Board of Directors:
Board of Directors:
IRE is a lifeline for cub reporters in severely cut-back local newsrooms. It gave me a treasure trove of tip sheets to guide me when no one in my first newsroom had time to do so. IRE introduced me to experienced journalists who helped me learn new skills. Throughout the years I’ve changed beats, newsrooms, cities, but each June I’m still in a Marriott somewhere electrified by the work all of you do, learning new ways to do the best job there is.
I’m running for the board because I believe IRE can be even better. As a young woman in a local newsroom, I have an important perspective to offer. If IRE is serious about growth and helping students find their place in the profession, it is essential to have people on the board who’ve come up in the environment they face.
Women have historically been underrepresented in the investigative community. I’ve already worked to put my vision in action to benefit IRE members. I ran into one issue my first year that IRE didn’t prepare me for: What do you do when a source makes a move on you? So, last year I pitched and moderated a panel that showcased female scoop artists and discussed harassment women face on the job.
IRE has made strides to address the glaring problem that membership and panels don’t reflect the communities we cover. IRE must keep the mission to change that a priority and tell members about the results of its efforts.
IRE must also stay accessible. IRE is a bargain compared to other conferences, but for many in cash-strapped newsrooms that hire their interns on the cheap and won’t give raises — a bargain is still a burden. Because hotels are expected to increase the organization’s costs, it’s crucial IRE continue to fundraise to avoid having to raise registration again. This ensures the conference stays affordable and trainings all over the country stay funded.
There isn’t a more exciting time to be a journalist or a more exciting time to be involved with IRE. The organization should maintain a strong focus on providing practical solutions to local reporters.
Every day I read the front pages of papers in 11 states and keep my eyes peeled for local stations’ exposés as part of a team of five journalists who put together Local Matters, a weekly newsletter of the nation’s best local journalism. At outlets big and small, journalists are telling stories that change policies, oust crooked officials and right wrongs. Often there is so much good work we can’t include it all.
I have ideas about what I want to see in that future — chiefly a growing membership that’s more diverse — but I’m approaching this the same way I do my work: I’ve read the meeting minutes, I’ve looked at the budget and now I want to listen to as many perspectives as possible. I’d be honored to have your vote.
Ziva Branstetter, The Washington Post: I enthusiastically endorse Bethany Barnes for IRE’s board. Bethany is a fierce advocate for transparency and has a record of producing groundbreaking investigations outside of major media organizations. A collaborative leader who takes initiative, Barnes helps put together a weekly newsletter highlighting the best in local journalism. She’s worked for regional newspapers in Nevada, Oregon and Florida, giving her an understanding of issues faced by journalists across the country.
Matt Apuzzo, The New York Times: Bethany Barnes would make a fantastic IRE board member. Her work uncovering government wrongdoing speaks for itself. But Bethany is a great candidate because she is a smart, patient listener and a supporter of IRE’s ideals. She knows first-hand the challenges reporters face in small and medium-sized newsrooms as they scramble to find time for source meetings and money for projects. She will be a valuable voice on the board.
First, I want to thank you for reading the candidates’ statements. Selecting the right leadership to help this incredible organization thrive and grow is of critical importance. To do that, I believe we must expand our vision beyond its current scope.
After 20+ years of reporting, I still find every IRE conference inspiring and look forward to the renewal of spirit I get from seeing your impressive work. I’ve built life-long friendships here and developed my skills in a way I could never have imagined at the start of my career.
I was in my 4th job when I attended my first IRE conference in 2008. It was life changing. I can only imagine how much more beneficial the resources and training would have been had I found IRE years earlier.
I believe IRE can and should play a greater role in developing the next generation of investigative reporters. If elected, I would like to develop an extensive student outreach program to attract watchdogs before their careers even start. Investigative work is needed in smaller cities where young journalists traditionally begin. Student engagement can also help increase the diversity our field so desperately needs.
