IPI-Organised Workshop Offers Caribbean Journalists Tips on Covering Corruption
Journalists Everywhere Can Constantly ‘Test the Limits’
PORT OF SPAIN, June 24, 2012 – Regional journalists on Saturday received valuable insights on how to spot and investigate possible corruption, at a one-day seminar organised by the International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the Investigative News Network, in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
The workshop preceded IPI’s June 24-26 World Congress in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
One of the trainers at the seminar, Sheila Coronel, professor of Professional Practice in Investigative Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, told the delegates that one way to spot possible malfeasance was “to look at what was to be the ultimate product, how much was to be delivered and how much was actually delivered”. She added: “The difference represents the amount of corruption.” Coronel cited as an example construction projects in which four bridges might have been contracted for but only two were built. “Half of [the money for the bridges] went as bribes,” she said.
Brant Houston, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the University of Illinois, said it was also important to measure performance against standards. “A lot of times we get into stories before being sure what the standard is.”
Lisa Gibbs, board member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, said that among the best tools for investigating corruption “are public record laws”. She said that in using documents, journalists could “look for patterns, trends,” adding: “Then take that to the people. I am more likely to get the attention of whistle-blowers if I am armed with the data.”
In response to some of the concerns expressed by workshop participants about the dangers involved in investigative reporting, David Kaplan, head of the Global Center for Investigative Journalism, said, “Start modestly. Think about stories that will not get you blacklisted.” He cited the example of journalists in China, who “are constantly testing the limits, figuring out what stories” can be pursued without attracting trouble from the Chinese authorities.
IPI Holds Pre-Congress Workshop on Covering Corruption
Trainers Underscore Value of Journalist Networks
By Jewel Fraser
At a one-day reporters workshop organised by the International Press Institute (IPI) in Trinidad on Saturday, Caribbean journalists heard from a panel of top investigative journalists how they can reduce the potentially damaging effects to themselves professionally and personally when investigating stories of corruption in their region, by making use of international networks of fellow journalists.
The trainers at the workshop were: Brant Houston , the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the University of Illinois; David Kaplan, an award-winning investigative journalist who also heads the Global Center for Investigative Journalism; Sheila Coronel, professor of Professional Practice in Investigative Journalism, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; and Lisa Gibbs, a board member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW).The workshop was organised by IPI in collaboration with the Investigative News Network. IPI is holding its 2012 World Congress in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad from June 23-26.
Houston said the fallout investigative journalists sometimes face “is one of the reasons we want networks”. He added: “All of us have given up stories to other journalists that we could not do ourselves ... We can help in backing you up by building structures, global networks.” He told the journalists in attendance that the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project comprises cross-border work on investigating corruption. “You are not alone anymore. The stories are global and your reporting should be. There are people out there willing to help.”
Ms. Gibbs said that joining networks can “take the burden off of individual journalists”. She noted that the Caribbean has close links to Florida and suggested that regional journalists make use of the Florida Sunshine law to investigate corruption in their own countries.
Emphasising why investigative journalism was a responsibility that journalists should accept, Mr. Kaplan said: “[It] is about the accountability of power. We are the people’s accountants. We are doing audits on whether that power is being exercised in a responsible way.”
Acknowledging that doing investigative journalism where large sums of money are involved is difficult, Ms. Coronel said: “The fruitful nexus for corruption is where the public and private sector meet. That is usually where corruption takes place.” She encouraged regional journalists to insist on their rights under the law, such as those relating to access to information. “If you do not demand it you will never get it,” she said.