Reporters must know how and where you can use libraries and public records for facts about individuals, government, corporations and ownership of property.
Federal, state and local government agencies, institutions, corporate bodies, universities, polytechnics, political parties, non-governmental organizations, courts, state and federal parliaments, committees of governments are stocked with basic information and reports that could be the basis of an investigation. Pay attention to what is happening in your beats.
Know the constitution, the electoral act and the enabling laws setting up or guiding the operations of government institutions. Have your copies or download electronic copies on your computer. If you are familiar with how things should be, you will know when things are wrong.
To be a good investigative reporter today, you must be able to use the internet well. There are information on the websites of government agencies that officials of government won’t tell you. There are lots of memos on the website of the offices of heads of service, ministry of finance, wages and income commission, National Assembly, Ministry of Works, the police, FRSC that nobody will give to you physically. All these can provide raw materials for investigations.
Know how to dig into databases on the web and analyze data. If you can, learn the use of excel. It helps to analyze complex data. Sign up for newsletters on some of these websites so you will know when there is an important update.
Armed with basic information, an investigator could then go to the field, build contacts and ask as many questions as possible about a story.
It is important that an investigator must be patient, open minded and persevering as he sets out to investigate a story. An investigation could last as long as a year or five years.
Investigation could be lonely and risky. It is important that a reporter must keep a low profile and be attune most of the time with the environment where he is operating
These are tips for starters. Most investigative reporters will tell you that there are no two situations that are equal. Investigators will have to rely on their instincts for safety, ask very good and intelligent follow up questions when they meet critical sources.
At the core of investigation is the integrity of the reporter. Sources and potential sources must enjoy the confidence of a reporter, based on his antecedents. Where the reporter is meeting his/her source for the first time, he must present himself as credible and reasonably knowledgeable about the subject matter.
Always remember the following tips:
What to Note
- Starting out: What is the story about? What are you trying to investigate or find?
- You must have a roadmap—a plan (identify sources, contacts, documents).
- Determine your angle. But you must be prepared to go or be thrown in different directions
- Know that your investigation might take time, consume resources, involves risks
- Research your topic on the internet and seek out people who had worked in related fields in the past
- Get your facts and figures rights
- Develop one or multiple questionnaires. Even though you can seek out information on other areas, focus on your angle so you do not lose focus
- Spend enough time with key sources. You can interview a single source for as many times as necessary
- Ask probing questions. The way you ask your questions determines what you get.
- Open a file for your documents. Keep details of emails, diary, notes, dates, telephone calls/logs, receipts, remember locations
- Keep your editor abreast of the progress you are making.
- When all the documents have been gathered, observations and interviews completed, organize your materials
- Then write your story
- Check for accuracy. If not sure of a claim, get back to your sources.
- If possible, let a trusted and reliable colleague read over your work before passing it to your editor.
- When setting out for an investigative project, be prepared for a long haul. Be tenacious.
- Throughout the investigation, be security conscious.
Story-Based Inquiry, an investigative journalism handbook published by UNESCO provides a guide to basic methods and techniques of investigative journalisms and it consciously fills a gap in the literature of the profession.