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Become an Investigative Journalist: Education and Career Roadmap

Investigative journalists probe and report on government officials, private entities, and other items of public interest. Interested? Learn what it takes to prepare for a career in this field. View article »

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  • 0:03 Be an Investigative Journalist
  • 0:21 Common Requirements
  • 0:55 Steps to Investigative…

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Video Transcript

Be an Investigative Journalist

The job of an investigative journalist often includes working odd or irregular hours and traveling to conduct research or interviews. Some reporters also put themselves in dangerous situations, such as disaster sites or war zones, in order to get a story. Investigative journalists demonstrate strong writing and communication skills, as well as thorough investigative techniques. They are proficient in using word processing, digital photo, and video editing software, as well as digital cameras and photo equipment. They may be expected to have some familiarity with website design software. According to a 2016 PayScale.com report, the median annual salary for investigative reporters was $58,703.

Common Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Fields Journalism, communications, broadcasting
Experience Employers often want a minimum of an internship and/or experience with a school paper
Key Skills Writing, communication skills, investigative techniques, proficient in Word processing, digital photo editing software (Photoshop), video editing software (Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro), web site design software (Dreamweaver), knowledge of digital camera and video equipment
Salary* $58,703 per year (median salary for all investigative reporters)

Sources: CareerBuilder.com, O*Net Online, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, *Payscale.com

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Steps to Investigative Journalism

A formal degree program and sufficient experience can put you on the road to a career as an investigative journalist:

Step 1: Obtain a Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most employers prefer individuals with a bachelor's degree in communication, broadcasting, journalism, or a related field. Most programs cover journalism in general, rather than investigative journalism. Courses offered typically include law and ethics, writing and editing, communication, visual journalism, and reporting. Due to the growth of digital media, many journalism programs include courses in multimedia news reporting.

Success Tips:

  • Complete an internship or work for the school paper. The BLS indicates most employers want individuals with experience from an internship or working on the school paper. Many schools have career centers that offer students leads for internships.

  • Find resources for investigative journalists. Students who wish to go into investigative journalism should supplement their undergraduate program with classes or workshops that delve into the esoteric knowledge and information gathering skills utilized by these watchdog journalists. Investigative journalism organizations and journalism schools offer these courses and workshops.

  • Enter investigative journalist competitions. There are many opportunities for students or graduates to enter an investigative article into competitions sponsored by investigative journalism organizations like the Center for Investigative Reporting or the Online Journalism Awards. If you win an award, you can use the writing sample for your portfolio, and add the credential to your resume.

Step 2: Build a Portfolio

Employers often request applicants to submit clips of their work when they apply for a position. Many journalism programs require the student to create a portfolio as part of the graduation requirement. This portfolio contains samples of the journalist's best work so that prospective employers can assess an individual's writing style, technical proficiency, and news-gathering ability.

Success Tip

  • Include work showing investigative reporting skills. Aspiring investigative journalists should include some articles that prove investigative experience in their portfolio.

Step 3: Obtain Experience

Most employers prefer applicants who have experience that is relevant to the type of stories their organization covers. The BLS indicates that the best opportunities will be with smaller newspapers, television, and radio stations. After an individual has gained experience at a smaller organization, they may be able to find work with a larger company.

Most investigative journalists have at least a bachelor's degree in a journalism-related field with training in written, visual, and digital methods of recording.

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