Triggering Change – How Investigative Journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa Contribute to Solving Problems in Society

In-depth and investigative journalism that goes beyond reporting the daily events is an essential element of liberal democracies but rare in Sub-Saharan Africa, and yet it exists – under difficult circumstances.

In one of the major journalism support programs in the region – the Science Journalism Cooperation Project (SjCOOP) – it was discovered that a considerable number of journalists aim to influence public policy through their reporting and do ‘achieve an impact’. But how does this work in environments that are hardly supportive of this kind of journalism? So far, almost all media effects research has been conducted in Western countries and little is known about the effects of investigative journalism in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

In their investigation, the authors document and evaluate selected cases of this special kind of reporting. The researchers used an explorative and qualitative approach, inspired by media effects research and models for public communication of political issues. The result is twofold: first, a typology of different change processes triggered by investigative journalism and second, various hypotheses on the factors enhancing the change processes.

The article analyses 12 cases of investigative journalism in Sub-Saharan Africa. The reporters all claimed to have contributed to change processes by influencing government policy, action by the state administration, supporting the uptake of scientific solutions or provoking public debate. An assessment of these processes shows that in 10 cases, the journalists indeed helped to trigger change and in two cases they failed to do so. The cases are evaluated through an explorative approach inspired by the dynamic models for communication on public issues developed by Rucht and Peters. Different types of investigative stories in Sub-Saharan Africa are identified and hypotheses are developed on key factors that were important in investigating and publishing the stories as well as in achieving change. A decisive element of investigative journalism in Sub-Saharan Africa seems to be the involvement of and the interaction with other societal non-journalist actors.

Download the full article here.

Corresponding author: Jan Lublinski, Free Lance Research Consultant. Email:

Courtesy Sage Journals. The article was first published on October 18, 2015