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Join IRE online in October for DBEI Symposium exploring equity in newsrooms and news coverage

IRE’s first symposium on diversity and inclusion is going online Oct. 21-22, allowing members to join safely from their hometowns around the world as the pandemic continues.

The DBEI Symposium on diversity, belonging, equity and inclusion had originally been planned as a hybrid event, including an in-person component in Baltimore, but IRE is moving the event fully online because of the continued uncertainty of the coronavirus delta variant situation.

“IRE already had a robust virtual program well underway for the symposium and our staff and supporters are now finalizing the transition to fully virtual as we count down the weeks to this unique event,” said IRE Executive Director Diana Fuentes. “We’re working to create a safe environment to engage in difficult discussions about diversity, belonging, equity and inclusion issues. These discussions — and subsequent actions — are vital for the future of our industry. We hope you’ll join us.”

The symposium schedule can be viewed here, and new sessions and speakers are continually being added. The symposium will include a mix of panels, small-group conversations, networking and master classes, which are 2- to 3-hour deep-dive workshops. All sessions are included in the registration fee of $150 for professional members or $50 for student members. IRE membership is required to attend.

Sessions will provide journalists with tools to help make their newsrooms more diverse and inclusive as well as how to better cover historically marginalized communities and topics. There will be sessions geared toward reporters, editors, educators and students.

“We’ve got plenty of work to do to get to all the dimensions of DBEI work we are called to in order to improve our journalism, and IRE is committed to helping push those conversations forward,” said Francisco Vara-Orta, IRE’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion. “It’s a pivotal moment in history to rise to the occasion for journalists, and these panels we hope will help our colleagues feel better equipped to tackle their work inside and outside of newsrooms with more specific guidance and support.”

The symposium will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time on both days, to allow for participation across the United States and around the world. Training sessions will be recorded and available for attendees on demand on the conference platform after the conference is over. 

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions. 

What will registration cost for the virtual DBEI21 symposium?

Registration rates are:

Attendees must be members of current members of IRE through October ($70/professional, $25/students). 

Will you have fellowships available?

Yes! With the switch to a virtual format, IRE anticipates having more fellowships available that cover the cost of registration and a one-year IRE membership. Click here for more information and to apply. You also can sign up for our DBEI21 Symposium newsletter to receive more information about fellowships as it is released. 

I’ve never been to a virtual conference. How will it work?

Attendees will access session links on the Guidebook platform. The conference site will be private and accessible only to attendees. You will receive access to the conference platform about a week prior to the conference. 

Will I need special equipment or software to participate?

All you’ll need is Internet access and a computer, laptop or tablet — much as you need to participate in an online video meeting. Google Chrome is the recommended browser, and attendees will need to download Zoom to access sessions

What if I’m working, attending class or dealing with other obligations that cause me to miss some sessions?

That’s the beauty of a virtual conference. Most sessions (excluding networking and small-group conversations) will be recorded and available to attendees following the conference. You can view them at your convenience. Most sessions will include video plus any related tipsheets and slide decks.

Will there be swag?

Yes, T-shirts, mugs, stickers and other items will be available for purchase in the IRE Store and will be shipped to you.    

How can I become a sponsor of the virtual #DBEI21 conference?

The virtual platform offers many enticing opportunities for sponsors. If you’d like information on the benefits of sponsoring #DBEI21, please contact Anna Lopez, IRE director of partnerships, by email:

How can I keep up with new developments connected to #DBEI21?

Just sign up here to receive e-mail updates about #DBEI21. It’s the best way to stay up-to-date on the latest virtual conference news. 

What if I have other questions?

Please contact We’re here to help!

Investigative Reporters and Editors is proud to announce its first director of diversity and inclusion: trainer and veteran journalist Francisco Vara-Orta.

Vara-Orta joined the IRE staff in February 2019 as a training director. While working as a trainer, he has conducted sessions on managing data and investigative reporting for journalists across the United States and internationally. 

The creation of this position is part of the steps IRE is taking to become a more inclusive space.

“Francisco has been instrumental in developing and advancing IRE’s goal of helping its members better reflect the communities they serve and helping newsrooms be more inclusive and welcoming,” IRE Executive Director Diana R. Fuentes said. “In his new role, Francisco will broaden that work as well as provide us with essential, informed guidance as IRE itself continues to move toward becoming a more diverse and welcoming organization.”

