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Get ready for Sunshine Week

IRE is proud to partner with Sunshine Week this year. 

National Sunshine Week, celebrated annually in mid-March, is a public awareness campaign to shine a light on the importance of public records and open government. It’s a reminder to journalists and citizens alike — we have a right to know what’s going on in government!

“It’s a cause everyone can support,” David Cuillier, director of the Brechner Freedom of Information Project, wrote in The IRE Journal this month. 

“As Stanford’s James Hamilton calculated in his ‘Democracy’s Detectives’ book, for every dollar spent on records-based investigative reporting, society reaps $287 in benefits. That is a phenomenal return on investment.”

David Cuillier, "Bright tips for public support, Sunshine Week" (The IRE Journal, Q1 2024)

This year Sunshine Week runs March 10-16, with awareness and training events hosted by organizations in journalism, education, government and other sectors. 

Cuillier shared ideas to celebrate Sunshine Week in his FOI Files column in the latest IRE Journal:

You can also attend IRE’s Sunshine Week webinar “25 records to request now” on Thursday, March 14. IRE executive director Diana Fuentes will walk you through a slew of interesting and informative public records in this hour-long session!

And if you’re looking for guidance on public records on a specific beat, read our other FOI Files columns in previous editions of The IRE Journal (IRE members have access to The IRE Journal for free, but nonmembers can also purchase digital versions of these editions):

For more ideas, resources and events, visit sunshineweek.org.

The results are in! Here's the lineup for Lightning Talks at the NICAR24 conference in Baltimore next week, in speaking order:

1. Your own worst enemy: How to organize your work so your future self won't hate you | Justin Myers, Chicago Sun-Times

You might have been here before: trying to pick apart some old analysis or script, wondering in anger what kind of jerk designed it this way — only to realize that jerk was you. I've been in that situation, too, and over the years I've found some ways to be kinder to the ever-present coworker known as My Future Self. I'd like to share some of them.

2. Visuals are data, too! | Brenna Smith, The Baltimore Banner

Too often, visuals are afterthoughts in stories. However, the emergence of visual forensics as a storytelling technique has changed that narrative, putting visuals front and center as key investigative findings. In this Lighting Talks session, Baltimore Banner reporter and former New York Times Visual Investigations fellow Brenna Smith will walk you through how to take an analytical approach to visuals, proving that newsrooms across the country can produce "visual investigations" without a New York Times budget.

3. Datasette Enrichments: Run bulk operations to enrich your data | Simon Willison, Datasette

Datasette Enrichments is a new tool that lets you take a table full of data and "enrich" it in various ways — run geocoders to populate latitudes and longitudes, clean up data with regular expressions and, most excitingly, pipe that data through GPT-4 (or GPT-4 Vision) with a prompt to extract or transform data. I'll demonstrate the feature in action and show how you can use it to process thousands of rows of data in all sorts of interesting ways.

4. Wait…who funds you? Finding out (on deadline) | Kyle Spencer, Reporting Right

Bad faith organizations with anti-democratic aims abound. But sometimes — and that’s by design —they can be hard to identify, which means you may be validating and/or legitimizing a group with radical goals (accidentally). How do you tell your readers who is behind the groups you quote, mention or allude to? This Lightning Talks session will give reporters and editors an easy 5-step process for figuring out what a group/nonprofit/think tank etc. really stands for — and who funds it. On deadline!

5. When charts lie | Todd Wallack, WBUR Boston 

Graphics are an essential tool for data journalists. But it's also easy to mislead readers — either by mistake or on purpose. I'll highlight some common ways charts can trick the eye.

6. Expand your sourcing horizon | Jui Sarwate, CBS News and Stations

Learn about the different ways you can reach a variety of sources using X (Twitter) lists, connecting to sources through non-profits and by just cold emailing/calling by the bucket-loads. 

7. How to take PDFs from strangers | David Huerta, Freedom of the Press Foundation

I'll be demonstrating the use of Dangerzone, a new tool actively developed by Freedom of the Press Foundation. Dangerzone allows journalists to create a malware-free copy of PDFs that may otherwise contain malicious code.

