How are networks of experts changing investigative journalism?

English: An example of a weighted network.

English: An example of a weighted network. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Investigative journalists investigate topics or issues. They do research, talk to contacts, and develop an understanding of the issue to explain it or to rally readers to a cause. In this role, they develop an expertise. Their expertise informs their writing and it attracts an audience. However, the web is changing that process as social media has transformed the ability to research and investigate topics.

Journalism, intelligence, or researcher? Who decides?

Today, a writer can access open source intelligence that was only available to a state. With this access, a researcher can presents detailed analysis, complete with satellite images, to explain a military strike on a suspected Syrian chemical depot. The report provided details that few states in 1970 had the capacity to create. What a state could do in 1970 an individual can do today. What has changed is that the individual does not need special access to government or military sources. Instead, they need skills to access and understand the material. The line between a researcher, an intelligence asset, and a journalist begins to blur, if not disappear.[1]

If open source intelligence is available, who is exploiting it?

In the past, such stories would be limited to those with the budget, technical resources and analytical skills. With social media, a writer can find such expertise on the web. In some cases, such expertise can be crowd sourced and access does not require contacts. Instead of personal contacts, the researcher or writer needs to know how to access the open source intelligence and monitor the social media traffic that discusses their topic.

Who is influencing your expert network and why?

In the past, experts rarely participated in public debates or discussions. They published articles for their profession or their government department. The web and social media change the nature of expertise. The expert is not limited to the think tank, the government research centre, or academia. What we see is that they recombine insights from researchers, journalists, and open sources into a new product. These individuals bring expertise closer to the public. They are the new investigative journalists. What is different though is that they have a reciprocal relationship with their audience and they do not work for major corporations. The process is iterative and dynamic with some benefits and some problems from the connectivity.

Disinterested analysis or personality driven analysis?

The connectivity has a downside. It can encourage personality journalism (cult of personality blog). Even with that constraint, connectivity can enable researchers or investigators to bring information to the surface that was previously implicit in many decisions. What remains to be explored is how the connectivity makes expertise or sources dependent on the network.[2] They appear independent, but they are a product of their network. If the networks can be captured or influenced at key nodal points, the nature of expertise changes. The influence on the network can change or redirect research and understanding. What we need to explore is how those networks influence the experts who rely on networks and who influences the networks.


[1] See for example, this story. The information and analysis would have only been available to a few countries in 1970. Now the average researcher can access satellite imagery, an array of experts, and a host of open source intelligence. The product, like this one, can be quite convincing and sophisticated.

[2] See for example


About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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