Vara-Orta has already started reviewing IRE’s extensive curricula through an equity lens, rewriting some courses and creating new ones to expand opportunities for historically underrepresented communities. He also will be bolstering IRE’s relationships with partner organizations dedicated to more inclusive work and offering support to journalists working to be more culturally competent in their reporting, hiring and retention approaches.

"All of us who care about a more fair and just world share in our mission at IRE to make our work — and work environments — better and more inclusive to those who feel they haven't always had a seat at the table,” Vara-Orta said. 

Vara-Orta brings nearly two decades of newsroom experience to this role, starting out at a bilingual community newspaper in his South Texas hometown of San Antonio, and reporting throughout the country coast to coast from the Los Angeles Times to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting to Education Week in D.C., among others. He received his master’s degree at the University of Missouri where his master’s project focused on DBEI in newsroom management. He also served on the board of the Education Writers Association, where he helped create a strategic plan for the organization with an emphasis on DBEI. An openly gay Chicano, Vara-Orta attended a Hispanic Serving Institution, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, and has long worked with and covered historically marginalized communities.

Most recently, he continued his training through participation in the PowerShift Summit through the Freedom Forum and is a member of this year's News Leaders Association Emerging Leaders Institute for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“I owe a lot to my mentors and ancestors whose shoulders I am built upon and want to do my part to help pay it forward by helping our members feel empowered in doing culturally competent work,” Vara-Orta said. “IRE is committed to helping our colleagues improve their newsroom environments and provide nuanced, thoughtful coverage for all communities, including those historically marginalized, to whom I have dedicated my whole career to making sure they know they aren't forgotten."

Investigative Reporters and Editors is gearing up to start planning the 2022 NICAR Conference, held in Atlanta March 3-6. 

Use this form to share ideas, suggestions and other comments to help us plan the best possible conference. No suggestion is too big or too small. The form will be open through Oct. 10.

We’re also starting an email list so you can keep up with all the news about #NICAR22, including speakers, sessions, travel information, fellowship deadlines and more. Sign up here to receive those emails.

The NICAR Conference holds a special place in our hearts, and we’re excited to welcome everyone back. Please know that IRE takes the health and safety of all attendees, speakers, staff and all others involved at its events seriously and follows the guidelines of CDC. More information about safety guidelines will be posted closer to the event. 

Your input helps ensure that we consider a broad spectrum of speakers and topics. 

Here are a few ways you can use the ideas form:

Have several ideas? Great! Fill out the form as many times as you’d like. And help us spread the word by sharing this form with friends and colleagues.

Keep in mind that IRE retains editorial control over the content of its conferences. If we use your idea, our team will take care of reaching out to speakers and finalizing details. Here are some other tips to help you make the best pitch and understand our process. 

Please direct questions to

Investigative Reporters and Editors is pleased to announce that veteran nonprofit executive Anna López is the new director of partnerships for the 6,000-member organization. 

López will lead IRE’s foundation, fundraising, sponsorship and partnership management.  She will also head IRE’s scholarship and fellowship programs.

“We are delighted to have Anna’s expertise and talents on board at IRE,” said IRE Executive Director Diana Fuentes. “Her energy, positive attitude and skill in bringing together diverse interests for the benefit of all will help our members and our industry at a critical time for journalism.” 

López has extensive experience in diversity and equity initiatives, resource development and engaging communities across a broad range of projects.

Before joining IRE, she served four years as program director for National League of Cities. Before that, she served twice as executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and also served as executive director of Unity: Journalists of Color. 

She has 20 years of experience leading and fundraising for nonprofit organizations.

“I am very excited and honored to join IRE and be part of a team that’s dedicated to providing exceptional training opportunities for its members," López said. “I look forward to being able to help IRE further its mission of empowering journalists to enhance their news coverage.”   

López succeeds Chris Vachon, who left IRE in June after five years in the position.

Registration is open for IRE’s DBEI Symposium, which will take place Oct. 21-23 with limited in-person attendance in Baltimore, Maryland, and unlimited attendance online.

The hybrid event will be IRE’s first in-person training event since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. It also will be IRE’s first event focused solely on diversity and equity issues. 

The symposium will focus on helping journalists with newsroom diversity issues and with investigating inequality in their communities, from education and labor to housing and criminal justice.

Other details, travel and hotel information, can be found here

Sign up for our DBEI Symposium email updates list here.

See the below FAQs for more information:

How do I register?

