Journalism and private investigation industries have always gotten along well: In fact, it’s a common move for journalist to eventually move into private investigation if they are looking for another type of employment.
The reverse is also true: Many journalists have full schedules and may need help tracking down details or leads, so they turn to PIs for help. That can create interesting job opportunities for PI firms looking to expand their client base, but it’s important to understand what journalists are looking for so your business can provide exactly what they need.
Private Investigator Specialties Offer The Most Value
Journalists are skilled at doing plenty of research on their own – they generally have no problems finding and contacting people with enough work. But they turn to private investigators for jobs that are outside of their skill range or just not possible. That includes:
- Surveillance: Journalists don’t have the time or energy for long-term stakeouts. If they need to watch a location for an extended period of time for certain people or activities, they are likely to hire a PI for the job instead.
- More advanced technology: Journalists are typically experienced in finding people online and tend to have some photography skills, but they may not have much experience in more advanced surveillance equipment. This is when they may turn to a private investigator.
- Verifying information: Sometimes a busy journalist receives specific facts or implications that are worth following up on, but they just don’t have enough time. In these cases, they can turn to a PI and say, “Here’s a piece of information I’ve received. Can you check it out and see if it’s actionable?”
Publications May Have Their Own Guidelines for Hiring a PI
Journalists may not be at their own discretion when it comes to hiring a private investigator. Since this is a fairly common tactic for many publications, they may have formed rules about the process and limitations (the BBC actually has a great example here).
That means a journalist may have to get permission to hire a specific private investigator, and that they will have to document everything on their side. Private investigators must strictly adhere to all laws and regulations – and may also have to follow the editorial guidelines of the publication. It’s a good idea to take an extra step and ask for these editorial guidelines ahead of time, so you can at least review policies regarding social media and other important aspects.
Journalism Jobs Can Include High-Profile Cases
A publication often won’t want to spend extra money on private investigators unless a story is of particular importance. That means PIs may end up working on high-profile cases for journalists, investigating important local names, businesses, and programs.
This can create additional risks for the PI if they get involved in retaliation campaigns or other issues: Harvey Weinstein, for example, infamously hired counter-private investigators to discredit journalists themselves. If you’re worried about things getting messy in a high-profile investigation, you can ask that you and your firm are not referred to by name in any invoices or communications (setting up alternate email and phone communications is also an option).
Deadlines are More Important Than Ever
Individual PI jobs tend to be more open-ended when it comes to timelines. Attorneys may have deadlines, but they usually offer plenty of time to get results. Journalists, however, can have stricter deadlines that require more immediate reports. When timeliness is so important, PIs may have to work fast to meet requirements.
Journalists May Butt In On Ongoing Cases
It’s not unheard of for private investigators to get unexpected calls from journalists about cases they are working. This poses a different problem: What should the PI reveal to a journalist, knowing that anything could be published?
The first step is to immediately contact the client and see if they are interested in revealing any findings to a journalist. In some situations, this could be advantageous, a way of putting pressure on a specific party or similar goals. In other cases, a client may want to make sure that no details are revealed to journalists.
If you decide that only certain facts should be made known, it’s important to protect your firm and your client when providing information. You can always say that any conversation with a journalist is, “Off the record,” which generally means that a journalist can’t publish any information – until they corroborate it with another source. That could be advantageous to both you and the journalist if the information pays off! Or, you could choose to release information on a “conditional release” contract, which means that the journalist would publish the information as from an anonymous source, protecting you and your firm from any blowback.
There’s also a long-term benefit to working with journalists like this: It makes it more likely they will hire you for their own jobs later on.
Final Tip: Make It Easy for Journalists to Trust Your Organization
If you are interested in building more relationships with journalists in your area, create website and marketing materials that will appeal to them! Make it easy for journalists to check that you are credentialed, insured, and experienced. Highlight that you are able to do specific jobs, like off-hours surveillance, that journalists may not be able to do themselves. If you have worked with any publications or papers in the past, include that experience when referencing history and testimonials.