tips of the Trade: Investigative Reporting

Steve Panter, Deputy News Editor, Manchester Evening News

I was in crime investigation for around 12 years. I got into it because I wanted to break away from the daily news agenda and to use my own initiative. It’s interesting to see how an idea comes to fruition and then seeing it displayed in the paper. If you work in investigative journalism for local newspapers, it is more difficult and precarious than working for national papers. You work on your own patch.

It can be risky. I once got one death threat and I had to take precautions and measures. You are more vulnerable. Another thing journalists should be aware of – if you are writing stories which organisations don’t like, they try to work out who you are ringing. Do not use a registered mobile phone. And take a lot of care!

Andy Bell, Deputy Editor, Panorama, BBC

I got the bug when I was working on a student newspaper in Birmingham where we did some investigative stories. In Panorama we are scrutinising the abuse of power. This is why I want to do it. The devil is in the detail. And the truth is in the detail. You have to step into the detail of the story and come out confident that you have a story. You have to put your assumptions aside. It takes you into a world you would otherwise not see and you offer this world to the audience. It’s a profession, not a charitable work.

Nick Davies, The Guardian

I got into investigative journalism through the Watergate affair. I wanted to be like that and bring down the powerful with a pen and a notebook. Last year I exposed the tax avoidance of the richest man in Britain.

It is interesting and thrilling. You need to have imagination to persuade people to talk. Think yourself into their shoes and find out the reason that they don’t want to talk. News is something they don’t want to tell you. The likelihood is that you’ll work on a story for a long time. You build a relationship with your source. It becomes a personal mission to find the truth and you really want to do this job well. But the heart of it all is to know the law, government and shorthand. Martha Gellhorn once wrote: “All my life I have thrown small pebbles into a large pond and I have no way of knowing whether any pebble caused the slightest ripple. I don’t need to worry about that. My response was the effort. Never give up.”

Stephen Grey, Insight Editor, The Sunday Times

I was European correspondent for the paper before this and got to do a lot of investigations, such as fraud in the European Union. I enjoy investigating and try to look at the story behind the headlines. Politicians and press representatives tend to dominate the angle of news stories in the papers.

The key thing is to get to the bottom of the story. There are so many issues that are barely touched by the media.

If you are not upsetting somebody with your story, it’s not news. The quote I like – by Lord Northcliffe – is: “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” Don’t rush into print.

The scoop comes by getting close to people and having patience with them and the story. There is a crying need for investigative journalism. I want to be part of it.

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