Oregon Business – Journalists turn to private investigation

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The estate offers a higher salary and similar work.


During his career in investigative journalism, Cornelius Swart has reinvented himself on several occasions. He developed the online news site GoLocalPDX, published the Portland Sentinel, and produced two documentaries on gentrification in northeast Portland.

Now he’s Cornelius Swart, private investigator.

In the wake of massive layoffs at news agencies struggling to adapt to the digital landscape, it’s easy to see why investigative journalists shy away from private investigations. Skills and daily work are not that different, but private investigators get better pay and have more opportunities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of private investigators will increase by 11% percent over the next decade, while the journalism labor market will decline by 9%. Private investigators earn a median salary of around $ 50,000, a healthy increase from the average journalist’s salary of just over $ 40,000.

“A lot of people go into public relations and a lot more see this avenue,” says Swart. “I think it’s more fun because this investigation pursuit is still here.”


“A lot of people go into public relations and a lot more see this avenue. I think it’s more fun because that investigation pursuit is still around.
—Cornelius Swart, private investigator


Most private investigators still come from law enforcement, says Oregon Association of Chartered Investigators president Patrick Higgins, but he’s seen more applicants from the private sector, including journalism, over the course. in recent years.

There are 772 licensed private investigators in Oregon, a slight increase from previous years, according to records kept by the state agency that authorizes private investigators. There has been an increase in applications for new private security licenses over the past two years. From 2007 to 2017, however, the number of new private investigator candidates halved.

Lawsuits, fraud, other crimes, and “interpersonal mistrust” (aka unfaithful spouses) will continue to fuel the market for private investigators, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes. The most important sub-area for growth is legal services. Private investigators will also continue to assist human resources professionals, as online background checks are not always sufficient.





Individuals wishing to obtain a private investigator’s license must register 1,500 hours of work in a related profession. Investigative journalism matters, as does law and law enforcement. After that, private investigator candidates must sign a code of ethics, provide letters of reference, and earn a solid B + on a multiple choice test.

During the first six months on the job, Higgins says, newbies can work for a “PI factory,” which takes cases and hands them over to a network of investigators for relatively low pay. After that, most investigators go it alone. The market can be competitive.

“There are a lot of people out there,” says Swart. “There is price competition. “


Private Investigator Job Prospects

Median salary: $ 50,000
Ten-year employment growth: 11%


While technology has reshaped the job market in a number of other industries, Higgins says little has changed for investigators in the more than two decades he has been in the field. He has a skeptical view of online research and modern recording equipment. “If you can’t really hammer the streets, you don’t really do the case successfully,” he says.

This is something that came naturally to Swart from his work in journalism. As a private investigator, however, he also acquired new powers. He could search state databases for the names and contact details of thousands of people.

Investigators must also remain vigilant. Higgins spent a few years doing high-risk surveillance and analyzing threats, following patients who resented their doctor or a disgruntled employee. Unlike the police, it was often just him and one other investigator – no badge, no departmental support.

“You never know which way it’s going to go,” Higgins said. “It’s not like being a cop where you have an immediate backup.”





Most of the time, work is less adrenaline-charged. Private investigators collect information for court cases, help locate lost people, and investigate insurance claims. Swart takes care of three or four cases per month. He often subcontracts for larger companies, contributing to a larger investigation through surveillance, hearing witnesses or other tasks.

Although not trained in law enforcement, Swart says reporters are excellent private investigators because they can pull the facts from witness interviews and research, and turn them into a compelling story. No one can read the whole story except one lawyer, but it always has to be a page turner.

“Lawyers have to tell compelling stories to a jury,” Swart says. “We know how to get history from the facts.”


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