On a personal note, I have a sincere passion for mentoring younger journalists. I selected and trained an investigative intern every semester for nearly 10 years. Many now work as journalists; several are attending this conference. I also worked closely with Georgia News Lab, a collaborative investigative reporting initiative. Nothing beats the satisfaction of developing that investigative spark in a young mind. It’s the first step toward a meaningful career.
One year, as I was preparing for an IRE conference panel, a boss warned me not to give away too many of my secrets. I responded, “Where do you think I learned those secrets?” In a historically competitive industry, it’s difficult to change our mindset to share information, data, even stories. I’ve found there is strength in sharing knowledge.
I have worked in a collaborative environment with print and data journalists and produced some of my best work. I’ve written newspaper articles for broadcast investigations, TV packages from sound “print” reporters gathered, and numerous stories side by side. We all grew in ways that will impact the rest of our careers. In my current role, I advocated hiring a “print” reporter as our new investigative producer.
If elected, I hope to blur the traditional divide between print and broadcast that’s existed within IRE for years, and foster increased collaboration across every platform. I fully support the creation of a crossover track geared toward multi-platform, in-depth reporting on a variety of subjects. Our world is changing- and I envision an IRE that fully embraces the digital future we’re all facing.
In this ever-increasing era of attacks on journalists, cries of “fake news” and efforts to decrease transparency, I believe IRE is more important than ever. I know our future is bright and hope you will grant me the opportunity to give back to this organization I treasure.
Ashley Graham, WLNS-TV: I got to know Jodie in 2016 as a college senior, when she opened my eyes to investigative journalism as my Georgia News Lab mentor. As a first-year reporter and IRE attendee this year, I believe helping students build a skill set for investigative work early on is crucial. I’m confident in Jodie’s ability to reach those students and guide them, just as she did for me.
Shawn McIntosh, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: As a former IRE officer, I’m pleased to nominate Jodie Fleischer for the IRE Board. Jodie collaborated with our team at The AJC, partnering on some of our most important work. Jodie understands investigative reporting across platforms, and has the background to foster greater collaboration opportunities for IRE members. She also has valuable traits that will serve the board – a terrific work ethic, creative thinking and passion for IRE’s mission.
I attended my first IRE Conference in 1994 as a young intern at a local TV station and have been a loyal and active cheerleader for our organization ever since. I hope you’ll consider giving me your vote to join IRE’s board this year.
I currently oversee long and short-term investigative projects at ABC News and guide a talented and diverse team comprised of both new and veteran journalists who contribute to our national network platforms.
I’m an active member of IRE and for the past decade, have spoken on and helped organize conference panels, participated in award screening and local workshops and have generally pitched in wherever and whenever needed. In my experiences with IRE, I’ve taken interest in a few areas that I believe can use further enrichment:
• Fostering Collaborations – When I joined IRE decades ago, an “us and them” mentality was pervasive across platforms. We’ve come a long way since then – and each year we see more collaborations across platforms – but we can always do more. I have not only worked closely with our affiliate stations, but with organizations such as CIR/Reveal in an effort to combine forces to achieve the most powerful reporting. I would like to foster that spirit by continuing to bring journalists together for local workshops and other learning opportunities, as well as encouraging local “meet-ups” and brainstorm sessions.
• Recruitment & Mentorship – One of the most rewarding things I’ve done at IRE is mentor young journalists and I would like to develop better communication channels for newer members to tap the expertise of established members. In addition, we need to recruit young journalists for membership – especially female journalists and journalists of color – and create even more opportunities for them to network with one another and have continued voices in our organization.
• Fundraising – For what IRE gives back to its members, what we ask for in return in fees and registration is, frankly, a bargain. Knowing how difficult it can be to secure sponsorship, I would like to explore ways to incentivize newsrooms to give to IRE which, in turn, would keep those fees and registration low for members.
