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By Itunu Ajayi
27 June 2016   |   1:42 am
Over 1,800 journalists from around the world converged in New Orleans between June 16th and 19th for the 2016 Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference to learn new ways of doing investigative reporting.


Investigative journalism has always been unattractive to practitioners. Aside the risks associated with it, it is also considered as a job with little reward. So, it takes passion and deep public interest for any journalist to take that route. Itunu Ajayi who attended this year’s conference organized by Investigative Reporters and Editor (IRE) in New Orleans, USA reports on how investigative journalists could hone their skills and make a decent living.

Over 1,800 journalists from around the world converged in New Orleans between June 16th and 19th for the 2016 Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference to learn new ways of doing investigative reporting. IRE is a world body that over the years promotes the practice of investigative journalism. With over 5,000 memberships across the globe, the association organises conferences and trainings annually to keep these specialist journalists abreast of the new developments, techniques, challenges and risks associated with the job.

Between 9am and 6:30 pm each day, a crop of speakers and trainers taught the rudiment of the profession focusing on different areas of journalism practice.
The conference discussed hard truth and realities in the media world. The world has gone digital and newsrooms are becoming virtual and journalists need to be prepared to move with the tide. Media practitioners were encouraged to be ready to work in city A for media houses located in cities B, C, D and so on.

Bill Adair of the Duke University explained how fact-checkers all over the world have replaced interns with robots that are programmed to check facts with the speed of light and with more accurate results and biggest potentials of being able to watch election speeches when staffs are not available.

He said there are also auto transcribers and claim busters that are able to make journalism more accurate adding that such robots are also able to assess the impact of rumour on the masses.

Alexios Mantzarlis of the International Fact Checking Network gave tips on how investigative journalists can protect themselves when covering breaking news or investigating a story. He outlined steps to be taken as protecting and bullet proofing the newsroom. He said mapping risk should be done to know the area of work, risk assessment of oneself using the ‘Salama’, bullet proofing the story itself by verifying sources and generally doing all that is needful to keep safe and knowing when to pull out and lie low.

His words, “It is not as if we can be 100 percent risk free but we are sure to attain a level of safety when we use the protocols required.”He enjoined journalists to learn encryption in other to protect self and sources. In his submission on digital security for the real world, Mike Tigas encouraged journalists to know the basic rules of engagement to protect their data and themselves above all other considerations. He said deleted files on computers are not totally deleted.

He said to overcome these challenges and keep data safe, investigative journalists need to know how to encrypt data so as to prevent google used by most journalists from knowing the content of such data. He also listed services that has metadata and may be have access to messages thereby exposing stories in progress. Tigas advised journalists to desist from using such services.

In her session on finding stuff online, Jaimi Dowdel explained that though journalists find google a day to day search engine to retrieve information, she said the service is not the most fantastic of available search engines on the internet. With a list of about twelve other search engines, Dowdel said investigative journalists would be on top of their games and be in control of their investigations if they can utilise the available engines most of which are free.

The immediate Executive Director of IRE, Mark Horvit said journalists around the world usually have the erroneous impression about access to information in the US. He said America is just like any other country where government officials are usually reluctant to give out information adding that the US is only fair a bit due to its length of democratic governance and if the government of America is given a choice, it would not divulge information to journalists.

Horvit however advised participants not to be deterred by attitude of government to information giving. He said the US Freedom of Information (FOI) Acts can be used by journalists in other countries to get information on their own country. He said they should research more on the information they need before approaching government officials for them.

He said the US FOIA mandated all federal government dealings with other countries to be published online and journalists can leverage on this and get information on some of the search engines he highlighted.

Participants were also taught how to turn their investigations into books, plays and movies. Mitchelle Thompson, Martins Baron and Nancy Stancill took turn to educate journalists that their investigations do not necessarily have to end on pages of newspapers or aired on the broadcast media alone. They said with artistic mind, any investigative journalist has the capacity to turn an investigation he/she had done into book, play or movies. Jennifer Welch specifically said people are more impacted by what they watch in plays more than what they read and they react more to plays.

On uncovering stories on the business beat, Pat Beal, Dakin Campbell and Michael all said stories worthy of investigations on the business beat are usually covered with a smoke screen which usually portrays perpetrators as philanthropies with interest of the masses at heart. They said closer investigations usually reveal exploitations and fraud in millions of dollars adding that if journalists are not careful, all as good citizens will see these perpetrators.

Katherine Reed in her session on covering traumatic events said journalists must be careful not to assume the role of psychologists to victims and that talking with them alone may not be therapeutic enough. She said victims are most times disappointed when nothing positive happens as a form of help from the government and this may make them be resentful towards journalists. She said the best approach is to let them know from the onset that government may not take immediate action but that their stories may help someone somewhere or make someone who is not even in government begin to think on how to help them.

Reed also warned journalists of getting into sympathetic mood towards victims as most of them are desperate to paint a near death picture in other to elicit pity. She said this does not imply doubt, but the approach is just to be careful by listening and clarifying claims of victims. She advised journalists not to treat trauma victims as one off story sources rather try and check on them especially on the anniversaries of their loss so that victims will not feel used and discarded.

Her words, ‘’Most journalists don’t ask about victims again after the news is broken. We always want to avoid them; there is no need to avoid victims because you are not responsible for their loss in the first place. We understand that our schedules can be crazy, but make out time to check on them on their anniversaries, they may not even want to talk and that alone is another story. Either way, you have a story’’.

Steven Renderos enjoined journalists to be aware of the reality that the social media has come to stay and that the digital platform creates the kind of opportunities mainstream media do not provide and that readers can most times bypass conventional media. He said with the knowledge that group comprising journalists from different parts of the globe can work on a story by building surveillance on the platform, investigative journalists should keep themselves abreast of different platforms that comes up each time and make their media alliance more productive and fast.