For the in-person event: First, make sure you are logged into your IRE account and have an active membership. Go to the In-Person Attendance: DBEI Symposium ticket page and scroll to the bottom. Select the ticket tier that corresponds to your IRE membership level. (If you do not see any tickets, you are likely not logged in or have an expired IRE membership. You will need to join or renew to buy a ticket.) Once you add a ticket to your cart, you can complete the checkout process, which involves acknowledging our code of conduct and COVID-19 safety protocols.

For the virtual event: First, make sure you are logged into your IRE account and have an active membership. Go to the Virtual Attendance: DBEI Symposium ticket page and scroll to the bottom. You will see the ticket tier associated with your IRE membership level. (If you do not see any tickets, you are likely not logged in or have an expired IRE membership. You will need to join or renew to buy a ticket.) Once you add a ticket to your cart, you can complete the checkout process.

Need to join? Apply to become a member before trying to register for the symposium.

Need to check your membership status or renew? You can do that here. If your membership is current, you will see a green ‘Yes’ in the Active column. If your membership is not active, you can start the renewal process from that page.

What is the difference between the in-person and virtual event? 

The in-person event will consist of two large ballrooms for panels and demos and five smaller rooms for hands-on classes, conversations, master classes, networking groups and small group discussions. In addition to the programming, there will be a keynote address and luncheon as well as a welcome reception. The keynote speaker will be announced soon!

Virtual attendees will have the opportunity to livestream the two large ballrooms as well as the keynote address. Attendees will have the ability to ask questions during the Q&A through our virtual conference platform. In addition, one of the five smaller rooms will be recorded and made available to attendees post-event. Attendees will also have the opportunity to join various networking sessions specifically for the virtual event.  

Both in-person and virtual attendees will have access to all recordings, resources and tipsheets post-event. 

What precautions is IRE taking due to COVID-19?

IRE is keeping the health and safety of our members at the forefront of planning the symposium. We have implemented numerous safety protocols to ensure attendee safety.

Marriott "Commitment to Clean" protocols: 

What if I have questions?

All questions can be directed to

IRE recently awarded 20 fellowships to its upcoming TV Data Journalism Bootcamp thanks to the generosity of the Knight Foundation. Recipients will attend the bootcamp taking place in September. 

The following journalists received fellowships: 

If you are interested in applying for a fellowship for financial assistance for future IRE boot camps, sign up to receive IRE’s newsletter about fellowship opportunities

IRE recently awarded five fellowships to its upcoming Data Journalism Bootcamp thanks to the generosity of financial supporters. Recipients will attend the bootcamp taking place in August. 

Shalina Chatlani from WWNO Radio (New Orleans, Louisiana), María Angélica Castro Camacho from DW Akademie and Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg (Germany) and Christina Saint Louis from the Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) received the Ottaway Fellowship. 

Established by David Ottaway and the Ottaway Family Fund, the Ottoway Fellowship is aimed at increasing the diversity of IRE’s membership. 

Ali Oshinskie from WNPR (New Haven, Connecticut) received the Holly Whisenhunt Stephen Fellowship. 

Established by WTHR-Indianapolis to honor Holly Whisenhunt Stephen, an award-winning journalist and longtime IRE member, who died November 2008 after a long battle with cancer.

Victoria Bouloubasis from Enlace Latino NC / Southerly (Durham, North Carolina) received the R-CAR Fellowship. 

Established by IRE member Daniel Gilbert, the fellowship is intended to provide rural reporters with training they might not otherwise receive. The fellowship is offered in conjunction with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. 

If you are interested in applying for a fellowship for financial assistance for future IRE boot camps, sign up to receive IRE’s newsletter about fellowship opportunities

By: Brant Houston

Jim Polk, a longtime IRE leader and member, died on July 15th in his home in Atlanta. Polk, 83, had a distinguished career as an investigative journalist in both print and broadcast, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for his coverage of Watergate.

He began his career at newspapers in his home state of Indiana and went on to do award-winning work for the Associated Press, The Washington Star, NBC News and CNN. Polk graduated from Indiana University, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

Polk served as an IRE board president in the organization's formative years and was a frequent speaker at IRE conferences. He was passionate about the profession and about IRE and remained an active IRE member, serving as a contest judge and often weighing in on governance issues. In 2018, he received an IRE Founders Award for his service.

In a 2015 issue of The IRE Journal, Polk wrote a "collected wisdom" column on the practice of investigative journalism, stating: "...that is the core of what we do in journalism. It was true then, and it’s true now. It hasn’t changed. It’s the same formula: 1. Ask questions. 2. Find answers. 3. Tell the public. Yes, our delivery systems for telling the news have evolved. But our methods in pursuit of truth are simple and eternal."