8. Follow the commodity then follow money: uncovering stories through commodity and supply chain data | Christopher Lambin, Global Witness

There is an array of data that can help investigators map the flow of physical commodities around the globe, including freight tracking, customs records, and satellite imagery. This presentation will explore how we can combine these sources to examine supply chains while investigating environmental harms, human rights abuses and sanctions evasion.

9. How to solve a murder while watching the World Cup | Catherine Rentz, independent journalist

I started building this database during the Women's World Cup (soccer!). It looked at what bad guys did as the evidence implicating them in violent crimes lay untested for decades. The results were frustrating: wrongful incarcerations and preventable violent crimes. Many jurisdictions have collections of cold case evidence like this that have remained "off the books" and untested for decades. Before long, I came across something shocking that led to a break in a 1983 unsolved murder of a college student in Baltimore County.

10. Do you know who runs your elections? | Michael Beckel, Issue One

There are more than 10,000 chief local election officials across the country. Monitoring them all would be a Herculean effort. Monitoring those is a key state or region is feasible — and necessary in understanding election administration challenges in 2024. Issue One's blockbuster analysis of Western states found that 40% of counties in the West have new chief local election officials since 2020 — and that the officials who left these positions took with them more than 1,800 years of combined experience. There is no better time than now to start getting to know your local election officials in your area!

Lightning Talks, a series of 5-minute talks at NICAR selected by the community, has become one of the most popular sessions at the conference. This year, you can attend the big event on Friday, March 8, from 5 - 6:15 p.m. in the Harbor Ballroom. 

After Lightning Talks, please stick around to remember Philip Meyer's legacy and help us congratulate the 2023 Philip Meyer Journalism Award winners.

Like many reporters across the U.S., Votebeat Texas reporter Natalia Contreras has been preparing for the 2024 elections since last year.

It’s a momentous election year, to say the least. In Texas specifically, lawmakers filed hundreds of election-related laws during the legislative session. Some states enacted major changes in 2023: New York gave all voters the option to vote by mail; Michigan expanded the list of acceptable photo IDs; Mississippi made it a crime, in many instances, to help another voter return a mail ballot.

In fact, the entire nation saw “an unprecedented volume of state legislation changing the rules governing voting,” according to The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. 

It’s a topic that’s been trending up since the 2020 presidential election.

“We've been thinking about this year for about a year already,” Contreras said. “Because new laws, especially in Texas, just really are impacting the election and whether election officials are going to have the resources to pull off the election — and how that's going to impact voters ultimately.”

There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of, presenting challenges for newer and veteran reporters alike. IRE recognizes the importance of accurate and responsible coverage, and we want to be a resource for journalists during this challenging time. 

“I really just want to make sure that the entire membership, or as many members as possible, are equipped with the skills they need to do quality elections coverage,” Adam Rhodes, IRE training director said. “It's probably one of the most important elections that a lot of us have seen, and I can't think of a more important time for there to be a robust and well-equipped press to cover elections.” 

We asked three experts for their insight on covering the 2024 elections. Here’s some advice from Natalia Contreras of Votebeat Texas, Anna Massoglia of OpenSecrets and Derek Willis of the University of Maryland:

1. Go back to basics with fact-checking

“Making sure that you're relying on information that is vetted is a really important aspect of it, just having that kind of media literacy. I always check two sources when I'm doing something if it's not a primary source, and even sometimes when it is, because there's just so much misinformation and disinformation swirling around on the internet. ... That's part of journalism is asking questions, questioning the legitimacy of things – but make sure you're doing that even when something appears to be very basic.” — Anna Massoglia, OpenSecrets

2. See the bigger picture in campaign finance data

“Resist the temptation to frame this campaign as a repeat of earlier campaigns. It is easier for us as journalists to understand things if they've happened before. We have some context for it … and campaigns are alike in many ways. But when you do that with campaign finance data, in particular, what happens is that you tend to look for the same kinds of stories that you did two years ago or four years ago. 

