I was very lucky to have the opportunity to go to the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference in Philadelphia in June.
It was a four-day conference with various workshops focussing on different skills or ideas. Some were based on particular investigation themes – like illegal housing for students. This ended up being very useful because I’ve just done a piece on that. Others were about building certain skills.
Of about 2000 journalists attended the conference. I was the only person from Australia so it set a very interesting stage for me in learning how they do things differently in the United States.
The thing that stood out to me more than anything else was the attitude of their reporters. Their approach is: How can we make this story bigger and better? What other questions can we ask? How can we communicate this more strongly?
Another thing which really broadens the scope for investigations in the States is the ability to obtain freedom of information documents such as criminal histories and firearms licenses. They are not about protecting public bodies. There is an attitude that journalists have a right to know as opposed to journalists having to prove they have a right to know.
The conference was such an eye opener. Every single panel was focused on investigative reporting, not daily news. It made me realise more fully the scope there is for investigating – even if I do spend most of my time chasing daily news – and looking at what happens around you and taking it further.
One thing that amazed me is the commitment the US networks have to investigative journalism. NBC San Francisco, for example, has 12 reporters alone purely on investigate pieces: holding people accountable, sifting through documents, exhausting contacts.
My thanks to Jo Nichols and the Wilnic Family Trust for sponsoring my trip to the States.
I am so grateful and so inspired. It’s so fitting given all the outstanding work Jo’s late husband David Wilson did as an investigative journalist at The Age. David not only broke news but exposed so much.
Alexis Daish is a reporter with Nine News in Melbourne.