Shop Notes

Takeaways from IRE

Posted: July 7, 2015 | Tags: IRE

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Icon by Sydney Ling, IRW

Reporters and editors from the Investigative Reporting Workshop were among the 1,800 attendees at this year’s Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference in Philadelphia. Earlier this month, we traveled from our home base in Washington, D.C. to learned how to better serve our community by improving our chops at finding stories, fact-checking, interviewing, source-building and data reporting. Here are some of the sessions we’re still talking about the programs: 

Python introduction

Always trying to add to our data reporting repertoire, some Workshop reporters headed to a two-hour Python introduction. Python, as a programming language, can intimidate those comfortable with powerful tools like Excel. But this session showed us that Python is easy to use and has even more use for diving into data than Excel. You can get started with Python from that session’s tipsheet here. And don’t forget: IRE members can get thousands of tipsheets and other resources at the IRE website. 

Reporting on diverse communities that aren’t your own 

Three Philly reporters hailing from academics, mainstream media and ethnic media shared how to interview and write stories about ethnic communities of which you do not belong. That’s especially useful at the Workshop, where some of our biggest stories have concerned the black middle class in Prince George’s County and immigrants to the United States locked in solitary confinement while in civil detention centers. Journalists ought to develop sources within diverse communities and partner with ethnic media sources. Panelist Sabrina Vourvoulias of AL DÍA News described their story that looked into the lives of Latino kitchen staff at Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia. That sort of narrative is hard to find and craft without talking to those outside your community.

International luncheon 

The Workshop again co-sponsored this luncheon with the Global Investigative Journalism Network, where journalists across the globe to discuss what investigations they have launched in their countries. We loved hearing about how reporters from Japan, Nigeria, Brazil and more have interrogated powerful institutions in their countries and launched investigative teams and centers. Muckrackers are invited to attend the GIJN15 conference in Norway this October; journalists from developing countries can apply for a travel grant.

From facts to data: Tips for making your stories airtight 

Nothing can kill a great investigation like shaky facts.

Investigative and data journalists advised us on how to ensure our stories are accurate, through and through. Reporters should create their own fact-checking process; it’s not enough to rely on editors and the copy desk to solidify facts.

To eliminate any notion of bias, reporters also should push themselves to ensure that sources of alternate points of view have a chance to respond. Go beyond a request for a comment. When it comes to data reporting, learn all that you can about your dataset by requesting data dictionaries and code sheets from your source, talking to the data-entry administrators and asking researchers who also have worked with the database: “What did you learn from this data?”

Keep asking yourself what’s missing from your analysis and have a second set of eyes look at your results.

And don’t miss IRE’s podcast of Seymour Hersh’s conversation with Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of the Washington Post — and now a member of the Workshop's advisory board — and James Risen’s keynote address. Until next year in New Orleans, IRE.





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