It’s not hard to get bummed at the state of journalism these days, for a lot of reasons.
But I got a healing dose of encouragement last week, watching a small army of journalists — young and old, print, web and broadcast — coming together to share ideas and talk about finding, reporting, and telling important stories.
Philadelphia hosted the annual conference of IRE, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and one thing I love about the event is seeing so many young reporters, many on their first job or just out of school, listening to and speaking firsthand with some of the giants of American journalism.
You see, the journalists who lead workshops at IRE aren’t people you see every other night on cable TV. While talking heads are always hustling to find their next gig to promote themselves, real journalists are out there working – interviewing sources, poring over documents, getting stories.
And when they come to IRE to share their craft, you wouldn’t recognize most of them without their name badges. They’re on TV once in a blue moon, usually when they’ve published an investigation and somebody wants to ask about it. Then they’re back to work.
At a Saturday session on investigating lobbyists, I and 150 other journalists listened to tips from Sandra Fish, who covers state government in New Mexico; James Grimaldi of the Wall Street Journal; and Eric Lipton of the New York Times.
Lipton talked about how he developed an amazing series he ran last fall on state attorneys general getting millions in campaign contributions and intense lobbying from corporate interests.He was open and helpful to anybody who wanted to talk, and a couple of hours later, I saw him in a hands-on workshop I attended on computer-assisted reporting.
Lipton was just another journalist with a conference badge around his neck, sitting at a computer and sharpening his skills with everybody else.
Like I said, while the pretty boys scramble for TV time, real journalists are out there doing the work.
I was also pleased to see so many radio reporters there, finding ways to dig deeply and tell stories with audio. Many of my WHYY colleagues participated in a workshop sponsored by Reveal, a joint project of the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Public Radio Exchange. You can hear some of the great reporting Reveal generates on WHYY or online here.
More than ever
Seventeen-hundred journalists registered and paid to attend the conference, making it the largest IRE gathering ever.
That’s interesting, since we all know how many big media organizations have downsized over the last 20 years. Maybe there’s a connection there.
When I got into the business, more young journalists joined big newsrooms where they could learn the trade from experienced hands. In the new media world, far more aspiring reporters have to work in small shops or on their own, and IRE is an important source of advice, mentoring, and inspiration.
I know I still need that even though I’ve been at this for a while.
James Risen, the New York Times reporter the Justice Department tried for the longest time to put in jail for refusing to reveal a source, addressed the awards luncheon on Saturday. When he got up and looked out at the sea of faces staring at him, he said he didn’t know there were that many investigative reporters in the country.
I know what he meant. As much information and encouragement as I got from the sessions I attended, I was just as inspired to see so many young reporters there, putting in long days building skills to do better, deeper stories.
Here’s to feeling less bummed about American journalism.