An individual who endeavors to become an investigative journalist today requires a different skill set than investigative journalists of the past. Thanks to the Internet and innovations in data management, information is more accessible to writers than it once was. However, an increase in the volume of data available to the modern reporter can also make it more difficult to isolate credible information and separate facts from hearsay. As a result, a person will need a combined background of both professional and academic training that entails modern journalistic ethics in order to prepare him or herself to become an investigative journalist.
One of the first steps to take in order to become an investigative journalist is to volunteer in the field of journalism. Just having a foothold in the industry, whether it’s a volunteer stint in the mail room of a newspaper or an unpaid internship with a documentary crew can give someone an edge in getting into a journalism program. Both community college certificate programs and bachelor’s degree programs in journalism are typically quite competitive when it comes to admissions, and look favorably upon previous industry experience. An academic background that entails having taken a journalism program of some kind is required in almost all cases to become an investigative journalist, as they teach a combination of skills and ethics required from the field.
In addition to taking the required classes of a journalism certificate or bachelor’s program, additional classes in library studies or information management can teach one the investigative skills he or she will need to become an investigative journalist. These skills may include the ability to search for highly-relevant statistics and quotes, as well as the importance of proper fact-checking and finding credible sources. These skills are not just important for maintaining one’s professional credibility, but also help to steer clear of legal liability such as libel and defamation charges.
Although job opportunities for investigative journalism with print newspapers may be dwindling, opportunities are still available in other media for those who endeavor to become an investigative journalist. TV newsmagazines and major news networks require a large assembly of journalists in their investigative reporting, including writers, editors, fact-checkers, and news anchors. There are also opportunities for investigative journalists in government, communications departments, documentary-making, and citizen journalism blogging. Before applying for a position in investigative journalism, it helps to contact the journalists that one has already met in the field, whether through volunteer opportunities, internships or classes, and see if they might know anything about the position. This type of networking is an important part of the job search, as any existing contacts to the organization that's hiring can give the applicant a competitive edge in the recruitment process.