Investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. An investigative journalist may spend months or years researching and preparing a report. Practitioners sometimes use the terms "watchdog reporting" or "accountability reporting."
Most investigative journalism has traditionally been conducted by newspapers, wire services, and freelance journalists. With the decline in income through advertising, many traditional news services have struggled to fund investigative journalism, due to it being very time-consuming and expensive. Journalistic investigations are increasingly carried out by news organizations working together, even internationally (as in the case of the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers), or by organizations such as ProPublica, which have not operated previously as news publishers and which rely on the support of the public and benefactors to fund their work.
The growth of media conglomerates in the U.S. since the 1980s has been accompanied by massive cuts in the budgets for investigative journalism. A 2002 study concluded "that investigative journalism has all but disappeared from the nation's commercial airwaves".
University of Missouri journalism professor Steve Weinberg defined investigative journalism as: "Reporting, through one's own initiative and work product, matters of importance to readers, viewers, or listeners." In many cases, the subjects of the reporting wish the matters under scrutiny to remain undisclosed. There are currently university departments for teaching investigative journalism. Conferences are conducted presenting peer-reviewed research into investigative journalism.
British media theorist Hugo de Burgh (2000) states that: "An investigative journalist is a man or woman whose profession is to discover the truth and to identify lapses from it in whatever media may be available. The act of doing this generally is called investigative journalism and is distinct from apparently similar work done by police, lawyers, auditors, and regulatory bodies in that it is not limited as to target, not legally founded and closely connected to publicity."
American journalism textbooks point out that muckraking standards promoted by McClure's Magazine around 1902, "Have become integral to the character of modern investigative journalism." Furthermore, the successes of the early muckrakers continued to inspire journalists.
Julius Chambers of the New-York Tribune had himself committed to the Bloomingdale Asylum in 1872, and his account led to the release of twelve patients who were not mentally ill, a reorganization of the staff and administration, and eventually to a change in the lunacy laws; this later led to the publication of the book A Mad World and Its Inhabitants (1876).
Ida B. Wells-Barnett's 1892 Southern Horrors documented lynching in the United States, exposing in the pages of black-owned newspapers as a campaign of oppression and intimidation against African Americans. A white mob destroyed her newspaper press and office in retaliation for her reporting.
Nellie Bly, a pseudonym used by Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman in the late 19th century, famously feigned insanity as part of her 1887 undercover investigation into and subsequent exposé regarding the inner-workings of the Women's Lunatic Asylum in New York City. Published to wide acclaim as a series of articles in the New York World which were later compiled and further detailed in her book Ten Days in a Mad-House, Bly's revelations led to both a grand jury investigation of the asylum and increased funding for the Department of Public Charities and Corrections.
Between 1972-1974 Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered and exposed a variety of incriminating information regarding President Richard Nixon's 1968-1972 presidential campaign. The information exposed, prompted Nixon's resignation in 1974 and was then on recognized as the Watergate scandal.
The Daily Telegraph investigated claims that various British Members of Parliament had been filing dubious and frivolous expenses claims, and had done for many years in secret. The House of Commons Authority initially tried to block the release of the information, but the expenses were leaked to the Telegraph. The newspaper then released pieces of information which dominated the news for weeks and caused considerable anger in the UK.
John M. Crewdson of the Chicago Tribune wrote a 1996 article proposing the installment of defibrillators on American airliners. Crewdson argued that based on his research and analysis, "Medical kits and defibrillators would be economically justified if they saved just 3 lives each year." Soon after the article's publication, airlines began installing defibrillators on planes, and the devices began to show up in airports and other public spaces. Ten years after installing defibrillators, American Airlines reported that 80 lives had been saved by the machines.
Hopewell Chin'ono, the award-winning Zimbabwean journalist who investigated and exposed the Covid-gate scandal in Zimbabwe in June 2020. US$60 million was siphoned to a shadowy company called Drax that is linked to President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The exposure resulted in the dismissal and arrest of Health Minister Obbidiah Moyo. Hopewell Chin'ono was arrested on flimsy charges in an apparent attempt to silence him.