And what I would encourage folks to do is to not be restricted to that, not be bound by that context, but to actually look for new ways, new stories, new behaviors in the data that would tell readers something interesting and novel about what's going on.” — Derek Willis, Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland

3. Build relationships with election officials 

“It just comes down to building relationships with people that run the elections in the town or the state. … Also for the primary election, it’s super important to build relationships with the political parties (since) those people are also going to be running their own elections. ... (Their contact information) should already be on your phone, in your email, today, like right now.” — Natalia Contreras, Votebeat Texas

4. Follow the money in politics

“No matter what your beat is, understanding at least the basics of money in politics and where to find resources is important. It's something a lot of people don't think about all the time, but it relates to so many different aspects of the world generally, whether you're reporting on things like environment or energy or specific companies, or pretty much anything. There's always a ‘money in politics’ aspect that can come up at some point. 

It's something that's really important, in particular, going into an election year. Companies make political contributions, specific individuals (make political contributions), there’s lobbying, there's so many different elements that can come into play and can also add value to your story, whether or not it's focused entirely on money in politics.” — Anna Massoglia, OpenSecrets

5. Understand how elections are run in your community

“I'm always asking for access to see some part of the process (such as a public meeting, workshop or poll worker training) — whatever the law allows me to be there for. It's so helpful. … It really opens your eyes, just like anything else, and you're able then to provide more context to readers about why something went wrong or what happened.

Because there's so much nuance to elections. Something that can sound really bad, most of the time, isn't. It could be an administrative error, or a human error, most of the time. A voting machine that went down doesn't necessarily mean there's voter fraud, right? There’s, you know, a chain of custody that goes into place. There's always a good explanation, but being able to see it with your own eyes, you're able to explain it better.” — Natalia Contreras, Votebeat Texas

6. Don’t be afraid to seek help and ask questions 

“There's so much out there, I know it can get really overwhelming. … There's so many great experts who are always really happy to walk journalists through things." — Anna Massoglia, OpenSecrets

7. And if you’re a student or newer reporter hoping to cover politics one day… 

“The hard thing is if you're a student or if you're trying to break into this (beat) … you're literally physically removed from a lot of the action. You're not with the candidates. You're not out talking to voters all the time. ... But there's a whole set of structures and processes involved in putting on a campaign and putting on an election that I would really encourage students to get involved in.

So for example, understanding how elections are run at a local level is super useful information. And so if students are not covering the campaign, volunteer to actually work an election. (That) will give you a really good education and a really good grounding in how elections actually operate.” — Derek Willis, Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

Take advantage of IRE's election training series

IRE is also hosting a series of webinars, workshops and panels throughout the year to train members and help them feel confident with election coverage. We’ve already hosted a few webinars on general election coverage and campaign finance. You can view the video recordings of these sessions, along with panels from past conferences, here.

Here’s what else we have coming up:

More details on these webinars will be announced as soon as they are confirmed.

And of course, we’ll have an entire track of election-related panels and classes at NICAR24 in Baltimore, with sessions on public records, campaign finance data, misinformation, foreign influence and more.

You can also get guidance from the Federal Election Commission, the Committee to Project Journalists, OpenSecrets, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Politifact — just to name a few resources.

Have an idea for an election-related webinar or workshop? Reach out to IRE training director Adam Rhodes. To receive updates on these events, subscribe to Quick Hits, IRE’s biweekly newsletter.

About the experts

Natalia Contreras covers election administration, election security and voting access for Votebeat Texas, in partnership with the Texas Tribune. She has covered a range of topics as a community journalist including local government, public safety, immigration and social issues. 

Anna Massoglia is OpenSecrets’ Editorial and Investigations Manager. Her research also includes "dark money," political ads and foreign influence. She holds degrees in political science and psychology from North Carolina State University and a J.D. from the University of the District of Columbia School of Law. 

Derek Willis is a lecturer in data and computational journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, where he teaches classes on data analysis and related topics. He previously covered campaign finance for ProPublica, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Congressional Quarterly.

This holiday season, consider giving the gift of IRE membership to the journalist(s) in your life.

Whether it’s for a friend, a family member, a colleague, an intern or a student, the gift of IRE membership tells your favorite journo that you believe in them and support their growth.

