Apart from the global funding challenges confronting newsrooms, there are existential threats of criminal corporate hackers, censorships by authoritarian governments, and violent physical attacks and death threats against journalists by individuals and institutions.
There are also cases of disruptions caused by artificial intelligence (AI), and the new challenges posed by global environmental and health issues such as witnessed with the coronavirus pandemic that ravaged the world.
But the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), the world’s largest consortium of investigative journalism nonprofits is rising to the challenge, insisting that the death of investigative journalism automatically signals the end of democracy.
Due to the then-novel COVID-19 pandemic that shook the world in 2020, the biennial conference of global investigative journalists championed by GIJN went completely virtual in 2021. Though it recorded huge success with more than 1,600 participants from 144 countries, the boundaries imposed by the shutdown announced by global leaders limited the success stories.
It was, therefore, a big reunion for more than 2,100 investigative journalists, and media and journalism scholars from more than 130 countries who gathered physically in Gothenburg, a Swedish city, between 19 and 22 September to break many barriers.
With more than 200 panel sessions on various topical issues and journalism interests such as publishing techniques, investigative tools, marketing and distribution, emerging markets, and funding models, among others, attendees shuttled between classes for about 72 hours at the Svenska Mässan Conference Centre in the Gothenburg city centre, in search of new knowledge for renewed actions.
Charging against digital threat
Though select participants had taken part in pre-conference events on 19 September, the main event kicked off on Wednesday, 20 September, with powerful messages from the conveners, including the outgoing GIJN Executive Director, David Kaplan.
Mr Kaplan’s emotional messages had dwelt on the foundation of the global network that started with about 35 member nonprofits in 2003, but which has now grown to a large consortium of about 240 investigative journalism institutions across 90 countries as of 2022.
Mr Kaplan welcomed the keynote speaker of the conference, Ron Deibert, the founder and director of the University of Toronto-based The Citizen Lab – an interdisciplinary laboratory founded in 2001 focusing on digital security and human rights.
Mr Deibert, a professor, described what the organisation does simply as countering intelligence for civil societies and particularly media.
While speaking on the theme: “Watchdog Journalism in the Age of Digital Subversion,” Mr Deibert said his organisation simply “watches the watchers.”
In his presentation, the director displayed to the audience with copious examples of how hired corporate hackers monitor the activities of investigators, threatening their safety and that of their families and associates.
“The digital ecosystem is an enabling ground for spying and intrusion, targeting the security of investigators and rights activists,” Mr Deibert said.
He, however, did not just speak about the danger without solutions. He listed some recommendations, which he noted could help to mitigate the danger posed by the corporate hackers.
He said the world needs stronger countermeasures, including more legal accountability, repair of the digital ecosystem, and improved oversight.
During the panel discussion, investigative journalists who have been victims of spyware attacks, including Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani and editor-in-chief of Toplum TV, narrated their ugly experiences.
From Nigeria to the world
The story of the challenges posed by the visa types and accompanying restrictions granted to attendees of the conference from Nigeria may have been told and retold. But as much as the inconveniences caused may have hindered the full participation of many Nigerians, their contributions to knowledge shared at the conference were huge.
From PREMIUM TIMES’ Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, to the newspaper’s Managing Editor, Idris Akinbajo; Dataphyte’s Director of Programmes, Adenike Aloba, and Blessing Oladunjoye of BoNews, among others, lessons from Nigerian newsrooms and investigative tips were shared on the global stage.
While Mr Mojeed was part of the panel that revealed techniques to unmasking illicit financial flows, Mr Akinbajo shared his newspaper’s experience on sustainability and efforts toward addressing the biting funding challenges.
In his presentation, Mr Akinbajo said PREMIUM TIMES was clear about what challenges the reliance on the advertising industry could pose for funding the company based on the accountability journalism the platform pursues. He said PREMIUM TIMES utilizes a mixed funding model to ensure its sustainability.
Beyond classroom sessions
Many attendees at the conference believe that GIJC is far beyond the tips shared in the classrooms and panel sessions, even as they hailed the collaborative opportunities and reunion presented by the in-person gathering.
Montaser Marai of Aljazeera Media Institute, Taiwo Adebulu of TheCable Newspaper, and Esther Alaribe of Women Radio 91.7FM said the networking opportunity presented by the conference to the participants could not be quantified.
“There is no doubt that the class sessions and discussions are important, but what can be bigger than the opportunity to connect or reconnect with fellows from all over the world?” Mr Adebulu said.
Change of batton
After more than a decade in the saddle championing the coordination of activities around investigative jouranlism across 24 countries where the organisation’s staff are scattered, and leading innovative solutions to media challenges globally, David Kaplan formally handed over the leadership of GIJN to another respected investigative journalist- Emilia Diaz-Struck.
PREMIUM TIMES had earlier in June reported the announcement of Ms Diaz-Struck as the new helmswoman for the organisation, and that the proper handover would take place in Gothenburg.
Described by Mr Kaplan as “a consummate reporting pro, a data journalism pioneer, an educator, and an inspiring leader,” Ms Diaz-Struck thanked the leadership of GIJN for finding her worthy of being able to lead the global organisation.
The 2025 GIJC may be the first to be organised by the organisation under the leadership of Ms Diaz-Struck.
Ahead of next GIJC
As GIJN prepares to host the next conference, journalists and participants in particular from various countries have suggested ways to address a few of the imperfections identified during the 2023 edition.
While Ruona Mayer, a popular Nigerian investigative journalist, suggested via a long thread on X (formerly Twitter) how GIJN could address the visa problems encountered by Nigerians in subsequent editions, other attendees also advised against serving cold meals as experienced in Gothenburg.
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