Browse Reports

"Infanticide" - Unsigned - Chicago Daily Times

A 25-part Chicago Daily Times series about the abortion trade in Chicago in 1888 for which two reporters posed as a couple in search of these services.
Nellie Bly's article "What Becomes of Babies?" written for The New York World in 1887.

Exposing Predators

Across the world, journalists have used undercover techniques to expose individual predators and as well as major sex crime rings.
Headline and highlights of Nellie Bly's article "Behind Asylum Bars," written for The New York World in 1887.

"Behind Asylum Bars" and "Inside the Madhouse" - Nellie Bly - New York World

One of the best-remembered undercover investigations of all time. Nellie Bly feigns insanity to get herself committed to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's (now Roosevelt) Island.
Rare, major CBS News "Sixty Minutes" investigation of stem cell hucksters abroad who claim to help those with illnesses for which there is no known cure. The program used hidden cameras and telecom to investigate.

Quacks, Thieves, Scam Artists and Hucksters

These are stings to expose scam artists, quacks and hucksters who prey on the needs or naivete of their customers, clients, or patients.

"Life as a Negro: Journey Into Shame" - John Howard Griffin - Sepia Magazine and "Black Like Me"

This 1960 series in the small circulation magazine, Sepia, became John Howard Griffin's best-selling book, Black Like Me.
The first chapter in the original serial that became Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle."

"The Jungle: A Story of Chicago" - Upton Sinclair - Appeal to Reason

Upton Sinclair's original serial version of "The Jungle," published in 1905 by the socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, edited and republished the following year by Doubleday after McMillan reneged. The newspaper serialized Sinclair's novel nearly week by week between February 25 and December 16, 1905 and offered the completion of the series in a special supplement that readers had to request separately. PDFs of the articles provided courtesy of Special Collections Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.
Document titles; First-Hand Look at a San Fransisco High School

"Undercover Student" - Shann Nix - San Francisco Chronicle

In 1992, as part of The San Francisco Chronicle's reporting on the growing crisis in the public schools and the crippling effect of California state budget cuts on education, the newspaper decided "that readers needed to understand just how dramatically the budget crisis affects the kids."But it would be difficult. Classroom visitors would be greeted by proud teachers putting on their best stiff-upper-lip performances, shy students and administrators complaining loudly. "Either way, I would never be sure I was seeing the unvarnished truth and readers would not get the accurate picture they needed to see. George Washington High School Principal Al Vidal agreed . . . "
ABC Nightline sends an 82-year-old grandmother undercover to expose Medicare fraud in McAllen, Texas.

Medicare and Medicaid Fraud

Medicare and Medicaid fraud have been perennial reporting topics since the 1960s, often requiring undercover techniques to amass specific details.
Curtain-raiser and explanation for the undercover investigation of the Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum by reporter Julius Chambers, to be published August 31, 1872.

Bloomingdale Asylum Exposé - Julius Chambers - The New York Tribune

As a reporter for the New York Tribune, Julius Chambers went undercover as a patient to investigate conditions at the Bloomingdale Asylum following reports of abuse at the institution.

Undercover Journalism Debated

Undercover journalism has been the subject of heated discussions, especially since the late 1970s, and whenever an undercover sting causes a stir.
The Hartford Courant's ombudsman takes issue with the newspaper's highly effective real estate discrimination investigation because of its use of deceptive tactics.

Real Estate Discrimination Investigation - Lyn Bixby, et. al. - Hartford Courant

The Hartford Courant's investigation of discriminatory real estate practices in Connecticut, involving reporters posed as prospective buyers in various neighborhoods. The investigation prompted a rebuttal from the newspaper's own ombudsman, Henry McNulty.

Lapses

These are examples of undercover reportage that were considered to have crossed ethical lines or that caused major legal wrangles.

Hidden Cameras at the Crossroads of Journalism, Ethics and the Law

A collection of essays discussing the use of hidden microphones and hidden cameras from a legal, ethical and journalistic perspective.
Kathleen "Kit" Coleman traveled overseas in 1892 to go undercover as a male to report for The Toronto Mail to discover what it was like to live in London's East End.

Kathleen "Kit" Black Coleman

Kit Coleman's series for the Toronto Daily Mail, cross-dressed as a tramp, reported from London's East End in 1892.
Albert Richardson's daily column "From Louisiana" in the New York Tribune.

"Pro-Slavery Rebellion: From Louisiana" - Albert D. Richardson - New York Tribune

Richardson went south for the Tribune in the last days before the Civil War and reported from Louisiana under an assumed identity and coding his reports (and relaying them through other offices) to get them safely back north.

Unique Exploits of Women Writers - New York World - March 16, 1890

The New York World featured four women writers in their Sunday, March 16, 1980 paper.

"Maid for a Month" - Jan Wong - Toronto Globe and Mail

Journalist Jan Wong changed her life for a month to see what it would be like to live with a minimum wage income. She left her husband for a month posing as a single mother and maid with two children living in a rented basement apartment.
Negative commentary on Nellie Bly's stint in the Asylum for Women on Blackwell's Island.