We make it easy for you to purchase a one-year professional or student membership. If they’re already a member, the gift will renew their membership for a year.

Give a 1-year professional membership for $70: https://bit.ly/IREgiftPro23
Give a 1-year student membership for $25: https://bit.ly/IREgiftStudent23

Here are the top five reasons IRE membership is a fantastic gift.


1 - It's many gifts rolled into one

IRE membership is a gift that keeps giving all year round. The best journalists in the world teach at members-only conferences, webinars and bootcamps. But that’s just the beginning. Members also get free access to thousands of tipsheets, tools like Tableau and Cometdocs, exclusive listservs, a subscription to the IRE Journal and other perks.

2 - All journalists can benefit from IRE

We know that “investigative journalists” are not the only ones doing investigative reporting. Our trainings and resources share lessons that all journalists can use – no matter their title, experience level or beat. All journalists are welcome.

3 - Show a colleague you support their growth

IRE helps reporters and editors of all ages to develop core skills, advancing careers with support from our community of journalists. We provide training, networking and mentorship opportunities that change the lives and careers of our members.

4 - Support high-quality investigative journalism

In a time of disinformation and distrust in the media, society needs high-quality investigative journalism. Our democracy depends on it. Your gift of IRE membership can help a journalist improve their skills – which directly benefits the public informed by their journalism work.

5 - Pay it forward

For nearly 50 years, IRE has been providing journalists with the tools, training and resources they need to excel in their careers. If you’re a member, you’ve seen the impact of our work firsthand. By giving a membership, you help IRE make a difference in someone’s life, the way it did for you.


IRE membership is the perfect gift for…

Students

This is especially valuable for students who are close to finishing a degree – if they’re an IRE member when they graduate, they can continue renewing their membership at the discounted student rate for three years. Those are pivotal years, both professionally and financially, so having all the benefits of IRE during that time makes an enormous impact.

Journalists facing job insecurity

It’s tough out there. We all know someone who has been laid off, furloughed or had to accept a job without the right pay or benefits. The gift of IRE membership enables them to continue developing their skills, and may even reinvigorate their commitment to stay in journalism and fight the good fight.

Don’t have a specific person in mind? Donate to our Support a Journalist fund to help folks who have been unable to join or renew their IRE memberships due to layoffs, furloughs or job terminations.

Your team

If you manage a team, don’t get stuck at the last minute buying gift cards for everyone. Giving your team the gift of IRE membership is thoughtful and useful. It’s not only an investment in their professional development, but also in the quality of work they’ll be able to produce in the coming years.

For more than 30 years, IRE has taught practical newsroom data skills to thousands of journalists in its signature Data Journalism Bootcamp. Reporters, editors, producers and freelancers from around the world have traveled to the University of Missouri campus in Columbia for a weeklong crash course in thinking and working like a data journalist.

“I’ve been teaching IRE bootcamps since 2012 and it is hands-down one of my favorite events,” said IRE senior training director Liz Lucas. “Obviously the technology has changed in the intervening years; we used to teach SQL in Microsoft Access. However, the underlying foundation of finding data, conducting analysis, and using best practices has largely remained the same. That will continue to be true even as we keep up with the development of new and powerful tools.”

To ensure that our bootcamps continue to equip journalists with the skills they need for the next 30 years, IRE is offering some new options for bootcampers in 2024.

In addition to a traditional bootcamp featuring the classic learning sequence of spreadsheets and SQL, you can now also choose a bootcamp that focuses exclusively on Google Sheets, diving deep into analysis, advanced functions for cleaning, joining and other tasks, or one that introduces you to the Python programming language and its many uses in the newsroom.

Each bootcamp still offers the same foundational training on finding and negotiating for data, bulletproofing your analysis and using numbers in stories, and everyone will leave with a solid command of spreadsheets as your primary newsroom data tool.

Register now:

Investigative Reporters and Editors is honored to announce that Maria Hinojosa will give the keynote address for AccessFest 2023, IRE’s virtual conference held October 12-14, 2023. Hinojosa will join in conversation with IRE board member Ana Ley on Thursday, October 12, at 12:15 p.m. Eastern.

