When I started out as an investigative journalist, there were few practising journalists in Kenya to learn from or manuals that I could read to sharpen my skills and prepare me for what lay ahead.
Often my colleagues and I learnt through observing the work of other journalists outside Kenya, trying out some of the techniques in their stories and hoping for the best. So, when the folks at the Thomson Foundation reached out and asked me to develop a journalism course for reporters in Rwanda, I thought to myself “What is it that I needed when I was starting out but never had access to as a course?”.
So began a lengthy process of writing and putting in order some of the skills and approaches that I use in my everyday reporting. In my experience, every important piece of investigative work largely relies on a journalist’s extensive understanding of the foundations of investigative journalism and how to practice it.
By understanding what kind of investigative story, they are looking to produce and comparing it with what they actually find, a journalist can be more focused and manage their time, energy and resources well. This is crucial, because the amount of research involved in producing one story can be so much that it can be tempting to give up or go down a rabbit hole of interesting facts that are good to know but ultimately do not contribute to the story they are looking to produce.
Preparing the course allowed me to reflect on whether I am using these techniques in my own career. It reminded me of the many times that I have stuck to the beaten path of rules, skills and methods that was laid by others who worked from first principles, and the consequences from the few times that I deviated, attracted by fancier, newer tools and tricks that I saw others using.
Often, journalists get over-awed by the attraction of high impact investigative journalism that uses emerging technology or practices but forget that the underlying power of these stories is the successful use of tried and tested practices that have built journalism for decades. Identifying the right sources for one’s story, for instance, may seem obvious, but sometimes, especially with stories that trigger emotions, we can forget that we still need to check the veracity of claims made.
I didn’t think that preparing the course would be difficult, but it turned out that writing down and sequencing my own process was much harder than I expected! I have newfound respect for curriculum developers. It was a great learning experience, one that I am very grateful to have had. I hope that through this course, young journalists who have a passion for investigative journalism find a few tips to send them on their way.
"After graduating, I expect to work on and produce my first investigative story, and its impact as well"
In the final phase of the workshop, five successful journalists will receive grants of 5million Rwandan Franc, the equivalent of £3,000 to produce investigative stories. Watch this space for more on what they uncover.