Shop Notes

2015 GIJC: A look back with an eye to the future

Posted: Oct. 12, 2015 | Tags: journalism

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The Ninth Global Investigative Journalism Conference, which brought together about 900 journalists from more than 120 countries, ended this weekend. While the gathering had the largest representation by countries, its importance will be measured by what happens afterward.

Here are a few observations from my time at the conference in Lillehammer, Norway:

• It opened with a declaration regarding press freedom that was approved by near unanimous acclamation. It calls for governments and other authorities around the world to protect journalists doing their work. Look at the numbers of journalists recently killed or jailed for simply reporting the news. Investigative and other types of reporting have clearly become a dangerous profession in many parts of the world.

• The conference had panel presentations and discussions on topics you might expect, from cross-border investigations to networking to academic discussions. But what stood out for me in the program was the number of hands-on data journalism training opportunities offered by many of the best trainers around.

While data journalism has become a hot specialty and encompasses many journalistic purposes not connected to investigative reporting, this conference reaffirmed the historic connection between the two. It is no coincidence that the origins of data journalism lie in investigative reporters learning to do data analysis on large government databases. They were just extending their ability to comb government documents for investigative evidence and proof in their pursuit of exposing corruption, fraud, malfeasance and other necessary government watchdogging.

It was good to see that investigative reporters from a myriad of countries and cultures continue to learn data skills that they can practice to find similar evidence of corruption and fraud when they return to their work.

• Investigative Reporting Workshop alum Jim Steele remains a leading light for teaching others the necessary skills of mining documents and data for that evidence. His keynote session was well-attended, and Jim again showed why he and his longtime reporting partner Don Barlett remain one of the top investigative duos of all time. I’ve seen Jim speak many times at conferences through the years. I always learn something new.

• The member organizations of the Global Investigative Network, of which IRW is one, voted to bring the 10th conference to Johannesburg, South Africa in 2017. This will mark only the second time the conference is on a continent below the Equator and the first time to Africa.

Finally, a conference of journalists is like most conferences: panels to attend, networking with like-minded colleagues and plain fun reconnecting with old friends. But the real value is found in watching what those who attended do with their newfound ideas and skills. For if they can now produce investigations they otherwise would never have seen the light, the citizens of their respective counties will be better served. And at the risk of sounding naive, maybe, just maybe, a similar declaration for the safety of journalist won’t be necessary when the Global Investigative Journalism Network gathers in Johannesburg.

This update clarifies the size of the conference, which had the largest representation by country. 

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