Maria Hinojosa is the Pulitzer Prize-winning founder of Futuro Media based in New York City. She has written four books, won multiple awards,  and these days her focus is deep accountability investigative journalism.

Ana Ley is a reporter at The New York Times, where she covers the New York City transit beat. Before joining The Times, she was a reporter and then an editor at The Virginian-Pilot. She was a 2021 Livingston Award finalist for her stories on the enduring legacy of racism in Virginia politics.

AccessFest keynote speakers: Maria Hinojosa and Ana Ley. Maria seated in a park bench and profile photo of Ana.

"We are delighted to have someone of Maria's high standing and caliber participating in our all-virtual conference," IRE executive director Diana Fuentes said. "IRE seeks to continue increasing accessibility to the latest in data and investigative journalism techniques. AccessFest opens the door to sometimes difficult — but essential — conversations for improving inclusiveness and equity in the communities we cover as journalists and in the newsrooms where we work. Maria has led at the forefront of this work, and we are proud to have her for the keynote address at AccessFest 2023."

IRE’s director of diversity and inclusion, Francisco Vara-Orta, said, “for many journalists who are looking to forge their own paths in this industry, Maria’s journey inspires. IRE members will benefit from learning how Maria has wielded her skills to do impactful investigative journalism, start a nonprofit news organization, and how she can critically lean into her identity in a field that, at times, can pressure us to push away from who we are. In turn, she and her team have consistently produced work that is of high quality and amplifies voices we often fail to truly listen to and respect.”

AccessFest will be held online Oct. 12-14. The conference, previously branded as the DBEI Symposium, will expand on IRE’s efforts to provide more accessible training centered on belonging, equity, and inclusion in the newsroom and through better news coverage of inequities in the communities journalists serve. The conference will also feature data classes and more traditional investigative reporting panels that are typically seen at NICAR and IRE conferences. More information, including registration and the full schedule, can be found on IRE’s website.

Investigative Reporters and Editors stands in solidarity with the Marion County Record in defense of the First Amendment after the Kansas newspaper’s office and the home of its 98-year-old co-owner were raided by local law enforcement Aug. 11.

“The IRE Board is deeply disturbed by reports of the raid on the Marion County Record,” said Board President Brian M. Rosenthal, an investigative reporter at The New York Times. “Journalists play a vital role in informing the public and exposing wrongdoing, and this brazen attempt to interfere with that work should outrage everybody who believes in democracy.”

In raiding the office of the Marion County Record and the home of Joan Meyer, police officers and sheriff’s deputies seized all computers, other office equipment and personal cell phones as well as searched through personal documents.

“It was an unconscionable, illegal action by law enforcement against journalists who were just doing their jobs for their community,” said IRE Executive Director Diana Fuentes.

The search warrant was signed by a Marion County magistrate judge, but the Marion County Record reported that the office where the affidavit supporting the warrant is required to be filed did not have a record of it.

The Marion County Record in Marion, Kansas, is a family-owned paper that started in 1869. It will publish this week despite the raid.

“We are absolutely going to print,” publisher Eric Meyer said Sunday. “I don't care if we have to get a rubber stamp and notepads, we are going to print.”

Meyer’s mother, Joan Meyer, died the day after the raid. Eric Meyer said his mother was in good health for her age and believes her death was a result of the stress caused by the raid on her home.

IRE has received emails and calls from members asking what IRE can do to help the newspaper and staff.

Fuentes spoke with Eric Meyer on Sunday, extending condolences on his mother’s death and offering help — people, equipment, starting a legal fund, whatever is necessary. Meyer said he appreciates the offer of help but at this point doesn't need assistance.

“What we need is time,” he said, noting the priority for him and his staff is publishing this week’s edition.

Fuentes let him know IRE is ready to help with whatever the paper and staff might need in the coming weeks, months and in the future. IRE will continue to monitor the situation.

IRE is seeking volunteers for its committees, which work with staff on a wide range of important tasks, from making recommendations for speakers and panels for conferences and workshops to brainstorming ways to better serve members.

