Qualities of a Good Investigative Reporter

Good investigative reporting requires fine analytical skill.
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Investigative reporters fill a valuable niche in the early 21st century news media. They mine for stories and serve as the public's watchdogs by uncovering the sordid details of previously hidden corruption and crime, including questionable activities of private businesses, government and criminal syndicates. Their work provides a genuine sense of accomplishment and bolsters the self-worth of those who choose to work as investigative reporters. To succeed, though, these reporters must possess some vital qualities.

Motivated by Ethics and Morals

Good investigative reporters must possess a strong sense of right and wrong. Their sound ethics and finely-tuned moral compass guide them in battling to stomp out crime and corruption. Investigative reporters call upon these faculties to complete sometimes dangerous and exhausting tasks, including meeting secretly with known criminals, scanning financial reports for hours and interviewing dozens of individuals to corroborate a source's allegations. Good investigative journalists must believe it is their responsibility and civic obligation to uncover facts to ensure fairness, accuracy and transparency.

Analytical and Organized

Investigative reporting requires a large amount of fact-gathering. Successful investigative journalists must be able to follow charts, graphs, accounting logs and legal jargon. Good reporters are capable of managing the material by organizing it, interpreting it and drawing conclusions. Knowledge of the most helpful reporting techniques and tools, including the use of computer-assisted reporting databases and software programs, bolsters reporters' success in finding and reviewing important data. Good investigative journalists also have contacts who are able to assist in interpreting and translating some data. Good investigative reporters also keep meticulous notes and document all information.


Investigative reporters rely heavily on sources to develop stories. These sources often prefer to remain anonymous, and for or some, their careers and lives depend on this anonymity. Therefore, they must find reporters to be trustworthy. Good investigative reporters must stand by their promises to withhold the names of sources. They must have a track record of keeping sources confidential; once a reporter has released the name of a source she loses the trust of potential sources. Investigative reporters also must have no serious criminal accusations or convictions. A criminal record tarnishes a reporter's reputation and creates doubt about the reporter's integrity.

Ambitious and Self-Driven

In the mid- to late 1900s, newspapers and TV newsrooms assigned entire teams of reporters to do investigative journalism. In the early years of the 21st century, however, fewer media outlets maintain investigative teams, and fewer investigative reporters have steady full-time jobs with media companies. Increasingly, investigative reporters must work independently, which requires ambition and drive. Reporters cannot settle for falling short on a project or producing low-quality work because their livelihood depends on their ability to sell finished stories to media outlets. In fact, freelance investigative journalists often fund their own investigations and hope to recoup the expenses by selling their stories.

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