Nellie Bly of The New York World

A gathering of the undercover and experiential reporting of Elizabeth Cochrane, later Seaman, who wrote under the pen name of Nellie Bly.

Undercover in U.S. Political Campaigns

Going undercover as volunteers or invited guests has gotten reporters an inside look at some U.S. political campaigns. So has shadowing the candidates in their off-hours. 
Examination of the meaning behind Lewis Hine's photographs.

Photographers John L. Spivak and Lewis Hine

Photographers John L. Spivak and Lewis Hine captured some of the greatest moments in undercover exposes of child labor during the early 1900's.

The Jim West Investigation - Spokane Spokesman-Review

This is the Spokane Spokesman-Review's entire archive of articles related to its office misuse investigation of Mayor Jim West in 2005, dating from the initial revelations on May 5, 2005 through his historic ouster as mayor to the Department of Justice's investigation and decision not to press charges in February 17,2006.
Staff writer Betty Wells was a voluntarily committed patient for eight days at Larned State Hospital. No one at the hospital knew she was there to find out what life in a mental institution is like. This is the fifth of the six articles

"Trip Into Darkness" - Betty Wells - Wichita Eagle and Wichita Beacon

Wells had herself admitted to Larned State Hospital in Larned, Kansas, for an investigation of the Kansas mental health system. She stayed eight days and produced this February 1974 series for the Wichita Eagle and the Wichita Beacon.(Special thanks to Prof. Dan Close at Wichita State University for helping to unearth and then retrieve these pieces from the Eagle microfilm.)
First installment of Sachar's eight-part series on her year as an eighth-grade math teacher in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

"My Year as a Teacher" - Emily Sachar - Newsday and New York Newsday

Emily Sachar, an education reporter for New York Newsday, quit her job as a reporter and applied for and became a full-time teacher in the New York City school system for a year, after which she wrote a series of articles about the experience and then a book.
Part One in the Milwaukee Journal Sunday Magazine of Vivian S. Toy's multipart series, reporting on her time posing as a student in Milwaukee public schools.

"Scenes of Senior High" - Vivian S. Toy - Milwaukee Journal

The young reporter Vivian S. Toy's infiltration of a Milwaukee high school in her guise as a student resulted in this multipart series in 1986.

Investigating John Edwards' Affair

The National Enquirer conducted a submersion investigation revealing senator John Edwards' affair in 2008.
Garrett's description of how he experienced life on an actual budget of a nickel a day. His series ran in the Evening World in tandem with Catherine King's report on trying to get a job at a living wage in the city.

Living Poor - Charles Garrett and Catherine King - New York World

A New York Evening World series by Charles Garrett and Catherine King as they lived in total penury, looking for work, in New York City.
Wired's series on Evan Ratliff's attempt to vanish in the digital age, leaving his real identity behind and assuming a new one as a coast-to-coast search by readers ensues.

Vanishing in the Digital Age: Finding Evan Ratliff - Wired

A digital entry for the undercover annals.
Grace Halsell spends time in Ecuador to experience life with the viejos.

Grace Halsell

Grace Halsell went undercover to report under a number of ethnic and racial guises.
Dick Reavis poses as a carnival worker to expose—as he says—the truth about carnivals.

Dick J. Reavis

A collection of Dick J. Reavis' works pertaining to undercover journalism.
The Tribune reports on the experiences of a group of staffers who among them sponsor a total of 12 children through "four of the largest and best-known child sponsorship organizations - Save the Children, The Christian children's Fund, Children International and Childreach."

"The Miracle Merchants" - Graeme Zielinski, David Jackson, Lisa Anderson, Mike Dorning - Chicago Tribune

The Tribune reports on the experiences of a group of staffers who among them sponsor a total of 12 children through "four of the largest and best-known child sponsorship organizations - Save the Children, The Christian children's Fund, Children International and Childreach."

September 11, 2001 and Its Aftermath

September 11 spawned some special journalistic responses, including a volunteer pose as a garbage hauler.

Gary Hart and "the Monkey Business" - Jim McGee, Tom Fielder, James Savage - Miami Herald

The Miami Herald used surveillance journalism to reveal presidential candidate Gary Hart's affair with Donna Rice.
A new sheriff takes the place of John M. Short, who is suspended due to fraud.

Inside the Pasco County Sheriff's Department: A Special Report - St. Petersburg Times

In their Pulitzer Prize winning series, St. Petersburg Times writers Lucy Morgan and Jack Reed reveal the corruption within the Pasco County Sheriff's Department, starting with John M. Short.
An undercover Tribune reporter training to be an employee at a bill collection company sees the horrible way they treat people who owe money.

Bill Collectors - Task Force - Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune's Task Force lead a six-week investigation working in eight debt collection agencies to compile this chronicle of the abuse debt collectors impose.
First of Task Force series on financial waste in county government.

Financial Waste in County Government - Task Force - Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune's Task Force, composed of director George Bliss and reporters Philip Caputo, William Currie, William Jones, and Pamela Zekman, investigate the waste of money in county government in this eleven part series.