To serve, you just need to be a member of IRE and have a passion for helping your colleagues.

If you're interested, fill out this Google form by Friday, July 14.

Any IRE member can serve on a committee. Appointees serve for one year.

The IRE Board is making it a priority to bring in new voices and new perspectives. One of the best ways to ensure your voice and your perspective are heard is to serve on a committee, where the decision-making process begins.

To find out more about how committees work, join us at a Q&A webinar Thursday, July 13, at 5 p.m. EDT. You can learn about the process and what serving on a committee involves. Register here.

Committees include:

If you have questions, please contact IRE President Brian Rosenthal at brian.rosenthal@nytimes.com.

Four incumbents — Cindy Galli of ABC News, Brian M. Rosenthal of The New York Times, Josh Hinkle of KXAN and Jodie Fleischer of Cox Media Group — along with two newcomers, Ana Ley of The New York Times and Hyuntaek Lee of The Chosun Ilbo in South Korea, were elected to two-year terms for the IRE Board of Directors in election results announced Saturday, June 24, 2023. IRE members also elected two members of the Contest Committee, which judges the IRE Awards.

The board will meet to elect new officers within 30 days.

New members of the Contest Committee are Walter Smith Randolph of Connecticut Public Broadcasting and John Russell of the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Full election results for the Board of Directors:

RankCandidateVotesPercent
1Jodie Fleischer61675.03
2Brian M . Rosenthal61374.67
3Cindy Galli58170.77
4Ana Ley55767.84
5Josh Hinkle53364.92
6Hyuntaek Lee39948.60
7Rick Gevers37145.19

Full election results for the Contest Committee:

RankCandidateVotesPercent
1Walter Smith Randolph54970.47
2John Russell41853.66
3Mark Lagerkvist34544.29

Investigative Reporters & Editors honored two former members this week, inducting them into the IRE Ring of Honor. The Ring of Honor launched in May 2022 as a fundraising initiative that celebrates members who have made significant contributions to the organization and investigative journalism.

On June 24, 2023, the late Tom Torok of The New York Times and the late David Donald of Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University became the first two members of the IRE Ring of Honor. The induction ceremony took place during the awards luncheon at the IRE Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Tom Torok

Lifelong journalist Tom Torok was a tireless reporter and editor, a popular mentor and a trailblazing data journalist of the highest caliber. Torok was a natural-born teacher in high demand at the countless sessions he conducted at IRE and NICAR conferences and in classrooms across the United States and worldwide.

He died in Camden, New Jersey, on March 6, 2022, after a brief illness. He was 73.

Torok was nominated to the IRE Ring of Honor by Andy Lehren of NBC News. Lehren and other supporters raised $4,147 in Torok’s name for the IRE Ring of Honor fellowship fund.

"Tom represents the best in the IRE and NICAR spirit, not only excelling at his own work, but he tirelessly helped others, generously teaching and sharing with others," Lehren said.

David Donald

David Donald was a visionary in the world of data journalism, eagerly embracing new techniques and technologies and sharing them with a passion that was infectious. Many remember him as a compassionate teacher who was always ready to help fellow journalists.

Donald died Dec. 10, 2016, of complications from mesothelioma. He was 64.

"David Donald changed the course of my career — his training, mentorship and overall support elevated my journalism and changed my perspective on finding and outing truths," said London-based journalist Crina Boros. "I once asked him why he mentored. 'I, too, once stood on the shoulders of giants,’ he said. ‘This is my way of giving back.'"

Donald was nominated to the IRE Ring of Honor by Jennifer LaFleur of the Center for Public Integrity and a group of IRE members called “Friends of D Squared.” In his honor, they raised $3,110 for the IRE Ring of Honor fellowship fund.

IRE honors their legacy by continuing their work

Tax-deductible donations to the Ring of Honor memorialize the legacies of these influential mentors and newsroom leaders while financially supporting the next generation of investigative journalists. Fellowships allow qualified recipients to attend conferences, participate in training and network with other investigative journalists.

For more information on how to nominate someone for the IRE Ring of Honor, please click here.

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