How To Be A Journalist: 15 Ideas For Investigative Reports

Many events, processes or storylines – like the War On Drugs – that were once an important part of society have vanished without a clear solution.

In other cases, there are lots of correlative effects, like the Gender Wage Gap, without research into any causal relationships.

If we do investigate some of these studies and events in more details, pictures and tendencies can emerge that may shed a light on phenomena in society we can’t really explain right now in a satisfying manner – like the obesity epidemic in the US and other parts of the world.

This article lists some ideas for great investigative reports.

It is day 14 of the 180-day challenge “Become an Idea Machine“.

15 ideas for investigative reports

Investigate Reports Drugs

#1 – What’s the deal with drugs?

Investigative Reports Paracelsus

All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.– Paracelsus

According to some people, drugs are either horrible instruments of Satan – or miracle pills. Some want to completely legalize drugs, others are even hesitant to give drug addicts replacement substances.

How drugs are considered under the law does not always make much sense. For example, alcohol and heroin are comparable in the damage they wreck and their addictive effects, both physical and psychological. One of them is legal, the other is not. Why?

Sometimes a drug is banned because of economic reasons. For example, Kratom is illegal in Thailand:

“In Thailand, kratom was first scheduled for control in 1943 under the Kratom Act. At the time, the government was levying taxes from users and shops involved in the opium trade. Because of the increasing opium costs, many users were switching to kratom to manage their withdrawal symptoms. However, the launch of the Greater East Asia War in 1942 and declining revenues from the opium trade pushed the Thai government into action to curb and suppress competition in the opium market by making kratom illegal.”

Which begs the question: which drugs are banned because of their harmful effects on human health, which ones are simply illegal out of political reasons?

Thus, what I would really like to see is:

How many drugs are banned based on historic, economic and political – vs. health reasons?

Are some drugs legal despite their harmful effects?

This study could correlate two different parameters: the impact of a drug on health and the amount of countries in which a drug is considered illegal or treated as a controlled substance. 

Such an article could be published in Time magazine – or actually on a herbal supplement or social politics blog. Or such a study could even expand into a book form.

#2 – What happened to the War on Drugs?

This somehow vanished from the public conscience. But I remember it well from the 1980s and 1990s, when the US waged war against the Colombian drug cartels.

But where has this “war” been successful? Have we gotten rid of certain drugs as a consequence of the war, or did they vanish independently?

Have other drugs replaced them BECAUSE of the war or not?

In other words – can you wage “war on drugs”?

What happened to countries like Portugal or Switzerland that largely legalized drugs for a while?

This report could accompany report #1 (see above).

#3 – Does Crime Pay?

How many perpetrators In history have actually been caught?

This article could discuss the rate in which crimes have been solved over the last 100 years. How do criminals escape new inventions the police uses to track them?

For example, what was the impact of finger printing and later on genetic fingerprinting on crime rate?

How does the capital punishment effect the number of murder cases?

To top it off, the article could also discuss some famous case studies of perpetrators that have been caught and those that are still at large.

This would be an article for Time magazine.

#4 – Are today’s career paths really so much different from the past?

We either have the model #1 of “start at company A in your early 20s and retire with the Golden Watch at age 65”.

For model #2, you go through different companies, without ever having job security

It has been said that model #1 is the “model of the past”. But was it ever like that to begin with? In other words, what is REALLY different nowadays?

Have people been switching employers in the past just as often as today or was there really a difference?

Are there certain professions that are just as stable as ever, for example, network administrators?

The article could have broad statistics as well as some example interviews with people that are still kin the job market today vs. retired.

This could be published in a mass medium such as the New York Times. Or on a blog that talks about professional careers. Like “Business Insider”.

#5 – The makings of business moguls

Some people become rich and found empires when they are very young. Others do it when they should be “past their prime”.

Do entrepreneurs that start late rely more on experience?

Are younger entrepreneurs more beholden to their “youthful energy”?

Or does it come down to the very same entrepreneurial traits, yet older ones simply struck gold later in life?

Another article for Business Insider.

#6 – How to Run a Business when Competition Is Cut-throat

How did pirates like Blackbeard, Störtebeker and others run their empires? How are pirates doing it nowadays?

They had to operate outside the law, yet were able to build up successful empires for years or even decades to come.

That would be a good report for a history podcast like Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History.

#7 – The History of Slavery

In America, slavery has been established mainly in relation to the plight of black people.

But muslims have also enslaved black people, and other societies, like the Romans, kept slaves too.

It would be great to have an overview of some of the forces that underlie the development of slavery.

It could be another piece for Time Magazine or even Reader’s Digest or something like that. Or… it could go on one of the podcasts of Hardcore History.

#8 – From The Drawing Board To Your Kitchen – what makes an invention get to mass market?

Lots of inventions precede those that are eventually taken to market and become successful. The early ones are usually forgotten.

