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Investigative Reporting

Investigative Reporting

Provided by Ziva Branstetter, 2010

Over 30+ years of reporting and editing, enterprise reporter/editor Ziva Branstetter has proven she can sniff out stories that matter and follow trails to award-winning news projects. She built a library of resources from her work at the Tulsa World, Philadelphia Daily News and Tulsa Tribune. In 2015 Ziva and reporting partner Cary Aspinwall were 2015 finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting for their coverage of a botched execution. That same year, she and Aspinwall co-founded The Frontier, an independent investigative newsroom in Tulsa that continues today. She joined the Washington Post in 2018 as corporate accountability editor, focusing on investigative journalism and FOIA.

Here are some of Ziva's most-valued tips and online resources for investigative reporters.


Investigative Reporting

Why it matters and
models for investigations


Story Ideas
And when is a story
worth investigating



Research and Investigation
Where to research
records online


Open Records Act
Key points, fees,
availability, sample letters



Sources and Interviewing
Be visible and
going "off the record"


Putting the Story Together:
Online and in Print

Organization, writing,
checking facts, presentation





Why does it matter?

  • A chance to help people
  • A chance to uncover corruption
  • A chance to find systems that aren’t working and suggest solutions
  • A chance to change the law
  • A chance to make the world a better place
  • We are the court of last resort for many people
  • A chance to show why newspapers still matter

It’s not always year-long projects. It can be good enterprise beat reporting that makes use of documents or data on deadline to add authority.


Investigative reporting is...

  • A scientific approach to reporting. We become the experts because we’ve read the documents, queried the databases.
  • Triangulating. People lead you to documents, documents lead you to people.
  • It’s about people. Stories should not be filled with numbers. The documents and data give you the foundation for the story but focus on the human element.
  • Explanatory journalism: explaining how complex systems work.


Models for investigations

  • The rolling investigation
  • The one-day blowout
  • Traditional series
  • The serial narrative:
    A single character whom readers care about.
    Dramatic high points that can serve as cliff-hangers.
    Story energized by a single question: What will happen? How will it end?
  • Alternative presentations on the web:
    Interactive timelines, moderated chat, mapping data, state census data, videos, use your iPhone and YouTube