Investigative Journalism

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Investigative journalism (from the Latin investigare 'track down', 'examine closely') requires lengthy, precise and comprehensive research before publication. The main topics are political or economic events that the public regard as scandalous .

As the so-called fourth estate in the state, many of these reporters fulfill an important function in controlling state organs and business groups in democracies (see also Checks and Balances ). Tabloid journalism would also like to adorn itself with the label investigative journalism from time to time, although in most cases the above-mentioned characteristics of lengthy, precise and comprehensive research and documentation before publication are not given and it is rather hyped gossip and Scandal journalism acts. Therefore, this term is also understood rather pejoratively.

Investigative journalists often use whistleblowers as sources . These are people who are employed, for example, in the institutions examined and give protected or secret information to the press, often at personal risk. On the Internet, so-called disclosure platforms such as WikiLeaks help to protect the anonymity of whistleblowers. Numerous scandals uncovered by investigative journalists could only be uncovered with information obtained in this way, such as the Watergate affair or the data protection scandal surrounding the PRISM and Tempora espionage programs .


The subject of this complex form of reporting, which places high demands on ability and perseverance, are mostly scandalous incidents or misconduct by leading figures from politics and business that endanger democracy. Investigative journalism peaked in the 1970s in the United States , when reporters from major newspapers uncovered a series of political scandals (e.g. the Watergate affair , as a result of which US President Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974).

A comprehensive essay by the New York Review of Books from August 2007, taking into account the Plame affair , dealt with the question of whether the classic function of the best among journalists in the USA still exists and has a future .



In West Germany, Hans Leyendecker , a contributor to the news magazine Der Spiegel and later to the Süddeutsche Zeitung , uncovered the Flick affair and the CDU black money affair . Other examples are the Kießling affair , uncovered by Udo Röbel , and the Barschel affair , uncovered by Spiegel . Mathew D. Rose dealt with the Berlin “felt” ( Berlin, Capital of Felt and Corruption , 1997, and An Honorable Society , 2003). From the Frankfurt publicist and organized crime expert Jürgen Roth came 2004 with investigation prohibited! published a reportage book about the limits of police investigative efforts. In 2006, his book Der Deutschland-Clan focused on the interdependencies between high-ranking politicians, top managers and judicial officials.

Special forms of investigative undercover journalism are the publications by Leo Lania , Gerhard Kromschröder , Paula Schlier and Günter Wallraff .

Leo Lania gained access to Adolf Hitler and the Völkischer Beobachter in the guise of an Italian fascist in 1923 and documented his experiences with the early Nazi movement in the book The Hitler-Ludendorff Trial (1926). (The episode is not mentioned in his book Die Totengräber Deutschlands (1924).) Paula Schlier , who by that time had already published articles against National Socialism, spent three months as a shorthand typist in the editorial office of the Völkischer Beobachter in the fall of 1923 , documenting her experiences , including the Hitler putsch , in the chapter "In the patriots' editorial office" in her book Petra's notes or concept of a youth according to the dictates of the time (1926). Wallraff assumed pseudonymous identities to clear up scandalous circumstances. His reports on the inner workings of the Bild newspaper and the work situation of workers with a migration background ( Completely below ) in Germany triggered broad social debates.

Other German-speaking research journalists:

One of the first investigative political magazines on German television was Panorama magazine, first broadcast on 4 June 1961 , which was followed by others, initially broadcast in prime time .

The research association NDR, WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung has been investigating since 2014 .

In addition, private television is now discovering investigative journalism as a source of ratings , for example RTL Television with its Team Wallraff format .


A well-known and successful investigative journalist in the early 20th century was the Viennese Max Winter , who with his reports, among other things, enforced a reform of military jurisdiction in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and uncovered numerous social grievances in order to demand improvements. In 1913, the Prague journalist Egon Erwin Kisch publicized the espionage affair involving Colonel Redl .

From the 1970s, an intensive media landscape in the field of investigative journalism developed in Austria. In particular, the FORVM magazine published by Günther Nenning and Gerhard Oberschlick drew international attention. Hans Pretterebner , who clarified the Lucona case , brought out an investigative magazine with his TOP Magazin for a number of years, just as Wolfgang Purtscheller caused people to sit up and take notice with investigative books.