These are just a few areas of interest to me – but as a board member, I would be motivated by and tasked with listening to fellow members to determine what more we can do to continually move our organization forward. You would have my ear and my attention.
I believe my news management skills, coupled with my experience in bringing journalists together across platforms would be a good addition to the IRE board. First and foremost, I have been as committed to IRE as I have been to investigative reporting and would bring the same passion to my position on the board that I bring to the job I do each day. I would be grateful for your consideration and vote.
Sarah Cohen, ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism: I’m happy to nominate Cindy Galli, who oversees investigations for ABC News, to the IRE board. Cindy has been an active and supportive member of IRE for most of her career and has eagerly served on some of IRE’s most demanding committees. Cindy has the management experience, cross-platform outlook and commitment to diversity that will be an asset to IRE’s members and an important addition to its board.
Erica Byfield, WNBC: It is my immense pleasure to recommend Cindy Galli be elected as a IRE board member. She is a dynamic leader with unmatched management skills and a true passion for recruiting and supporting women in the investigative field. I can say from personal experience Cindy is a problem solver and visionary. She gets it, follows through and knows how to get others just as excited. Cindy is what IRE needs.
My name is Rachel Polansky. I am a 3x Murrow award-winning, Emmy-nominated investigative reporter at NBC2 in Fort Myers, Fl.
I am applying for the IRE Board of Directors. I do not have decades of experience, but I do have courage and a desire to learn.
I’ve often been described as “a dog with a bone” when it comes to my investigative reporting. Once I start reporting on an issue that my viewers care about, I don’t stop. In 2019, two years after I began reporting on contractor fraud in Southwest Florida, a State Representative filed legislation targeting contractors who take money from customers and don’t do the work. He talked exclusively with us about his new legislation and credited our stories for bringing these issues to his attention.
In 2017, I uncovered a case of child marriage in Southwest Florida. After I reported about a young girl, who was being forced to marry an adult man, a Fort Myers senator filed legislation to change the legal age of marriage to 18. In 2018, the governor signed that legislation.
I went to my first IRE Conference in Phoenix in 2017. I thought I would learn a thing or two. I never thought a workshop could change my life, but it did. I met incredible journalists, I learned tools that have made me a better journalist, and the cherry on top… I got a bunch of story ideas! I also took part in the mentor/mentee program. I was matched with the incredible Nicole Vap, and she still mentors me today. I went to my second IRE Conference in Orlando in 2018, and I guess you could say I was hooked. I couldn’t even wait one year for IRE Houston — I made a trip to Philadelphia last month, to attend a one-day IRE workshop.
I also serve on the board for the Florida Associated Press Broadcasters. In my two years on the board, I’ve focused on boosting our social media presence and getting Florida college students more involved. I did this by visiting local schools and talking with journalism students. Last year our college scholarship program had two applicants. This year, we had ten! At a time when many are calling us “fake news,” I make it my mission to maintain honesty, integrity and ethics in all of my reporting. I made this ‘Get To Know Your Board Member’ video a few months ago, and I think it sums me up pretty well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pQC_IMTQiw
For a look at my reporting, visit my website: www.rachelpolansky.com.
Feel free to email or call me with any questions: 845 641 3265.
Thank you for your consideration,
A.J. Lagoe, KARE 11 Minneapolis/St. Paul: Rachel is a passionate and talented investigative journalist who is dedicated to her craft and would make a fabulous ambassador for IRE.
Nicole Vap, KUSA/9News Denver: It is my pleasure to nominate Rachel Polansky for the Board of Directors of IRE. Rachel is an enthusiastic IRE member with a bright future in our organization. I met Rachel a few years ago at the IRE mentoring breakfast as my men-tee! Rachel’s journalistic skills and her ability to bring people together make her a perfect candidate to become an important voice for a new generation of IRE members.