"Gateway to Gridlock" - Louise Kiernan, Andrew Zajac, Robert Manor, Evan Osnos, Andrew Martin, Laurie Cohen - Chicago Tribune

In this Pulitzer Prize winning series, Chicago Tribune Staff Writers reveal the issues behind the scenes at O'Hare International Airport and "why airport travel had gotten so bad." Although there is no explicit indication of the use of any subterfuge, which the Tribune no longer supports, informed readers had the sense that some of the information had to have been obtained without the professional affiliation of the reporters being known to staff.
BBC News explains how reporter Russell Sharp went undercover in the military.

Undercover in the British Army - Russell Sharp - BBC News (UK)

BBC reporter Russell Sharp went undercover in the British Army to investigate allegations of bullying by training instructors. He used a hidden camera to record his findings. A TV film, The Undercover Soldier, was made as a result.

"Exposé of Willowbrook State School" - Geraldo Rivera - WABC-TV

 The Willowbrook State school was a state funded institution for children with intellectual disabilities in Staten Island, New York from 1930 until 1983. The school was known to have poor conditions and questionable intentions. In 1972, Geraldo Rivera brought cameras into the school and exposed the conditions. 

Undercover Reporting and Journalism Ethics in the Literature

 Books (and more) that consider journalism ethics and also include significant discussion of undercover reporting.

Nursing Homes Undercover

From 1968 to present day, reporters have gone undercover to expose the corruption and mistreatment that occurs within nursing homes.
Headline and highlights of Nellie Bly's article "Behind Asylum Bars," written for The New York World in 1887.

Asylums Undercover

Since the 1870s, journalists have been posing as patients or attendants to expose horrid conditions and treatment inside mental hospitals. Nellie Bly, incidentally, was not the first. 
From the precede: "In order to find out at first hand the exact conditions under which girls work in the New York retail stores which serve a cheap class of trade, Miss Lauren Gilfillan, a recent graduate of Smith College, secured employment in two five-and-ten-cent stores. Here is the unembellished account of her experience. The Editor of THE FORUM believes that this is an important document because it faithfully portrays a situation which was all too common before the advent of the mystic symbol, NRA.

Lauren W. Gilfillan Among the Shop Girls and the Miners

 Lauren Gilfillan graduated from Smith College, found nothing when she went to New York in search of work as a writer and headed instead to the coal fields of Pittsburgh, during a strike and passed as the child of a miner. She wrote about it for Forum and Century and then turned her stories into a book, published by Viking.
Investigative reporters, Cameron McWhirter and Mike Gallagher expose Chiquita Brand in a series stemmed from voice mail messages from the brand.

The Chiquita Banana Exposé - The Cincinnati Enquirer

On May 3, 1998 The Cincinnati Enquirer released a series of illegitmate accusations regarding the rightfulness of the Chiquita Banana Brand. The allegations were apparently heard from voice mails from a Chiquita employee, and were used to exploit the company.

Depression-Era Undercover

 Experiencing life among the poverty-stricken and the down-and-out was a recurrent Depression-era theme, one Marvel Cooke reprised in the 1950. 
This CBS News documentary was originally shown November 30, 1961 and rebroadcast in 1963 and was an early use of the hidden camera in television documentary.

Slum-Dwelling

Undercover reporters experience and write about what it's like to live in a slum and adapt to the lifestyle for a period of time.
William Gaines discusses his experiences as an undercover reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

IRE Journal

"Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting. IRE was formed in 1975 to create a forum in which journalists throughout the world could help each other by sharing story ideas, newsgathering techniques and news sources."

The Ivory Trade

Reporters go undercover in attempts to expose the harsh reality of the Ivory Trade.

Undercover in North Korea

Reporters go undercover in North Korea where journalism is a terrifying task.
Article titled: The Lobby King Returns

Uncloaking the Lobbyists

 Reporter efforts to get inside the world of lobbyists, both on Capitol Hill and in the statehouses.
Nellie Bly's article "Nellie Bly as a Mesmerist," written for The New York World in 1888. Complete with multiple visuals.

Other People's Work: Factories

Reporters going undercover as factory workers in order to expose awful working conditions from 1888 to present.

National Geographic's "Inside: Secret America"

"Investigative journalists Mariana van Zeller and Darren Foster take you inside the nation’s underground networks and to the heart of the most controversial issues. Using a combination of hidden camera techniques and exclusive access, they penetrate worlds rarely captured before." 

Among the Plutocrats

Infiltrations into the worlds of the wealthy and privileged.

Shane Bauer

Shane Bauer is known for his daring undercover exposes, including his four-month turn as a private prison guard. The story, for Mother Jones,  won the reporting category in the National Magazine Awards of 2017.
Female undercover reporter at business event.

The Presidents Club Scandal and Other Such Undercover Exposes

 An undercover investigation by the Financial Times of behavior toward hostesses at The Presidents Club's annual men-only charity event in London and reaction to the story.