Exploring the academic credibility of investigative journalism

Updated: Oct 17, 2016

Hashtag: #SwissLeaks

Exploring the academic credibility of investigative journalism

World of Superficiality

Journalism in its original form is a separate world and far removed from academic sphere. The reason is that superficial thought and research are contradictory attributes of a scholarly article that by nature are systematic, in-depth, and well-structured pieces of writing.

An academic complaint article is normally coherent, discusses all sides of the issue, makes use of scientifically acquired facts, properly acknowledged its sources, peer-reviewed, written and presented in technical language for informed readers. In contrast, popular journalistic publications such as newspapers, magazine, and others are mostly for the lay audience, thus informal, skimmed, and speculative. They are sometimes sketchy and one-sided, no author, and lack the credibility of scholarly works.

However, the form of journalism responsible for #SwissLeaks or expose of secret billion Swiss bank accounts allegedly owned by HSBC clients seems unusual and more academic in nature than traditional journalism. The reporters that divulged secret bank accounts of known personalities (some may be facing tax invasion charges afterward) are practitioners of Investigative Journalism, an academic compliant form of journalism. This is the same form of journalism (best known as “Watchdog” journalism) responsible for unmasking corruptions, abuse of power, environmental and health scandals, and publishing of well-researched and written news articles in recent years.

Academic credibility of Investigative Journalism

The definition of Investigative Journalism varies from author to author but it is commonly about a journalist’s own initiative to look into the significance of the issue, conduct a comprehensive and exhaustive research, make detailed information public, and inspire reform.

Creating an outline of Investigative Journalism features found in literature would give us a form of journalistic undertaking that is truth-seeking, objective, systematic, in-depth, facts and evidence oriented, and consistent. Similarly, a careful analysis of academic research requirements will give us an idea that a certain result of a certain research must add value to existing knowledge. This new knowledge must be acquired through scientific methodologies, ethical, analytical, synthesized, and presented in succinct style and appropriate terminology. In other words, academic research is an objective, systematic, in-depth, and original piece of writing.

Given that Investigative Journalism reports or articles are objective in its quest for truth, systematically and thoroughly researched, structured and presented with supporting facts and evidence, then they must be compliant to academic standard. The problem, however, is the fact that their method of data gathering will not pass academic ethical scrutiny. Certainly, scientific data gathering in academic sphere is never about #SwissLeaks or systematically stealing data from anyone. In fact, an academic research is about consent and confidentiality. It should be reactive to the welfare of data sources.

There is no doubt that investigative journalists and academic intellectuals both seek after the truth. In fact, they are both systematic and support their claims with facts. However, they strangely vary in their values and ethical practices. For instance, although generating and promoting new knowledge is critical, the academic sphere gives more weight to the transparency and integrity of the research process. It is rational but passionate and sensitive to partiality, exploitation, and morality of its quest for truth.

 

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