The Centre for Investigative Journalism
The Centre for Investigative Journalism

Summer Conference

6–11 July 2020

#CIJSummer – Feedback

#CIJSummer Conference 2020: socially distanced, but more inclusive and with a wider reach than ever before.

At times, we missed the networking and the hustle and bustle of having nearly 300 people in one space, but our first ever online conference allowed us to reach new audiences all over the world.

Nearly 500 people tuned in to attend #CIJSummer talks and online courses. Around half of the 2020 attendees had never before attended #CIJSummer Conference. For good reasons: they either lived too far away, the conference was taking place at the wrong time or they simply couldn’t afford it. It also allowed us to bring in a wider range of speakers and perspectives than we could have with our usual physical conference spanning several continents without prohibitively expensive airfares.

This year we made a conscious decision to make all the #CIJSummer talks free, with paid-for courses making up the meat in the conference sandwich.

We were delighted that all these courses sold out within days, which showed the demand for quality, participatory investigative journalism training around the world. A lot of people came from many time zones away to attend and learn new skills to help them in their work. The week after Summer Conference is usually a chance to rest, but we felt we needed to provide two further opportunities to access the training for those who missed out on the first bookings. These too sold out in record time.

This incredible demand covered some of the costs of organising seven keynote talks and allowed us to open up access free of charge for everyone to watch.

“I loved the free talks because I was amazed at how much I learned and it never cost a thing.”

The Coronavirus pandemic didn’t just change the format of the conference, but the content too. Like most sectors, this crisis has left its mark on journalism, so we held several discussions about Covid-19 and how investigative journalism skills help reporters do their job, even under the most trying of circumstances.

Data journalists became some of the most popular people in the business. All of us have been watching numbers, graphs and projections like never before. From the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths to the economic indicators and predictions. Watch our Covid-19: a Data Story. UK and Sweden discussion here.

Another area of journalism which has seen soaring demand recently is health and science reporting. “It is undoubtedly the story of our lifetime” said Clare Wilson, medical reporter at New Scientist and the chair of our Following the Science: Health and Science Reporting From Inside a Crisis talk.

“I would say Following the Science was the more engaging [talk]. I really enjoyed it. But I also [learned a lot] from Covid-19: a Data Story and from Katherine Eban. I found a lot to be grateful for […] – very generous share of experiences and very useful advice.”

An award winning investigative journalist and author Katherine Eban, who specialises in public health and pharmaceuticals, shared useful tips on how to work with sources: “Research people’s background. I show that I do my homework, that I am trustworthy. Who is a source going to talk to: someone who’s dashed a quick note or someone who is serious?”

Every year, since the death of our founding director Gavin MacFadyen, we honour him by inviting some of the best investigative journalists from around the world to deliver the annual Gavin MacFadyen memorial lecture.

This year – as always – Gavin would’ve been proud to welcome Can Dündar, a distinguished Turkish journalist with over 40 years of experience of writing, editing and making investigative documentaries. He spoke about continuing to hold the powerful to account when not only your journalism, but your freedom and even your life are under threat: “If you put a journalist in jail, it’s a message to all others. [This is what happens] if you write things against the government.”

We were equally delighted to welcome back our alumna Nadine White. Her first ever investigation netted her and her co-author Emma Youle a nomination for the 2020 Paul Foot Award. Both spoke about the investigation into SPAC Nation Church and the impact their story had, while also discussing the importance of diversity in the media.

A great example of the flexibility an online conference allowed was the opportunity to welcome Annika Smethurst at #CIJSummer to share her experience of having her home raided by the Australian police, looking for information and materials she used to write a story about government plans to increase surveillance of Australian people.

Dealing with the police is something some of our panellists on the US Protests and the Role of the Media discussion knew only too well. Andrea May Sahouri was pepper sprayed and arrested by the police while covering the protests in Iowa, while photojournalist Montinique Monroe from Texas explained how being a black journalist meant she had to take extra care to make sure the police knew she was press and didn’t take her equipment for guns. Craig Silverman – an international verification expert, gave a short masterclass on how to spot fakes and hoaxes.

And here is what you thought of it all:

“It is an excellent programme that is very educative, interesting, useful and entertaining.”

“Given the current crises, it was good to see those journalists’ sense of purpose. It made the future look more hopeful.”

So despite the limitations of the Zoom squares format and occasional problems with mics and feedback:

“The topics were timely and massively important. It was a pleasure listening to most of the speakers. I think it’s great to be online as it may attract people who couldn’t attend otherwise and journalists from other countries can come up with interesting questions and raise good points. Thanks for this.”

You can watch all free talks on our YouTube channel.

We have also scheduled more online training courses. See Scheduled Training.