By Megan Wanner
According to “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook,” investigative journalism plays an important role in the creation of an informed, democratic society. It helps citizens make educated decisions about the world around them and is used as part of a checks and balances system for the government and other powerful entities.
The only way for investigative journalism to perform its duty in this system, journalists must make sure their stories are thoroughly researched in order to be truthful and credible accounts. This means checking both primary and secondary sources against each other to ensure parallels between documents.
When Walt Bogdanich and Jake Hooker set out to investigate an epidemic of poisoned medication, they were on a mission to provide the public with answers about why people were getting sick and dying. They were determined to find the cause regardless of who was exposed in the process.
An important thing to remember when conducting investigative journalism is to question everything. When it comes to conceiving a topic for investigation, an idea can come from anywhere if questioned. This also applies when gathering sources for a story and the validity of a source must be verified. It cannot be assumed that the source is truthful. When compiling information, questioning events and human responses can lead to details that could be overlooked otherwise. Questioning everything also means journalists can be objective, avoiding the use of assumptions they have brought into the investigation.
For Bogdanich and Hooker, one important question lead them down a complicated trail that revealed a substitution of ingredients that had been going on for years. Where is the poison coming from? The pair questioned every case in the past that seemed similar to the latest epidemic in Panama, comparing symptoms and medicines to determine what poison was in which medicine then tracing the shipments through multiple factories to find the source.
A ‘Documents State of Mind’ and ‘Working from the Outside In’
In order to prepare for investigative reporting, journalists must have a ‘documents state of mind’ meaning they assume ‘a document exists somewhere to explore, contradict or confirm each point of an investigation.’ In addition to this state of mind, investigative journalists use a technique known as ‘working from the outside in.’ This means starting with secondary sources, moving to primary sources then interviewing human sources to get to the main subject of the investigation.
With an international story on their hands, Bogdanich and Hooker knew some of the most important sources they might need would be overseas. The pair started locally researching past newspaper stories about epidemics thought to be linked to tainted medication allowing these secondary sources to lead them towards public records, autopsies, government files and other documents that brought them to human sources leading them to the center of their investigation: the source of the poison.
Variety in Sources
It is important in investigative journalism to use both primary and secondary sources searching various references. Using both the Internet and library sources is a good way to collect a variety of sources. Newspapers, Internet databases, reference books and bibliographies are all useful in different ways, usually giving a journalist valuable information while connecting to another valuable source. Key word and citation searches are helpful resources to find relevant sources.
Bogdanich and Hooker realized the importance of using various sources in their investigation as they contacted the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Administration, doctors, pharmaceutical providers as well as survivors of those who had died from the tainted medicine and many others. They researched past news reports about poisoned medicine, looked into government documents and even reviewed cables sent from the American embassy in Beijing. Combining all these sources filled in the gaps, eventually leading the two journalists to CNSC Fortune Way, a Chinese trading company that had recently focused its business on the distribution of pharmaceuticals.
Read the full, Pulitzer prize winning article, “From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine” by Walt Bogdanich and Jake Hooker.