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5 takeaways from Global Investigative Journalism Conference

More than 2,000 investigative journalists from 144 countries crowded into the exhibition and conference centre in Gothenburg, Sweden, from September 19 to 22 for the…

More than 2,000 investigative journalists from 144 countries crowded into the exhibition and conference centre in Gothenburg, Sweden, from September 19 to 22 for the biennial Global Investigative Journalism Conference (GIJC). Journalists, editors and academics — many from countries with poor records of media freedom and where the industry and journalists themselves, personally, are under different kinds of attacks or threats from repressive regimes and anti-democratic forces, mingled, shared notes and tips on how to make the world a better place through accountability journalism.  

A large contingent from Nigeria – thanks to support from the MacArthur Foundation and Nigeria Media Innovation Programme (NAMIP) – was in attendance and joined fellow journalists and academicians from the rest of the world in robust engagements, networked and conceived joint reporting projects. 

It was the 13th GIJC organised by the famous Global Investigative Journalism Network since 2001 and the largest investigative journalism conference in history. And it didn’t disappoint. There were more than 200 sessions, including panels, workshops and networking meet-ups. Artificial Intelligence and investigative journalism, investigating Climate Finance, Cross-border reporting, Sustainability, revenue and audience, tracking government contracts and spending, looming threats to democracy and how to catch up with criminals were among the many issues discussed.

There were also numerous examples of some of the best investigative reporting techniques presented by some of the finest journalists and editors. Below are my five key takeaways from the conference: 

  1. AI and Investigative Journalism: Many of us from developing countries think AI is just another word or another new thing that only concerns those in the tech industry, but in reality, it’s a serious technological advancement that should concern all, journalists included. During the conference, case studies were presented which showed how journalists can and should pursue the technology and the reporting around it. Garance Burke, who leads a team investigating the power and impacts of AI technologies for the Associated Press, said now is an exciting time for investigative journalism to take the lead in examining AI.

“The best way to go about it is to jump into it, understand it, and begin to use it as part of your work. This helps you in understanding how to cover it as a subject for investigation.’’ He added that “When covering AI, reporters should apply the same questions they would for any story: How do these things work? How well do they perform? Who’s benefiting? Who’s making money?” 

  1. Investigating Climate Financing: As the world continues to grapple with the devastating effects of climate change in the form of droughts, wildfires, record heat and deadly flooding, there is a growing urgency in investigating the causes and impacts. Attendees were taken through some key techniques on how they can hold the public and private sectors accountable. Environmental journalists — including the Guardian’s Damian Carrington and the independent investigative reporter Amy Westervelt explained that it was not enough to only investigate the causes and impacts but also how the finances are being managed. While we investigate the oil companies – big and small, it’s equally important to beam our searchlight on how both donors and developing countries are managing green finances. A lot has been committed to climate financing but there is little to show on the ground,      especially in the most affected parts of the world. Journalists need to follow the papers, track the deals, work with whistleblowers in the oil and gas sector and hold both the public and private sectors to account so that we can have a safer planet. 
  2. Sustainability, revenue and audience: One of the key issues that featured prominently at this conference was business strategy and the importance of audience. Across the world, media owners and managers are trying to devise new ways of doing things; they are bombarded with more problems that require research and critical thinking that provide answers to prevailing challenges brought by digital disruptions and unfavorable economic climes.

In his lead presentation on Business Strategy, Bilal Randeree of Media Development International Fund, one of the leading organisations supporting the growth and sustainability of independent media in the world, urged that to ensure sustainability, the media must prioritise business and listen to their audience. “We have to define and engage them because they are very crucial, they are super important”, he said. Do you have metrics for measuring your audience engagement? Does your journalism support the organisation’s mission? Are your business and editorial teams talking to each other? Who is in charge and how do they relate? Do you have a board that helps you generate money? Publishers should take a deep breath and ponder about these questions. 

  1. Why a woman win is for all: While searching through the conference website, I came across a fascinating piece penned in 2021 by four editors leading investigative organisations around the world titled “Women and Investigative Journalism: Tips on Leadership” at the 12th Global Investigative Journalism Conference (#GIJC21). The panel – Rachel Oldroyd from the UK, Marina Walker Guevara from the Pulitzer Centre in the US, Nigeria’s Motunrayo Alaka from Wole Soyinka Centre, Sherry Lee from Taiwan’s The Reporter, Rawan Damen from Jordan-based Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism – agreed that the industry has been a lonely place for the womenfolk, and investigative journalism even more so. 

They also detailed how they overcame different challenges at various stages of their career and rose to the top. They shared tips for others to follow and explained some of the steps they had taken that allowed them to advocate for themselves and others. The tips include: Seeking out other women editors; Don’t be scared of the environment; Use data to make your case and pursue equity in the newsroom; Call for help and support; Be authentic to your management style; nurture the next generation of leaders and watch for burnout – try to enjoy the job not to allow the job to enjoy you. 

  1. Partnerships and Networking: Like politicians and business leaders are busy negotiating deals and partnerships to stay on top of their game, there was a consensus that for investigative reporting and by extension, journalism itself to survive the unprecedented threats from digital disruptions, fake news and disinformation, to attacks on media and individual journalists, we must improve our way of working together. We need to collaborate more with our colleagues within and outside our borders. We have all seen the impact of cross-border partnerships in the coverage of the Panama and Paradise papers. The BBC and Buzzfeed collaboration on match-fixing in tennis, ProPublica and New York Times award-winning investigation on China’s Xinjiang province.

The idea of collaboration was also extensively discussed at the side event convened by the MacArthur Foundation with its grantees from Nigeria where I argued that for our media to remain relevant and continue to hold power to account, we must work together not only among ourselves but also involve the academic sector. We must begin to talk to each other, compare notes and find solutions to our problems. It was encouraging to see colleagues from Nigeria forming alliances and charting ways to deepen collaboration. But we need to see that being put into practice by carrying out joint investigations like that of BBC/Buzzfeed or ProPublica and New York Times. 

Away from the conference hall, the five days in Gothenburg were well-spent. There was an opportunity to visit the national stadium and watch the Swedish national women’s team play host to the reigning world champion, Spain, in a Nations League match; a tour of the museum and the central mosque among other places. 


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