Module JT010

Journalistic Investigation

Module author

Margo Smit

The Netherlands

Learning objectives

After you have completed this module, you will be able to:

  • Find interesting, innovative and original story ideas with impact;
  • Turn a broad story idea into a realistic and demonstrable research hypothesis;
  • Ientify and cultivate necessary and available sources (paper trail and people trail);
  • Design and use a project file, a source map, a timeline and a logbook to keep track of your research;
  • Conduct your inquiry from the outside in; 
  • Turn the research material into a publishable story;
  • Deal with ethical and deontological matters concerning the story.

Chapter 1: Finding the story
1.1 Strategies to find stories
1.2 What is a good topic?
1.3 Feasibility scan
1.4 Towards an elevator pitch

Chapter 2: Towards a systematic approach
2.1 Phrasing a hypothesis
2.2 Designing minimum and maximum hypotheses

Chapter 3: Researching the story
3.1 Finding sources
3.2 People and paper, primary and secondary sources
3.3 Building a timeline
3.4 Looking for documents
3.5 Looking for people
3.6 Reporting for facts, reporting for story

Chapter 4: Telling the story
4.1 Outlining and the masterfile
4.2 Narrative principles
4.3 Writing tips
4.4. Fact-checking and bulletproofing
4.5 Conclusion

Study points 2
Preview Journalistic Investigation


Why Open School of Journalism believes that journalistic inquiry is important

In this module, you will learn the basic principles of journalistic investigation. The basic principles include how to find relevant news topics, perform research, discover valuable sources and form a valid hypothesis.

After completing this module, you will know how to conduct research using both traditional and modern tools. In addition, you will learn how to approach current event topics in an engaging and informative manner.


Overview of the module

You can find a list of what you are expected to learn during the duration of the semester below. Read each item and its description carefully.


Find interesting, innovative and original story ideas with a large impact.

Finding a worthy topic is arguably one of the most difficult aspects of journalism. Journalists strive to identify stories that deserve to be brought to light. However, finding individual stories requires persistence and skills that you will acquire in this module. During the semester, some topics will be assigned to you by your instructor. However, you will be tasked with finding other topics yourself. By the end of the module, you will have the ability to identify topics that will have a large impact on a given community.


Turn a broad story idea into a realistic and demonstrable research hypothesis.

Narrowing down a story into a concentrated, focused premise can be a difficult prospect. This module will show you how to identify the important aspects of a story. In addition, the module will teach you how to narrow the important aspects of your research into a single sentence. The single sentence that contains the important aspects of a story is called a hypothesis. A hypothesis reveals the topic that you will cover in your story. A hypothesis also serves as a staging point for all of the research you will perform for an article. Using your hypothesis, you will construct a story that supports your claims and reveals information discovered in your research.


Identify and cultivate necessary and available sources.

While writing your articles, you will need to find appropriate information to support your claims. Information can be gathered through research conducted online, in print formats, or in interviews. By including research in your articles, your work will be supported by facts. If curious, readers can trace facts back to a reliable source and further information. Facts protect journalists from being accused of falsifying information, so it is extremely important to do your research.


Design and use a project file, a source map, a timeline, and a logbook to keep track of your research.

Keeping track of research is nearly as important as the research itself. Journalists are required to present their research to their editors with each story submission. You will also present your research with each article you submit to your instructor. Before submitting, you will arrange your information into a project file. Within the project file, there will be a list of quotes and interviews you have conducted. In addition, your notepad, a list of sources, and a timeline of your research will be included. The project file will have specific organization requirements.

Sources protect a journalist's credibility. If an issue arises, then a journalist can refer back to his or her sources as a means of proving an article's authenticity and accuracy. Therefore, it is extremely important to learn methods to organize research and sources so that they can be found easily at a later time.


Conduct your inquiry from the outside in.

Writing from the outside in means that a journalist does not make conclusions before reading and evaluating a large collection of research. During this module, you will learn to evaluate research you have discovered. In addition, you will learn to form a structured argument from the information you have learned. You will not form a hypothesis based solely on personal opinion or experience. Instead, you will use research and analysis to form a compelling article.

Journalists strive to deliver articles that are based off of factual information and the opinions of experts. In journalism, it is a widely held belief that facts should be presented free from bias. A journalist leaves it up to readers to evaluate the facts and form opinions. During this module, you will learn that working from the outside in is much more effective than basing stories on personal beliefs.


Turn the research material into a publishable story.

Your stories will be based on the research you have conducted throughout the semester. With your facts in hand, you will present your audience with valuable information that is factual and relevant to current events in an article. Assignment due dates are detailed in the module syllabus. Assignments have been spread out to allow ample time for the writing and revision process. Additionally, your story will be critiqued and revised by peers and your instructor.

Once your work has been critiqued and revised, your article will be subject to a grade from your instructor. Grading criteria can be found in the module syllabus. 


Deal with ethical and deontological matters concerning the story.

Journalists concern themselves with following an ethical code. While writing, you will be expected to follow a series of clearly-stated rules that can be found in a code of conduct in the module syllabus. In the real world, journalists are expected to follow a code of conduct as well, so you will be following their example. Codes of conduct for journalists vary in the real world, but many of the principles are similar. You will learn the importance of ethics in modern journalism, and you will discover how ethical behavior protects you from legal repercussions.