How to Become an Investigative Journalist

Find out what investigative journalists do, the education and additional training you need, key skills to master in the profession, and how much you can expect to earn. Schools offering Journalism degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career at a Glance

Investigative journalists unearth previously unknown information about situations, people, corporations or the government that affect a wide section of society and are in the public interest. Their stories often focus on social justice and accountability, and aim to bring about change. Find out more details in the table below.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Journalism, communications, political science
Key Skills Curiosity, analysis, persistence, communication
Training Available Internships
Job Growth (2016-2026) -9% (All reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts)*
Median Annual Wage (2017) $40,910 (All reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Investigative Journalists Do?

Investigative journalists produce original stories based on their own (or team's) in-depth research. To identify issues worth investigating, reporters have to first become aware of situations or records that do not add up, such as a corporation's dubious-looking tax filings or processes that indicate corruption. Finding such information typically requires researching public records, having a network of contacts, and persistence in chasing leads. Investigative journalists must also adhere to ethical reporting guidelines and fact check information to assure their reporting is absolutely accurate. After all, media reports can potentially destroy someone's career or send a company's share price plummeting.

What Education Do I Need to Become an Investigative Journalist?

An undergraduate degree tends to be the minimum requirement for an entry-level position in journalism. Ideally, your degree will be in communication, mass media, or journalism, but fields like political science, international relations, and even science degrees are accepted if paired with relevant work experience. Many journalists also pursue specific master's degrees to specialize in investigative journalism. Students in these advanced programs typically learn data journalism, how to investigate individuals and corporations, and how to file freedom of information requests. Further classes often cover media ethics and legal questions, such as how to protect your sources.

Do I Need Additional Experience?

It takes a lot of time to learn the right techniques for investigative journalism, so don't expect to be reporting on corrupt politicians or multi-million-dollar tax evasion schemes right out of college. Graduates usually spend several years as general reporters before getting into investigative reporting. To get a foot in the door, you might start out as an entry-level employee in a newsroom to learn how everything works and assist experienced reporters in their work. Later on, you may be given your own news stories and, if you do well, be awarded more significant assignments down the track.

Another good way to get into the profession is to apply for an internship with a newspaper or broadcaster, which will typically allow you to gain experience across different departments. As an intern, you can keep building your network, work on your portfolio, and keep offering your assistance to journalists working on investigative assignments.

What Are the Key Skills?

To become a successful investigative journalist, you need curiosity, persistence, and strong investigative skills. Organizational and time management skills are also very important, and you have to work very well under pressure. Further, you need broad knowledge of current affairs and good analytical and interviewing skills. Then there are specific computer skills, such as knowing how to access legal and health records and track down information about people and corporations online. Many experienced journalists also talk about 'having a nose for a story', meaning you need some intuition for concealed information.

What Income and Job Growth Can I Expect?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide specific salary and job growth information for investigative journalists, but reports general figures for reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts. This group had a median salary of $40,910 a year in 2017. PayScale.com reported a median annual salary for entry-level investigative reporters of $40,381 in 2019, while mid-career investigative reporters earned $62,531.

The outlook for reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts is worse than average, the BLS reports, forecasting a 9% decline in employment between 2016 and 2026. Reasons include declining advertising revenue, which leads to downsizing and greater consolidation in the media sector.

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