Undercover Reporting

The Truth About Deception

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In this provocative book, Brooke Kroeger argues for a reconsideration of the place of oft-maligned journalistic practices. While it may seem paradoxical, much of the valuable journalism of the past century and a half has emerged from undercover investigations or those that employ various forms of subterfuge and deception to expose wrong. Kroeger asserts that undercover work is not a separate world but rather it embodies a central discipline of good reporting–the ability to extract significant information or to create indelible, real-time descriptions of hard-to-penetrate institutions or social situations that deserve the public’s attention.

The book’s companion Undercover Reporting database has been created in collaboration with NYU Libraries. It is a hand-curated resource for scholars, journalists and student researchers that gathers some of the best investigative work of the past nearly 200 years. It is searchable by keyword, reportorial theme, media outlet, date, or author, or can be browsed by series.

The CJR podcast titled “Brooke Kroeger,” listed midway down the page, provides a good explanation of the  project.

Undercover Reporting serves as a rallying call for an endangered aspect of the journalistic endeavor.

A downloadable postcard, front and back:


From the Preface:

“This book unabashedly celebrates the great American journalistic tradition of undercover reporting and offers an argument, built on the volume of evidence, for the restoration of its once- honored place in the array of effective journalistic techniques. Even the most cursory analysis of a century and a half of significant undercover investigations by journalists makes clear how effective the practice can be. Repeatedly, they have proved their worth as producers of high-impact public awareness or as hasteners of change. Like almost no other journalistic approach, undercover reporting has a built- in ability to expose wrongs and wrongdoers or perform other meaningful public service. It can illuminate the unknown, it can capture and sustain attention, it can shock or amaze. The criticism that has bedeviled the practice in more recent years comes from the ethical compromises it inevitably requires, its reliance on some of journalism’s most questionable means, and the unacceptable excesses of the few. Deception not only happens in the course of reporting undercover, it is intrinsic to the form. For would- be truth tellers, this is a shaky ground. Yet at its best, undercover reporting achieves most of the things great journalism means to achieve. At its worst, but no worse than bad journalism in any form, it is not only an embarrassment but can be downright destructive. This book suggests that the capacity of undercover reporting to bring important social issues to public attention and thus to motivate reformers to act far outweighs the objections against it, legitimate though they may be. Its benefits, when used selectively, far outweigh the lapses, which, it turns out, are more of a preoccupation in only some quarters of the profession than they are with the public. . . . “


Notice, Undercover Reporting

GIJN (Global Investigative Journalism Network) Guide to Undercover Reporting 2022

GIJN’s Guide to Undercover Reporting This guide was written by GIJN’s Resource Center director Nikolia Apostolou and GIJN reporter Rowan Philp. Editing was by Reed Richardson and Laura Dixon. Illustrations […]

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Notice, Undercover Reporting

“On the Edge: The Ethics of Going Undercover” – Joshua Hunt – CJR

"Brooke Kroeger, a journalism professor at New York University and the author of Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception (2012), has for years advocated “a restoration of honor and legitimacy to the discomfiting techniques” of the practice..."

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Review, Undercover Reporting

REVIEW: American Journalism: Deception for Journalism’s Sake: the Undercover Reporting Database

"Deception for Journalism’s Sake: A Database is a spectacular find for journalism historians. The database, maintained by Professor Brooke Kroeger in collaboration with New York University libraries, contains original articles by undercover reporters, showcasing two centuries’ worth of investigative reports. The work of journalists who worked in sweatshops, feigned insanity, and even visited so-called “witches” to expose misconduct has been captured and preserved . . . "

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Event, Speech, Undercover Reporting

Public Values in Conflict with Agribusiness Practices – UCLA School of Law – Saturday, February 23, 2019

 UCLA February 23 Animal Law Conference Registration and Program For full information about the program, look here.  

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Notice, Undercover Reporting

NOTICE: Washington Babylon: Undercover Reporting Is an Essential tool That We Will Use When Merited

"Now, in a fabulous bit of irony, my article about the unethical behavior of lobbying firms has become, for some in the media, a story about my ethics in reporting the story. The lobbyists have attacked the story and me personally, saying that it was unethical of me to misrepresent myself when I went to speak to them".

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Notice, Undercover Reporting

New York Times: “When a Reporter Is an Uninvited Guest” by Margaret Sullivan

"Brooke Kroeger, a New York University journalism professor whose book, “Undercover Reporting: The Truth About Deception,” was published last year, told me that one of the guiding principles in undercover reporting is that it should not do “unintended harm to persons not in a position to defend themselves.” That certainly was not the case here."

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