Since we took office in May, we have been able to send students to the Investigative Reports and Editor’s Conference, meet with and begin to form partnerships with SOC administrators and retain the brightest students in the SOC graduate programs to serve on the GSC board.
Students Ashley Balcerzak and Fenit Nirappil attend the Investigative Reports and Editor’s Conference. Here’s a take on their experience at the conference.
Ashley Balcerzak says, “Modern journalism is all about collaborations, partnerships, and working with other reporters both in and outside of your own newsroom. Making relationships and building bonds with other journalists that have the same goal in mind is critical, and IRE is the perfect place for these bonds to form.
The American University Graduate Student Council provided me with the chance to go to the premier gathering of journalists in the nation. I heard from award winning journalists across the country and world talk about how their stories came to fruition, and heard experiences that will make me a better reporter. Some of these stories even came from relationships made at IRE in previous years. Ken Armstrong from the Marshall Project and T. Christian Miller at ProPublica met at a past conference, and their interactions allowed them to come together on a story they were both separately pursuing to create the beautiful story, “The Unbelievable Story of Rape” the two outlets co-wrote and co-published. It was inspiring to see such collaboration, and how every journalist I met was so open to discussing their career path with me, and give me advice and help to improve.
In addition to the amazing mentorship, I learned concrete data analysis skills, reporting ideas and sourcing methods that I have been using since I returned from New Orleans. All in all, I felt like I grew as a journalist and grew my network of role models, both thanks to IRE. “
Fenit Nirappil says, “Using a handbook for scrubbing online information about yourself to find information on the subjects of investigations. A treasure trove of secrets buried in overlooked bankruptcy filings. Business plans revealed in patent applications. A thorough investigation will take you to obscure corners of bureaucracy and the internet, and the seasoned hands at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in New Orleans was there to guide us through them. I’ve spent several years doing watchdog journalism, including on the investigative track in the AU graduate program, and success comes from constantly educating yourself and learning new and creative ways to approach your investigations. Advanced data wrangling is the next frontier for me, and the conference included training on scraping data from the web even when there’s not a handy export button and how to make PDFs workable and searchable. Perhaps the best part of the conference was the kinship of being surrounded by thousands of people from across the country and world with the same curiosity and drive to expose injustice and reveal the truth. It showed with the raucous laughter as one Seattle-based journalist described his long-standing battles with a “dumpster fire” of an agency, and journalists in the audience of a packed criminal justice panel piped in with advice for a reporter stonewalled by his police agency.”