Alfred Worm , for example , should be mentioned from more recent history . Kurt Kuch brought to light, among other things, details and background to the Hypo Alpe Adria cause , the Telekom affair , the BUWOG affair and the Eurofighter affair . In 2013, he published information from the Offshore Leaks data sets about letterbox companies owned by Herbert Stepic , who soon resigned from his position as CEO of Raiffeisen International . Among other things, Florian Klenk is regarded as an uncoverer in relation to human rights violations, corruption, human trafficking or abuses in the judiciary and police apparatus. As a business journalist for Format magazine, Ashwien Sankholkar dealt with a number of political and economic scandals in Austria, such as those involving former finance minister Karl-Heinz Grasser and events relating to the BUWOG affair. Michael Nikbakhsh was voted Journalist of the Year in 2008 for his revelations in the so-called Meinl affair .

Information engineer , investigative journalist and BuzzFeed contributor Christo Buschek , originally from Graz , was commissioned in June 2021 together with Megha Rajagopalan and Alison Killing for the four-part reportage Built to Last , published on BuzzFeed News on August 27, 2020, about the uncovering of the Chinese Uyghur camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region , which were operated by the authorities and were largely not locatable up to this point in time, were awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in the International Reporting category. He is the first Austrian to receive the Pulitzer Prize , which has been awarded since 1917 .


A Swiss investigative journalist was Niklaus Meienberg , whose publications made a significant contribution to the public debate, not just about Switzerland's role in World War II . The Rundschau program on Swiss television has been called investigative on a number of occasions.


The most famous example is the exposure of the Watergate affair by American journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post . Another significant case was Seymour Hersh 's account of the 1968 My Lai massacre , in which American soldiers killed over 500 residents of a Vietnamese village. In 2004 , Hersh brought the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal in Iraq to the US media.

Other well-known Muckraker in the USA:

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch describes NSA surveillance as a throttling of investigative journalism in the United States. HRW complains that the snooping craze harms freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Ur-American values ​​such as "freedom, democracy and an open, responsible government" are "seriously threatened" - by the large-scale, state surveillance programs, coupled with tightened, often merciless measures to keep government internals secret.


Up to 2013, the largest known case of months of international cooperation between investigative journalists was the offshore leaks , in which more than 86 journalists from 38 newspapers and radio and television stations from 46 countries were involved. They were coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists . Later cases were the Luxembourg Leaks (2014), Swiss Leaks (2015) and the Panama Papers (2016).

In Europe, nine media came together to form the European Investigative Collaboration in 2016 .

See also


To the practice of the IJ
Critical publications and country comparisons

web links


  1. Russell Baker: Goodbye to Newspapers. In: New York Review of Book. Aug 18, 2007.
  2. Leo Lania: The Hitler-Ludendorff Trial. Chapter visit with Hitler (=  outsiders of society. The crimes of the present. Vol. 9 ). Die Schmiede, Berlin 1926, p. 12-21 .
  3. For the date of publication see Ursula A. Schneider, Annette Steinsiek: Am Eigen Leib. Epilogue. In: Ursula A. Schneider, Annette Steinsiek (eds.): Paula Schlier: Petra's notes or concept of a youth according to the dictates of the time . Otto Müller, Salzburg / Vienna 2018, p. 150–196, here 195, footnote 7 .
  4. Paula Schlier: Article. In: Materials online on Paula Schlier: Petra's notes. Concept of a youth according to the dictates of the time, Website Research Institute Brenner Archive, University of Innsbruck. Ursula A. Schneider, Annette Steinsiek, 2018, accessed June 10, 2021 .
  5. Paula Schlier: In the editorial office of the patriots. Chapter of Petra's Records, or Concept of a Youth According to the Dictates of the Time . Editors: Ursula A. Schneider, Annette Steinsiek. Otto Müller, Salzburg / Vienna 2018, p. 67-101 .
  6. The journalist of the year 2008 . The Austrian journalist, issue 12/2008+01/2009. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  7. 2021 Pulitzer Prize Journalism. In: 2021, retrieved June 16, 2021 . (English)
  8. Megha Rajagopalan, Alison Killing, Christo Buschek: Built to Last. In: 27 August 2020, retrieved 16 June 2021 . (English)
  9. The 2021 Pulitzer Prize Winner in International Reporting. In: 2021, retrieved June 16, 2021 . (English)
  10. Grazer Christo Buschek receives Pulitzer Prize. In: 12 June 2021, retrieved 16 June 2021 .
  11. Armin Wolf : ZIB 2 on Sunday: Grazer Buschek receives Pulitzer Prize. In: 13 June 2021, retrieved 16 June 2021 . (ZIB 2 contribution from minute 15:30)
  12. ↑ The Audience Council rates "Rundschau" as in-depth and investigative , SRG Audience Council, May 17, 2016
  13. Marc Pitzke: Consequences of the NSA spy delusion: The end of freedom of the press. In: Mirror Online . 28 July 2014, retrieved 9 June 2018 .