As the fourth pillar of the modern democratic state, it is the responsibility of the media to maintain an unbiased and unrelenting pursuit of the truth. In a democratic capitalist state, the interests of corporates often govern state policies. Lobby groups ensure that the three pillars and those who constitute them are not working in the interest of the general population. Instead, organisations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) often create policies that suit business interests. In such a scenario, with corruption rampant and the interests of the masses being subverted in favour of the interests of a few, the media plays an integral role in bringing forth the truth. When the executive, judiciary, and legislature fail the people, it becomes the responsibility of the press to hold them accountable. This is where the concept of investigative journalism comes to the fore.
Modern-day reporting differs greatly from the methods followed only a few years ago. In the past, journalists like Julius Chambers of the New York Tribune and Nellie Bly faked insanity to go undercover into mental asylums to report on them. The overtly dramatic approach of going undercover to expose a heavily guarded truth may not necessarily hold true today, but the principles it espouses continue to hold relevance.
Rather than being diminished, the role of investigative reporting has gained notoriety for its contribution to political and social discourse in the information age. Distinguished Professor of journalism at Northeastern University, Walter V. Robinson highlighted this increased effectiveness when he said, “Investigative reporting is much better today because there is so much information and data available.”
In an unequal world, where the marginalised and oppressed often lack the agency to voice their concerns and the elite oppressors have monopolised control of the various arms of the state, investigative journalism acts as a great equaliser. In countries like China, we would never hear about the extrajudicial abduction and internment of Uighur Muslims if it wasn’t for investigative reporting. In conclusion, while the significance of this form of reporting cannot be devalued, it is important to note that the publishing of a report is merely a means to start a conversation. Tangible action and change come with active participation and protest, but in the absence of investigative reporting, we would likely not know whose rights to fight for.