Global investigative journalism: strategies for support

14 Jan 2013

Fueled by globalization, international aid, and the efforts of journalism groups, the worldwide practice of investigative reporting has grown dramatically since the fall of communism began in 1989. The field’s emphasis on public accountability, targeting of crime and corruption, and demonstrated impact have attracted millions of dollars in media development funding from international donors, who see it as an important force in promoting rule of law and democratization. Support for investigative journalism, however, has been identified as a major gap in international media assistance, marked by funding that is largely episodic and that makes up but a small fraction of that spent on overall media development. Veteran trainers and implementers broadly agree that sustained programs, support of nonprofit investigative journalism groups, and adherence to high standards can produce impressive results both in fostering public accountability and in building a professional news media.

This report was originally published in 2007. Given the field’s rapid growth, in 2012 CIMA updated and expanded its research and commissioned a new survey to understand the nature and scope of investigative journalism as a facet of media development. As before, this report looks at key drivers and actors and suggests ways to best support and professionalize the practice in developing and transitioning countries. Among the findings:

  • Investigative journalism has spread rapidly around the world in the past decade, helping to hold corrupt leaders accountable, document human rights violations, and expose systematic abuses in developing and transitioning countries. Despite onerous laws, legal and physical attacks, unsupportive owners, a lack of qualified trainers, and other obstacles, the practice has found a footing even in repressive countries.
  • Global and regional networks of investigative journalists, backed by donors and fueled by globalization and an explosion in data and communications technology, are growing increasingly effective and sophisticated. Journalists are linking up as never before to collaborate on stories involving international crime, unaccountable businesses, environmental degradation, safety and health problems, and other hard-to-report issues.
  • Strategic investments into investigative journalism programs can have significant positive impact in a wide range of countries, including those in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Such funding will be most effective if it is long term and integrated into broader initiatives that include legal reform and freedom of information.
  • Despite its frontline role in fostering accountability, battling corruption, and raising media standards, investigative reporting receives relatively little support–about 2 percent of global media development funding by major donors.
  • Nonprofit investigative reporting organizations–now numbering 106 in 47 countries–have been pivotal drivers of the global spread of investigative journalism. These include reporting centers, training institutes, professional associations, grant-making groups, and online networks.
  • These nonprofit groups have proved to be viable organizations that can provide unique training and reporting, serve as models of excellence that help to professionalize the local journalism community, and produce stories with social and political impact. Different programs will be appropriate for different regions and markets.
  • Few nonprofit investigative journalism organizations, particularly reporting centers, have adequate sustainability plans. To survive in a competitive and poorly funded environment, many will need to diversify and become more entrepreneurial, drawing revenue from various sources and activities.
  • Because of its emphasis on longer-term, high-impact journalism, investigative reporting projects can be difficult to evaluate. Training and reporting projects aimed at creating a culture of investigative journalism should be evaluated based on their quality and impact, not broad numbers of people trained and stories produced.
  • Better coordination and communication are needed between those in government-funded programs and the investigative journalism community. NGOs would benefit by drawing expertise whenever possible from the ranks of professionals.
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