Lesson 15: Surveys
Lesson 15: Surveys
Surveys and questionnaires may be used more in academic studies than in investigative journalism, but this does not rule them out as an investigative tool. In some cases they are crucial because of the precise quantitative data that they provide. Survey results can be very useful to society, the public and decision makers looking for solutions to problems and ways to bring about change. Research is at the heart of a journalist’s work. A survey is a kind of research that involves collecting and collating primary data from a particular community in accordance with a unified methodology, building on a particular hypothesis and set of questions, before analyzing this data statistically using established scientific techniques. Since investigative journalism is a collaborative team activity, a team of journalists and researchers can be used to help a good investigative journalist which in this case means an excellent researcher – to put together a survey methodology, gather data and analyses them using statistical software like SPSS.
In Bangladesh, journalists sought the help of a research company in order to develop a survey methodology that they hoped would allow them to demonstrate corruption in the health sector. Although they were initially skeptical about mixing investigative journalism and survey techniques, the methodology they came up with involved conducting in-depth interviews and gathering pictures and documents, just like any other investigation. After journalists asked respondents particular questions dictated by the methodology, the data collected was entered into a spreadsheet for analysis. Rather than interviewing anyone willing, the sample was selected randomly, with 400 out of the 7500 cases making up the target population.
The survey ultimately meant that the team was able to expose massive corruption in a social health program dedicated to poor mothers, with the data showing that 96% of service users were receiving support they were not entitled to under the program criteria. They found that government officials were selecting beneficiaries either because of personal connections or because they had been given bribes 148. This investigation lasted twelve months and involved eighteen journalists. It produced results that were almost indisputable, forcing the local authorities to take action to reform the program.
In 2012, the Jordanian newspaper Al Ghad published an investigation exposing a vast black market in final year university dissertations run from offices overseen by university professors. In order to substantiate the investigation, the newspaper conducted a peer-reviewed survey that found that more than 60% of the students responding had submitted dissertations written by someone else 150. In both these investigations journalists successfully combined surveys with more conventional investigative techniques. In the second, one journalist went undercover as a student and bought a dissertation from a university professor. Combining techniques bolsters an investigation and makes it more convincing and credible.