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From the Insight Team to Wikileaks, the continuing power of investigative journalism as a benchmark of quality news journalism

posted on 2023-06-08, 23:00 authored by Paul Lashmar
This chapter tackles the current consensus that investigative journalism is dying and that this is the most manifest example of the decline of high quality hard news. Taking the UK as an example, for reasons that will be explained in the chapter, and following up the author's 2008 paper,'The Crisis in Investigative Journalism', it is estimated that the number of investigative journalists in the traditional media has fallen from around 150 during the 1980s to fewer than 90 today. The real importance and impact of this particular genre of journalism is far greater than this humble number of practitioners would suggest. It is seen traditionally as one of the pinnacles of high quality journalism. Before the core questions of this chapter can be tackled it is necessary to deal with a proverbial'elephant in the room'. When talking about investigative journalism both academics and journalists try to ignore the mutant, but well resourced, variation on the greater theme, popular tabloid investigative journalism. In practice, while serious investigative journalism has contracted within states where previously it was prized, such as the USA and the UK, tabloid investigations have thrived. They are generously financed and have extremely effective and experienced practitioners and produce a wide range of major investigations. Unfortunately, most are into celebrities and public figures, falling into the category of 'what interests the public rather than'public interest'. Occasionally, they do a public service, like the 2010 exposé of match fixing in cricket, but almost by accident.That dealt with, the chapter looks to causes for hope. While serious investigative journalism in the traditional media is contracting, we are seeing the emergence of a number of initiatives that go by the informal collective title of the 'Fifth Estate', forms of journalism that work separately, or on the edge of, the old fourth estate. First, there's the rise of new investigative journalism bureaus funded by donations or subscriptions. In the United States, a number have been successful (though not all), like ProPublica. An early success in the UK is the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which was set up with funding from the philanthropists David and Elaine Potter and has a team of between 20 and 25 journalists. The bureau's profile has been propelled by its involvement in the 2010 Wikileaks 'episode'. Secondly, in what the chapter describes collectively as the campaigning sector, pressure groups, consumer groups, charities and NGOs increasingly are doing their own investigative journalism. Thirdly, a whole generation of web savvy journalists is emerging who use new investigative techniques to interrogate public interest issues. Datascraping, crowd-sourcing, network effect and using social media have in the last few months really taken off as powerful tools for investigative journalism. Few of these journalists work for the traditional media. 5 Overall, it is proposed that there may still be a future for investigative journalism, although it may well be significantly different to the traditional forms still held in such esteem by those who care about journalism that preserves, promotes and periodically shakes up democracy.


Publication status

  • Published







Book title

The future of quality news journalism: a cross continental analysis

Place of publication

New York




Routledge research in journalism

Department affiliated with

  • Media and Film Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes


Peter J Anderson, George Ogola, Michael Williams

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