Investigative reporters (also called investigative journalists) probe questionable activities that are hidden from public view, appear to go against the public interest and which the public do not know much if anything about. As an investigative reporter you do not publicise mere assertions but obtain reasonable evidence of controversial activity and lay it open for public scrutiny and debate. In our case, as an animal rights investigative reporter, you must expose activities that go against the animal good, which in the long-run also often go against the public good.
Your ultimate goal, what ever wrong-doings you decide to pursue, is to change society's attitude to animals for the better. But you do not need to uncover a national or international conspiracy, just begin locally. Then if you want to take it further you can progress on to bigger jobs. Examples where hidden harms against animals may emerge and should be investigated and challenged are:
- Violations of codes of professional conduct, eg at business companies, circuses, rodeos and abattoirs.
- Animal baiting.
- Animal experimentation laboratories.
- Pet theft.
- Wildlife hunting and destruction.
- Animal trade, nationally or international import and export.
- Animal transport, national and international.
- Factory farming and fur farming.
- Domestic animal abuse in the home.
- Food and clothing labelling.
You may be motivated to take up your investigation for the sake of animals. However, you will be in a much stronger position if you can present the evidence that you propose to get and any conclusions you that may draw in terms of the interests of people, such as people’s health and well being, their economics or sense of morality. Slant your expose this way and more people, whether animal-oriented or not, will respond to your investigative report.
Where do you get ideas for an investigation?
- Monitor industries such as fur fashion, factory farming, pet food production.
- Look for trends, like an increase in foie gras, veal or prosecutions for selling meat unsuitable for human consumption.
- Check the news: examine your local or national press to find a new angle on an existing story.
- Browse the Web and your reference library for ideas.
- Ask acquaintances and brain-storm with colleagues.
Also see under Define Your Subject
in Chapter 4: Scientific Investigator.
The results of your investigation must be published if there is to be any kind of public or official reaction to it. So ask yourself these questions about an investigation you have in mind before you start spending a lot of time on the case.
- Would a reputable animal advocate organisation publish your findings as a report for wide circulation (ask some organisations)?
- Could your findings be published locally or nationally in the media (eg is it newsworthy - see Chapter 3: News Media)?
- Might legal action be taken about your findings (get some legal advice)?
Your subject may be worthwhile investigating if the answer to any of these questions is yes. But if the answer to all three questions is negative then think again; look for a different angle to pitch your investigation or cast about for another subject to investigate. Do not just hope or assume that any of these questions might turn out positive. Time spent getting evidence for and against these considerations is time well spent.
When you pick out a potential investigation get a clear idea of why you propose doing it. Examine it from as many angles as you can to forestall any problems. Ask yourself of your intended investigation:
- What hidden activities might it reveal and are they illegal?
- What moral values might it question?
- Who in power might it challenge?
- Can any perpetrator be held accountable legally or morally?
- Has it already been exposed and is nevertheless continuing? (If it is continuing get the facts on why it is.)
- What must you do to get proof of the activity (eg eyewitness statements, documentation, photography, environmental tests)?
- Will you get the evidence openly or by deception? (Deception can be legal - see Legality & Ethics, below.)
- Will there be any legal infringements getting the evidence, such as trespass or theft? (See Legality & Ethics, below.)
- How will the story be delivered to the public (eg to magazines, newspapers or television, or to an animal rights organisation)?
- Will there be any legal problems like libel if your report is published? (See Legality & Ethics, below.)
And if you go ahead with your investigation do not forget to follow it up after it is complete. Are the abuses still continuing after you have revealed them to the authorities and the public? Keep checking and reinvestigate if necessary.
Is Investigative Reporting for You?
Investigative reporting may be for you if you:
- Get a lot of satisfaction doing your own thing.
- Have an enterprising nature for uncovering shady activity.
- Are single-minded and focused to keep on track.
- Can educate yourself about the field.
- Can identify key points, think critically and ask the right questions.
- Can react quickly in a tricky situation.
- Can turn out your findings in depth for distribution in print or in some other medium, like photography or video.
- Have self-control when dealing with upsetting conditions.
- Have patience and firmness when handling disagreeable people.
- Are prepared for the possibility of occasional physical assault against yourself.
- Are willing to risk entanglement with the law.
When on an investigation take notes of what you witness (at the time or immediately afterwards) and never rely on memory alone. You may want a sound recorder and a camera, but going overboard with gadgets is pointless; your eyes and ears are your primary tools.
You could operate a pocket sound recorder, perhaps to catch your targets compromising themselves. But a recorder might only add to your workload if you find yourself having to transcribe hours of recordings onto paper.
In some places you may take photos openly. In other situations you may have to be more secretive. A hidden camera could be invaluable for gaining photographic evidence, such as when snooping for unlawful activity, such as at an animal baiting. Hidden cameras are so small that they can mimic buttons on your jacket. They are not overly expensive to buy and you can connect them to a portable device to store the pictures. For more about cameras see Chapter 4: Undercover Investigator, under Surveillance Systems. Also see Chapter 4: Aerial Snooper, as a possible means of capturing some kinds of photographic shot.
Legality & Ethics
During the course of your enquiries you may at times have to conceal your identity to gain the trust of people in order to expose their dubious operations. Even so, good animal rights investigative reporters obey the law (at least most of the time) and act ethically. You have to obtain information legally so that you can use it openly, as in a published report or in a court of law. You take a risk using illegally obtained information openly; you and anyone else involved in obtaining it may find yourselves in a tangle with the law and with a lawsuit on your hands. The main use of illegally obtained information is that it provides knowledge of something that can be investigated further in a legal way. If you must use illegally obtained information in your report, acquire it in such a way that it cannot reveal to the law how you came by it.
Animal rights investigative reporters must also act ethically. A suitable ethical code can be summed up as:
- Be sincere, frank and fair with truthful and honest people.
- Make your investigative report accurate and objective; stick to the facts and never misrepresent the issue in any way.
- Never reveal your confidential sources of information.
Follow these rules to build up your credibility with your animal rights associates and the public.
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