There will be a private burial in Polk's hometown of Oaktown, Indiana. Condolences may be left at the funeral home website at .  In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made to Indiana University, at

Three incumbents and three newcomers were elected to two-year terms for the IRE Board of Directors in election results announced Saturday. IRE members also elected two members of the Contest Committee, which judges the IRE Awards.

Here are vote totals for the six candidates elected to the Board of Directors:

Here are results for the remaining candidates:

For a one-year term on the IRE Contest Committee, Shannon Isbell and Angeliki Kastanis secured seats. Here are voting results:

Online voting began the week of May 17 and ended Saturday. The six journalists elected Saturday to the IRE Board of Directors joined seven incumbents, whose terms expire next year.

The newly constituted board met Tuesday to elect officers to serve for one year on the Executive Committee. Those officers are: 

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has won the Investigative Reporters and Editors 2021 Golden Padlock Award honoring the most secretive public agency or official in the U.S. 

Drawn from nominations from journalists across the country, Landry won for suing newspaper reporter Andrea Gallo over a public records request. Gallo, an investigative reporter for The Advocate and The Times-Picayune, filed a request in December for copies of sexual harassment complaints made against the head of the attorney general’s criminal division. The agency said it would not release the complaint because it contained private information. Landry then took the extraordinary step of suing Gallo, asking the judge to seal the record and prohibit Gallo from disclosing any information pertaining to the complaint. In response, Gallo’s attorney called it “simply unfathomable” that Landry would sue before even attempting to redact portions of the sexual harassment complaint, as the newspaper had suggested. A judge rejected Landry’s argument in March and ordered the release of the record.

“In a fiercely competitive field of finalists this year, Landry impressed the judges with a bold strategy designed to ensure important truths remain hidden from the public,” said Golden Padlock committee chair Robert Cribb. “Suing reporters for posing questions is a high watermark for public officials committed to secret-keeping and a worthy winning strategy for this honor.”  

IRE named three finalists for the award for their extraordinary efforts to undermine the public’s right to know. 

The finalists for the 2021 Golden Padlock Award were:

  1. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, for consistently refusing to release his official communications to reporters in accordance with state law. A string of denied requests from Paxton’s office over the past several months has inspired a unique media coalition across the state. Eight media outlets — including the Dallas Morning News, ProPublica, the Austin American-Statesman, Associated Press and The Texas Tribune — are now working together to “pry open the vice grip Paxton holds over his personal texts, emails and memos,” the group nomination reads. As part of a story the outlets published jointly, a Dallas Morning News reporter texted a work-related question to Paxton’s cellphone and later requested all text messages about state business sent to that number on that day. Paxton’s agency said there were no messages. When asked why the reporter’s text wasn’t turned over, a spokesman suggested the office did not need to keep it because the agency does not consider “unsolicited and unwanted” text messages to be subject to its record retention policies. 
  2. The Indian Health Service, for using a little-known federal statute to block the release of an independent review into the decades-long cover-up of a pedophile doctor who preyed on young boys on Native American reservations. The leaders of the Indian Health Service commissioned the report after a 2019 expose by The Wall Street Journal and the PBS series Frontline, and promised lawmakers that it would detail where “the breakdowns occurred and who should be held accountable.” The resulting report did detail bureaucratic failures and criminal acts. But the Indian Health Service blocked its release by arguing it was a “confidential medical quality assurance review” that should be kept secret. The Journal and The New York Times filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the report and sued in federal court after IHS didn't respond. In January, a judge ordered the report’s release and said “literally nothing in the report could be characterized” as a medical quality review. The report remains secret as the IHS appeals that decision. The federal judge has highlighted the important reporting by WSJ and Frontline that has “taken the agency to task for its failures.” 
  3. The Trustees of Algonquin Township in McHenry County, Illinois, for aggressive attempts to fight the release of information related to alleged corruption reported by the Edgar County Watchdogs. In 2018, the Watchdogs began reporting on alleged nepotism and misuse of funds among the employees. Their reporting included accounts of some Edgar County employees gambling with money from the county’s 911 account. At one point, the reporters received a security video of township employees going through records while discussing which documents should be discarded. The Watchdogs posted the video on YouTube. The township responded by asking YouTube to take down the video and by repeatedly subpoenaing the entire contents of the Watchdogs’ Dropbox account.
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