Investigative journalism as relational skills and epistemic resources

New study “Inventive Factfinders: Investigative Journalism as Professional Self-representation, Marker of Identity and Boundary Work” by Fredrik Bjerknes of University of Bergen is situated in the context of the annual Norwegian investigative journalism award (SKUP).

Qualitative textual analysis of 44 method reports submitted to SKUP in 2018 were investigated for the study. In it, the theoretical framework of boundary work was seen as going on within journalism: in how investigative journalists attempt to stand out and profile themselves. 

SKUP is a contest, so the submitters literally competed with each other to challenge and define what are the boundaries of acceptable investigative journalism. The link between boundary work, the boundaries of investigative journalism and the epistemology of investigative journalism are first explicated on in the paper. 

The investigative journalists competing for SKUP were asked to write a report on how it was started, developed, and organized, and to explain the process thoroughly, step-by-step. Bjerknes studied the relevant epistemic practices at SKUP within the given year and how they show in the submitters report. 

Secondly, the author was interested in how the submitters construct, reiterate and challenge its boundaries, and what kind of identity markers emerge in this work.

The submitters reports

Most submitters emphasized the societal importance and difficulty or the tasks in the inception phase. Many, including the winner stressed that it was the combination of practices that made the project successful. The ability to utilize both traditional and innovative methods was a key boundary marker in SKUP 2018.

The demands were described as increasing when publication date approaches. The applicants mostly juxtaposed the findings with raw data themselves, but one newspaper had hired a team of computer scientists to verify the dataset and findings, but this was not very common. 

They were careful to emphasize acceptable practices. In the last phase, the retrospective, the submitters discussed ethical challenges related to gray-area practices like using a fake identity during work, often resorting to such only when no other options are available but seeing it justified then. 

Conclusions and contribution to the field 

The findings are useful in seeing how the dynamics of boundary work, and the setup demanded by SKUP which favors large newsrooms with ample resources are manifested in the textual level. 

The study is a contribution to study on investigative journalism and what counts as an investigative method. In it, the journalist retell the epistemological practices through role performance. 

Bjerknes argues that investigative journalism indeed is a distinct sub-discipline within the greater field of journalism. He acknowledges that the results obtained by the study may not pertain to the submitters work as a whole, but only the 2018 SKUP.

The paper  “Inventive Factfinders: Investigative Journalism as Professional Self-representation, Marker of Identity and Boundary Work” by Fredrik Bjerknes is in Journalism Practice (limited access).

Picture: search concept. Close-up view of a detective board with evidence. In the center is a empty mock up white sheet attached with a red pin

Credits: Volodymyr Hryshchenko @lunarts License Unsplash.

Give us feedback