If you asked me how I first got started in investigative journalism, I’d find it hard to answer, since it’s all kinda fuzzy. It could have been the CAR class I took, or the Hacks/Hackers meeting I went to for its cool name, then stayed for its cool mission. But if there’s one experience that was a nonstop catalyst, it was the Campus Coverage Project in 2012. Fifty journo kids and I received what was basically a mini IRE conference plus two years of free membership in IRE.
There’s so much that students don’t know about investigative techniques, and not because we don’t ask – we’re journalists, after all – but because we don’t know to ask. Without an IRE membership I could never have requested officials’ emails, because it never would have occurred to me that they were public.
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I wouldn’t have known that 990s existed, or that data could be found anywhere in a city or a university.
The Campus Coverage Project made it starkly clear to me – and everyone else, I think – that the investigative spark is fully alive in students, even if they don’t know how to turn that spark to full power. We students think conferences and organizations have nothing to do with us. But for me, joining IRE somewhat unexpectedly changed my career for the better, and I mean that literally.
Giving a student access to IRE’s resources won’t guarantee their future as an investigative journalist. But it will get them asking smarter questions, and a lot more of them. What more could we ask for?
Samantha Sunne is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and former participant in IRE’s Campus Coverage Project.