My name is Steven Rich and I am proud to be running for a third term on the Board of Directors for IRE. I am proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in my first two terms and am excited at the prospect of continuing the work over the next two years. IRE has given me so much and I only hope to pay it forward as much as possible.
Much of my worldview is shaped by my time as a student at Virginia Tech. While many schools have throwaway mottos that students never remember and that are nothing more than marketing schemes, the home of the Hokies is different. The school’s motto is “Ut Prosim,” which translates to “that I may serve,” and I try to embody it every day; it’s why I ran for the board in the first place.
In my time on the board, I have been a voice for members in every way that I could. I have made a point of engaging with members throughout the year in an effort to make IRE the best it could be. In addition, I have strived to ensure that IRE is an organization that is prepared to move into the future stronger than ever.
Over the course of the last year, I spoke with dozens of members of the organization in an effort to strengthen the Code of Conduct the organization uses at annual conferences and other IRE events. I spoke with other journalism organizations who had codes of conduct and drafted a proposal to better protect members from harassment and discrimination. In January, the board voted unanimously to improve our Code of Conduct. While the code should continue to evolve and improve into the future, the organization has positioned itself to better protect its members.
My time on the board has been marked by stints on nearly every committee, including leading the effort on NICAR in the conference committee as the annual event has grown larger than ever. I love working with others. The influx of new board members each year always presents a great opportunity to pass on knowledge and ensure the organization will continue to grow in positive ways.
I believe that my time on the board has been in the spirit of Ut Prosim; I also believe I have more to give. Should I be reelected, I intend to spend the next two years working to keep IRE as the premier place to get training in investigative reporting, and ensuring that our training reaches everyone who wants or needs it. I truly cannot describe how much this organization means to me. I have an IRE and NICAR tattoo, but my commitment goes so much deeper than that.
It has been my complete honor to serve you. I would love the opportunity to do it again and hope that I’ve earned your vote.
Mike Tigas, ProPublica: Steven Rich is an integral part of our community, going far beyond sharing skills. I’ve known him as a supportive peer and mentor, empathetic to the struggles we face as journalists — and as humans — in this challenging climate. He’s fiercely dedicated to this community (see also: his IRE/NICAR tattoo) and embodies the collaborative spirit of IRE. I’m honored to nominate Steven Rich for re-election to the IRE Board.
Kimbriell Kelly, The Washington Post: Steven Rich should be re-elected to the IRE board because he is leader, an ally and an outspoken supporter of data lovers. To top that off, he’s got a cool IRE tattoo (who does that?) and has a proven track record for advocating for diversity in newsrooms. Steven’s contributions have continued to strengthen IRE, and newsrooms, and it is because of this that he should be re-elected.
Brian M. Rosenthal
I’ll never forget my first IRE conference. I was a 23-year-old with a temporary job at The Seattle Times, and I only got to go because Ken Armstrong and Michael Berens won a Pulitzer, and decided to use the prize money on a few lucky reporters. Suddenly, I was surrounded by journalism celebrities – and countless peers and mentors full of wisdom and passion.
I was hooked.
IRE has given me so much in the nearly a decade since then. It taught me how to file FOIAs and make Pivot Tables. It showed me the best journalists are often the most generous. It introduced me to some of my closest friends.
Without IRE, I don’t think I would have gotten hired full time in Seattle, worked on a team that won a Pulitzer, moved to Texas, became a finalist for another Pulitzer and landed at The New York Times.
Now, in the spirit of Ken and Michael, I want to give back.
In running for the board, I hope to help IRE expand its programming and its reach to ensure it changes many more lives in the future.
I want to expand IRE by assuring that its conferences are affordable to all in our industry. I know what it’s like to pay your own way when you’re pinching pennies. We can work to keep costs low and provide more scholarships to attendees. I have experience in fundraising (including as an elected member of a Society of Professional Journalists regional board), and I plan to put it to use.
