On 29th September, Newcastle University held a one-day investigative journalism conference hosted by the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) and Newcastle University’s Civic Journalism Lab.
The event was a landmark for CIJ as it was their first conference to be held outside of London, and featured speeches and training sessions by experienced journalists.
Amelia Gentleman, instigator of investigation into the Windrush Scandal, was the conference’s keynote speaker. The acclaimed Guardian journalist, who has various accolades to her name including specialist writer of the year at the 2017 Press Awards and the Orwell Prize, was in conversation with former BBC Today reporter Zubeida Malik for half an hour before inviting delegates to pose questions.
During this she discussed her involvement in exposing the Windrush Scandal, in which the Home Office attempted to deport dozens of Commonwealth citizens from Caribbean countries who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971 and were long-term UK residents. Gentleman also advised delegates, many of whom were professional journalists or journalism students, on how to find leads for cases such as this and how to continue motivating yourself to research despite finding obstacles.
Incoming UK Investigations Editor for Buzzfeed News Alex Campbell additionally delivered a speech during which he discussed his career progression from writing for a local newspaper in Indianapolis to exposing suspicious Russian-linked deaths in the UK and the US as part of the Buzzfeed Investigates team. He also explained the mixed public reaction to Buzzfeed’s new emphasis on investigative journalism and discussed how online news providers can measure their impact.
Alongside the two speeches, which were delivered in the Boiler House, delegates were invited to participate in three training sessions delivered by experienced journalists.
Jonathon Stoneman, former BBC World Service Head of Training, delivered a session on Open Data during which he explained how data sets can be accessed and then analysed to produce news stories.
A session on Access to Tools, in which delegates learned how to access information on the internet through advanced search techniques, was delivered by Laura Garcia, Lecturer in Television and Multimedia Journalism at the University of Kent.
Freedom of Information (FOI) Act specialist and CIJ Research Fellow Sid Ryan led a class on how to utilise the FOI Act to advance research and investigations.
Discussing the success of the event, session leader Laura Garcia said, “I am incredibly passionate about technology and how we can use it to enhance our journalism.
“Instinct and due diligence will never be replaced by online tools, but we can definitely use them to dig around in more clever ways.
“I was overjoyed to have an audience mixed with students, practicing journos [journalists], other academics, and people who are just interested in how we do our work. It was an absolute pleasure and joy to teach.
“Newcastle was lovely, even if a bit too cold for my taste. I’m from Mexico, so Newcastle in September is not even remotely close to being my natural habitat and I am in awe of the locals’ ability to walk around in what I would class as summer wear. Made me feel a bit inadequate walking down the streets in my coat”.
Describing the importance of the Conference, Ian Wylie, Director of Newcastle University’s Civic Journalism Lab, said: “This event is part of our efforts to connect professional, community and student journalists and inspire and equip them for the sort of investigative journalism which is so vital for healthy local democracy in cities and regions like ours.”
The Civic Journalism Lab and its accompanying podcast was established by Newcastle University in October 2017. The Lab has hosted monthly events which include discussion sessions and workshops. More information about its work can be found by signing up to its newsletter.
By Grace Dean