Narratives and Investigations: Strange Bedfellows?

By Wim Jansen

I still haven’t found an answer to the main question I took from Amsterdam to Boston: Is investigative journalism by nature opposed to narrative reporting, or is the ideal journalist that carries both genes in the making?

Florence Graves, a famous investigative journalist here, was to shed some light on this mystery. Her conclusion: little investigative journalism is narrative – and there are reasons for it. We have to bear in mind that our audience is much bigger than the regular readership. There are the powers that are the subject of the investigation, there are the lawyers, there are the persons who can be damaged by our story. So we have to be accurate, stick to the facts, she said, implying that this is not always possible in narrative.

But is that so? Unfortunately, after her sparkling presentation of some very inspiring projects, there was no time left for questions. So I remained with mine: are investigative journalists a different breed from narrative ones, and shall the twain never meet?

This is important to me, because my newspaper is doing an in-house program to upgrade the quality and quantity of investigating reporting. The next step is getting the findings across to our readers. Could there be positive chemistry between investigative and narrative reporters? What if the investigator tells his or her colleague: you research the first billion web pages with these criteria in mind, I’ll do the rest? What if the narrative reporter’s answer was: Yeah, and you interview that guy at home, pay attention to the paintings on the wall, the color of his hair, and how he speaks to his kids?

P.S. Florence Graves told us about a story she would rather not write as narrative. Why? Because she thought the subject was worth a place on the front page. So there is no room for narrative stories on page one? Maybe editors of newspapers should change their perception of news. I would have published Graves’ narrative story without any hesitation on the front page, knowing that this is the story my audience would read first, the one that would even make them come late to work.

Wim Jansen is managing editor of Trouw, a daily newspaper based in Amsterdam with a paid circulation of 130,000.

Posted in investigative, sessions.Why Is So Little Investigative Journalism Narrative?, speakers.Florence George Graves, team reporting on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink