Columbia Journalism School

Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism

Stabile_people
Sheila Coronel meets with a student.

Teaching investigative journalism is a core mission of the school. Some of the best investigative journalists in the country teach in our classrooms and many other professors use investigative techniques in courses not explicitly labeled with the “I” word.

In 2006, the school expanded and consolidated its investigative offerings by establishing the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. After a worldwide search, Sheila S. Coronel, one of Asia's best-known journalists and founder of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, joined the faculty to run the center. She has assembled an outstanding group of colleagues to take the school's investigative journalism courses to a new level.

Today the Journalism School offers an exclusive track for students who want to specialize in investigative journalism. Fifteen students are selected from about 100 who apply. Stabile students spend the year specializing in investigative reporting and are required to do an investigative report for their master’s project. In addition, the school offers high-level investigative courses for those not enrolled in the investigative program. These students take shorter but similarly intense courses in investigative skills and techniques.

Learn more at StabileCenter.org

The Faculty

The School’s investigative journalism faculty includes:

  • Walt Bogdanich, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter of The New York Times
  • Charles Ornstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winner who is on the staff of ProPublica
  • Maurice Tamman, data news editor for Thomson Reuters
  • Jim Mintz, a leading private investigator in New York and head of the MintzGroup
  • Blake Morrison, deputy enterprise editor at Thomson Reuters
  • Tracy Weber, Pultizer Prize-winning reporter at ProPublica
  • Kristen Lombardi, a multi-awarded journalist who is on the staff of the Center for Public Integrity
     

Other professors teach investigative reporting techniques and methods in various other classes. These include Sandy Padwe, who ran the school’s investigative workshop for many years and is currently the investigations consulting editor at ESPN; and John Dinges, a former managing editor at NPR, who is an expert on Latin America and co-founder of an independent investigative reporting center in Chile

Professional Collaborations

  • With support from the Stabile Investigative Project Fund, students publish their master’s projects in major news organizations. The center provides funds to support student research and travel for investigative projects. Over the summer, students who have a commitment to publish or air can apply for fellowships that will allow them to continue work on their projects. Stabile master’s projects have been published or aired by The New York Times, National Public Radio, Slate and PBS. Visit the Stabile Center website for more on published student work.
  • During the school year, Stabile students work in teams on investigative projects that they then pitch for publication.  Team projects have been publishsed by ProPublica, the Huffington Post, the Center for Public Integrity, the Columbia Journalism Review and Caixin Magazine in China.
  • Prof. Bogdanich’s students work in groups, each one investigating a single topic for 15 weeks. In the spring of 2008, one of the groups began an investigation of retiree benefits at the Long Island Railroad (LIRR). Under Bogdanich’s supervision, two of the students continued work on the project over the summer. In October, The New York Times published a front-page story revealing that an unbelievable 97 percent of LIRR retirees get disability benefits; the ensuing scandal got major attention. Two students shared the byline with Bogdanich

Our Mission

The Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism is dedicated to training students for distinguished careers in investigative journalism. Candidates for the Master of Science degree are able to pursue this specialization, which is platform-neutral and is taken in addition to the traditional M.S. curriculum. Stabile students are required to take skills classes and electives in investigative reporting, as well as the investigative seminar.

The Stabile Center takes 15 students every year and also administers the Toni Stabile Investigative Project Fund, which supports the most important and promising stories by the center’s graduates.

In order to graduate with a specialization in investigative journalism, students must apply to the center as part of their application for admission to the school, and then take all three courses offered by the Stabile Center.

The Toni Stabile Investigative Project Fund

The Fund supports the most important and promising stories by the most recent graduates of the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. They will retain their official connection to Columbia University for the summer or the fall following their graduation, during which they will complete investigative projects with the help of the Stabile director. The Stabile Center will help get these projects published or aired.

Course Requirements — Investigative Specialization

Fall Semester

Investigative Tools

No one is born an investigative reporter. While muckraking reporters are set apart by their persistence and patience for detail, investigative journalism is more than just a matter of personality type. It’s also a question of skill and technique. "Investigative Tools" is a crash course on the techniques of the trade as students begin work on the investigative report that will be their master’s project. The course will teach students how to develop story ideas, find the investigative edge in their stories, conduct research and dig for information.

The course will walk them through the investigative process—from the time a story is conceived to the formulation of an investigative hypothesis to the actual reporting and writing. It will stress the importance of documentary evidence and help students analyze both public and private as well as paper and digital records. Other forms of documentation, such as maps and images, will be discussed. The course will also teach investigative interviewing. It will make students read and view investigative reports and deconstruct them in terms of the reporting techniques used to gather information. They will learn how these reports were put together.

The course will teach students the basics of computer-assisted reporting, including Internet searching and spreadsheet use.

Spring Semester

Investigative Techniques: The Empirical Spine of Investigative Reporting

The course will take students through the process of understanding why data analysis is important to investigative journalism and then teach them the skills needed to incorporate empirical journalism into their work.

The class work will start with learning the principles of data, and progress through spreadsheets and database managers, basic mapping and other data visualization tools. During the semester, students will be working on an investigative story memo that could lead to a story for publication. Focus will be on practical application of these skills as well as learning how these elements fit into publishing to all media and in doing so, making their work more relevant.

 

The Investigative Seminar: The Changing Landscape of Investigative Reporting

Investigative reporting, like most genres of journalism, is in a state of flux.

Technological and other changes in the media industry are transforming the narrative forms, the language and the techniques of investigative journalism. At the same time, the collapse of the business models that have traditionally supported muckraking in newspapers and TV networks has meant leaner investigative staffs and a reduction in resources devoted to in-depth reporting. Meanwhile, many news organizations are involving citizens in the investigative process.

While corruption, regulatory failure and scams on consumers remain the staple of investigations, other areas, including the environment, terrorism, natural disasters and global trade have become rich ground for journalistic probing. Cross-border issues – such as immigration, human and commodities smuggling, and the global supply chain – are also emerging as important topics for investigation.

The need for investigative reporting in a networked and interdependent world has never been more profound. The next generation of investigative journalists needs to be more technologically adept, more entrepreneurial, and also more global in their outlook.

This seminar will examine the tectonic shifts that are taking place in the media and challenge students to think about how they can produce, pitch and fund investigative stories in such a dynamic environment. It will also familiarize them with the investigative tradition and the traditional investigative narrative forms. An examination of the ‘classics’ of the genre will be linked to a critical appreciation of how the genre has evolved in response to changes in technology, the audience and more broadly, society.

The seminar will also focus on changing techniques and narrative forms  of journalistic investigation and the continued innovation on those techniques. Group investigative projects undertaken during the course will give students the opportunity to try out these new techniques and experiment with new ways of telling the story.

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