I want to expand IRE by encouraging more events outside of the conferences. As a former watchdog workshop student and a regular attendee at New York City’s local meetup, I have seen how meaningful it is to connect more than once or twice a year. We can host events in more cities and engage with members more often, including by starting a monthly award that honors local journalism as it happens.
I want to expand IRE by making it a priority to increase diversity in the membership and leadership. We all know that diversity is a problem, and we have seen some improvements in recent years, but we need to do more. We can address it by being more intentional about reaching out to communities of color, and by partnering with organizations like NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA and NLGJA.
And I want to expand IRE by pushing for more trainings, more grants, more open datasets and more services for small newsrooms and students (tech assistance, data analysis, research help and more). I started at regional papers, and I understand the challenges they face. We can do more to help, including by working with universities and creating initiatives like the Data in Local Newsrooms Training Program with Google.
In this era, as journalists are being attacked or labeled “enemies of the people,” it is extremely important that IRE remains a strong force for the industry. If elected, I promise to fight to continue that tradition.
Alanna Autler, KTVT, CBS Dallas-Fort Worth: I’m nominating Brian Rosenthal for the IRE board because he’s a journalist driven by mentorship and inclusivity. Brian has found success at the highest echelons of this industry because he’s the product of smaller publications. His experience reporting in various communities positions him to advocate for reporters from those same regions. His goals include expanding the programming for young journalists, as well as representing all members of IRE.
Jim Neff, The Philadelphia Inquirer: I am pleased to nominate NYT investigative reporter Brian Rosenthal as a candidate for the IRE board. I have known him since his days at the Seattle Times, where I edited some of his earliest investigative work. As a former longtime IRE board member, I know Brian’s passion for this organization, his strong work ethic and his battle-tested judgment will serve members well. Please join me in voting for him.
Cheryl W. Thompson
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been a part of IRE for nearly 25 years, having attended my first conference in Providence, R.I., in 1996. This organization has helped me hone my investigative skills, become a better reporter and collaborator, and introduced me to amazing journalists that I might not otherwise have met.
And I’ve tried to pay it forward.
I’ve presented at IRE watchdog workshops and annual conferences, offering guidance and tips on everything from tracing guns to finding investigative stories on the beat. I’ve screened entries for our annual awards contest, served as a contest judge, mentored young journalists and co-chaired last year’s conference in Orlando, where I was elected board president.
As president — the first African American in IRE’s 44-year history — I have listened to the mandate from our membership to improve diversity. I’ve recruited students and journalists of color, and ensured that each board committee has minority and women representation. I’ve worked with staff to feature more investigative journalists of color on our conference panels and in our workshops. I am involved with IRE’s mentoring program and secured a donation from George Washington University to co-sponsor this year’s mentoring breakfast. I’ve also initiated talks with leaders of the National Association of Black Journalists to find ways to partner more on things such as training. Under my leadership—and for the first time—our membership topped 6,000 this year. My proposal to create new board standards and guidelines was overwhelmingly approved by the board earlier this year. I also worked with my fellow board members to improve our code of conduct policy.
Before moving to NPR as an investigative correspondent in January, I spent 22 years as an investigative, local and national reporter for The Washington Post, where my stories about corruption by a local politician were followed by his arrest, conviction and sentencing to prison for nearly six years. My investigations also included a series on DC homicide convictions; the first-ever series on tracking firearms used to kill police officers; witnesses killed for talking to police; people who died after being Tasered by police; the deaths and myriad problems at Howard University Hospital; and an examination in 2018 into the unsolved killings of six little black girls nearly 50 years ago.
I can’t tell you how often I used skills learned from IRE to report these stories. IRE is an invaluable organization that believes investigative reporting is more important than ever, and offers the practical training and other tools to make sure we, as investigative reporters, are on the cutting edge. I intend to make sure that IRE remains the best journalism-training organization in the world.