What did successful inventors do different from those that were unsuccessful?

Did they wait for an important detail to be uncovered, did they understand their real potential or were they just smarter marketers?

For example, Edison was mainly confined to trial and error in his inventions, while Nicola Tesla came from a more thorough scientific background.

Yet Edison became rich, while Tesla died in poverty. Why?

This article could be published on a blog like Techcrunch or similar, because it has important implications for predicting trends. Or – because we are talking about famous inventors – into Time magazine. A blog that talks about the history of science would also be good.

#9 – Was Malthus Worth his Salt(hus)? Population Growth Revisited

Is overpopulation the problem that it has been seen as in the past?

Thomas Malthus stated in the late 18th century that the growth of resources can not hold pace with the growth of populations.

Now, more than 200 years later, we are still standing. Or are we?

What are the basic laws that occur in ecosystems if one population outpaces the other – are they automatically collapsing?

Or can they develop in a different way – expanding their territory, switching their nutrition base etc.?

What is the timeline on all these developments?

One step further, what happened to human civilizations? When there were famines, how did people react? Did some tribes branch out, migrate away, or did they start to compete for resources with others?

Basically, I’d like to have a more nuanced view that can help us make better decision in the future.

Publication may be New York Times: it should be widely read, since this is of general importance for society`?

#10 – I can taste it sweetly in the food tonight

Why are Americans so obese? Are we alone in the world?

Investigative Reports Obesity

Yeah, there is TV and all kinds of unhealthy additions to our lifestyle, but does that really account for such an immediate growth in obesity? Have nutritional behaviors changed so much within just two generations?

Are we lacking so much in movement?

Could it be there is something harmful in the food? Gluten? Hormones? Antibiotica?

Or are we just reaping the “overnight” devastation of an unhealthy lifestyle that has built up over decades?

A report could compare the rise in obesity to the change of various specific parameters, for example sugar consume, High Fructose Corn Syrup enrichment, fat content in foods. proteins, rise in sedentary lifestyle, genetic factors etc.

This report could then be the base for further biomedical research to turn mere correlations into causality.

The publication platform of choice would be any food blogs or as Newspaper the New York Times.

#11 – (Not so) Secret Societies

We hear about meetings like Bilderberg or groups like Freemasons etc., and there are lots of conspiracy theories, but as Rooshv said: any group of people who want to increase their power will simply come together, and that does not really have to be in secret.

If they are also heads of media company, then they can easily push their ideas through. Simply accept proposals that are more in line with your policies, and you will gradually shift the Overton Window.

What are some groups that wield enormous power and how have they really changed society at large?

Did they change society using a certain political climate or despite of it?

This article would have its space in a political site like – or any other political discussion site.

#12 – A Source of Sabotage? Science under Dictatorships

One example: Werner Heisenberg led the team of German nuclear physicists that was responsible for building a nuclear bomb under Hitler.

The team was not successful. It has never been really clear whether Heisenberg delayed the research or could not push it forward because of a lack of resources.

He is just one example. Max Frisch stated in “The Physicists” that every scientist has the duty to stop a discovery that could have negative societal implications.

Have scientists followed that “recommendation” in the course of history? 

Or have they always worked together with the government?

Should scientists maybe not be held morally responsible?

This would probably be a good story for Time magazine or a popular science history blog.

#13 – The Perfect Storm – What Makes an Event Decisive in World History?

We often know about situations that triggered cataclysmic events.

For example, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that triggered World War I. However, were people actually aware of the implications of this assassination at the time?

Did they realize that this will lead to war?

Or did they simply react the way they would always do, and the events just unfolded in an unstoppable way?

This would be a clear article for Hardcore History.

#14 – Don’t break your nose, pinocchio – where do myths come from?

So many stories and fictitious characters throughout history are simply part of our collective mind.

Yet, we don’t know where they are actually coming from.

This report would simply list the very origins of stories like “Lord of the Rings”, “Simpsons”, “The Count of Monte Christo” etc.

These stories could be part of “Reader’s Digest” or Time Magazine.

#15 – One DeLorean to Beam Up – How Science Fiction Has Changed Our Life

What inventions from Star Trek or other Science Fiction universes have become reality? The iPad, the cell phone, a computer-based database like the internet…

Look at authors from the last centuries like Jules Verne etc. Have his visions become true?

If we go back long enough, is anything that was once thought of as “fiction” now reality?

Or are there parts – like time machines – that have always been an unfulfilled dream of people?

Have some scientific stories become reality BECAUSE someone first wrote them down into a book?

This story would lend itself to an infographic-like article and would be in line for some outlet like Buzzfeed or Huffington Post. Or could have a place on an Instagram account.

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Would you like to know more about any of these topics?

Do you have an additional idea for a report?

Thank you very much and let me know in the comments below!