5 tips for journalists from the 2019 Global Investigative Journalism Conference

by Patrick Egwu
Dec 10, 2019 in Investigative Journalism
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In late September, about 1,700 investigative journalists, editors, media experts and academics from more than 130 countries attended the Global Investigative Journalism Conference (GIJC) hosted by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN). Held in Hamburg, Germany, attendees discussed and shared their knowledge on investigative topics. 

During the 250 panels, workshops and training sessions, there were five themes that stood out for up-and-coming journalists. 

(1) Collaborate

The word most used during GIJC was “collaboration.” At different sessions and panels, the speakers and moderators spoke about the need to collaborate on investigations for maximum impact. 

On the first day of the conference, Drew Sullivan of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) emphasized the importance of collaboration during a group panel on “The Challenges Ahead.” 

“If you’re a journalist and you’re not collaborating with other journalists from other organizations, you’re far behind,” Sullivan said during his panel. 

The final day of the conference included the Global Shining Light Award ceremony, which honors investigative journalists in a developing or transitioning country who are working under threat, duress and the most dire conditions. Rappler, a Philippine news site, won for their investigation “Murder in Manila,” which explores extrajudicail killings in the Phillipine drug war

During her keynote speech, Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa said journalists need to collaborate. She noted, however, that “Collaboration isn’t easy because we were born to compete against each other.”

The best way to collaborate is to check for resources on journalism websites. For example, GIJN has a lot of resources and tools for collaboration that journalists can explore for their work. 

(Editor’s note: You can also check out IJNet’s Collaborative Journalism Toolkit.)

(2) Share your mistakes

It is important that we let others know how you conducted your investigation, including the investigative methods, mistakes you made and the lessons you learned in the process. During her presentation on investigative reporting basics, Cheryl Thompson, investigative correspondent at NPR, said, “Tell your mistakes so others won’t make them.” 

Learning from others is especially helpful when embarking on a difficult investigation. Sharing your mistakes will help others to learn from it and adjust, said Thompson.

(3) Use data

There is no doubt that multimedia elements, datasets and infographics help tell a story better and make it easier to understand than only using text. Many sessions at GIJC focused on data journalism, including the latest trends and tips for editing data stories, creating data and making numbers meaningful. 

Readers will be more engaged in a story that uses multimedia elements, maps and infographics. Using only text can bore the reader, as Doug Haddix, executive director of the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and Emilia Diaz-Struck of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) spoke about during their session “Editing the data story.”

(4) Engage your audience

As a journalist, it is no longer enough to conduct an investigation, have it published and leave it there. You need to find better ways to engage your audience and share the story. 

During their joint presentation, Philip Faigle, special projects editor of Zeit Online, Susanne Reber, executive producer at E.W. Scripps’ Washington bureau and Erlend Ofte Arnsten, Finnish journalist and author, said new ways of engaging audiences are emerging quickly as technology evolves. 

For example, Nigeria’s investigative journalist, Fisayo Soyombo recently did a three-part undercover investigation on the criminal justice system in Nigeria. He spent two weeks in jail to expose corruption in the system — from the point of arrest to the point of granting  bail. When the story was published, he used social media and public events to talk about the story, drumming up interest and support for his findings. 

(5) Cultivate sources

Investigations are often built on trust. Without establishing a good relationship with your sources, you cannot succeed. During one of her sessions, NPR’s Cheryl Thompson gave tips on cultivating, and working with, sources:

  • When you are trying to get people to talk, start with those most likely to talk to you, especially those who don’t have anything to lose by talking to you. 
  • Let your sources know that you are talking to others. This invites transparency, and informs them that you are someone they can trust.
  • Remember that sources can serve purposes other than being quoted. Some people might give critical background information that can lead you to a new discovery, or your next source.

Main image CC-licensed by Unsplash via Parker Byrd.