I want to continue IRE’s mission, which is why I’m running for re-election. If I win your vote, I will continue focusing on IRE’s growth, which includes increasing diversity in our ranks, boosting our international membership and recruiting the next generation of investigative journalists to get involved and help lead us into the future.
Matt Goldberg, NBCUniversal: It is my honor to nominate Cheryl W. Thompson as a candidate for the IRE Board. Cheryl has had a tremendous impact on growing and strengthening the programs and services IRE offers. Her leadership as President, has helped focus the organization on member priorities. Cheryl is also a top-notch investigative reporter having worked in print, broadcast and as an educator. Simply put, IRE needs Cheryl’s experience and expertise for another term.
Sarah Cohen, ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism: I am proud to nominate Cheryl W. Thompson for IRE’s board of directors. In the 20 years I’ve known Cheryl both as a colleague at The Washington Post and on the IRE board, her dedication to investigative reporting, and IRE has never wavered. Cheryl has worked hard to diversify IRE through outreach, fundraising and personal mentoring. I’m sure she’ll remain an important asset to IRE with another term on the board.
Carrie Levine is deputy federal politics editor and senior reporter for the Center for Public Integrity. She investigates the influence of money on politics. She was previously research director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a reporter and associate editor for The National Law Journal, and has also worked for the Charlotte Observer, the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass., and The Sun (Lowell, Mass.). She is a graduate of Boston University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Connor Sheets is an investigative reporter for Alabama Media Group.
Born on Long Island, Connor grew up in Frederick, Md., where he delivered newspapers as a youth and landed his first reporting job after graduating from the University of Maryland in 2007.
He has since worked as a reporter for publications in New York and Alabama, and has reported from four continents.
Connor’s work in Alabama has had far-reaching impact, from prompting the state to clear the way for thousands of felons to vote to prompting Harper Lee to send him a hand-scrawled demand that he “go away.”
This year, his “Beach House Sheriff” reporting drove statewide policy changes and won or was a finalist for several national investigative reporting awards, including the Selden Ring Award, the Goldsmith Prize and IRE’s Tom Renner Award.
Connor is currently a member of ProPublica’s 2019 Local Reporting Network and he completed a 2016-2017 fellowship with the University of Missouri’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.
He lives in Birmingham, Ala., with his wife, Mary, and their joyous young daughter, Violet.
Kameel Stanley joined USA Today in spring 2019 as senior producer of The City podcast. She previously co-hosted and produced We Live Here, an award-winning podcast about race & class from St. Louis Public Radio & PRX. Before that, Kameel was a beat reporter at the Tampa Bay Times for several years, where she investigated racial disparities in policing and city government. Her work there led to law changes and regional and national awards. She’s a 2008 Central Michigan University grad, and a proud alum of the Detroit Free Press’ apprentice program. In 2019, she was appointed to serve on Poynter Institute’s National Advisory Board. Outside of journalism, she runs a storytelling organization and a brunch club for women of color. Kameel is based in St. Louis.
Margot Williams, an IRE awards screener in 2018 and 2019, is an investigative news researcher, librarian, trainer and speaker at IRE/NICAR conferences since 1995. Her career includes newspaper, radio, magazine and online journalism at The Intercept, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, NPR, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Poughkeepsie Journal and Time Inc. During 14 years at the Washington Post, Margot was a member of two Washington Post Pulitzer Prize-winning teams, for a 1998 investigation of D.C. police shootings of civilians and then again in 2001 for national coverage of terrorism. In the aftermath of 9/11 at the Washington Post and later at the New York Times, she investigated the network of jets and shell companies involved in the transport of terrorism suspects among secret prisons around the globe. In 2011, she analyzed the Guantánamo documents leaked by Chelsea Manning for NPR and the New York Times. In 2017, “Trial and Terror,” a database and article series by Margot and Trevor Aaronson about terrorism prosecutions since 9/11, won the University of Florida Award for Investigative Data Journalism and the National Headliner Award for Web or Interactive Project.