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Aaron Kessler

Board Member

When I look back nearly 20 years after stepping into the office of IRE at the University of Missouri for the first time, it’s hard to imagine my subsequent life in journalism without it.

Back then, as a grad student working my way through school, I was fortunate to be offered an opportunity to defray the tuition costs: work for IRE. I soon found myself in Neff Annex surrounded by steel file cabinets - inside lived the collective wisdom of journalists from around the world. Tipsheets on every subject imaginable. Clips of investigative stories and accompanying roadmaps to decode how they were done. Everything was on paper. We’d field calls from reporters around the country searching for material on chemical spills or housing discrimination, make copies and mail them off to Omaha, or Miami, or Pittsburgh.

With every story I encountered in those files, every phone conversation I had with a reporter chasing a hot tip in his or her hometown, I realized what I wanted to do with my professional life. The watchdog journalism mantra of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, of being a counterweight to power, has guided me ever since.

From covering city hall for the Joplin Globe as a cub reporter nearly 20 years ago, to currently diving into data-driven projects for The Associated Press in Washington, it was IRE that helped me grow as a journalist, and as a person, at each step of the way. Nearly every long-standing relationship I’ve had with other investigative and data journalists grew out of IRE. The small group of true mentors I’ve been lucky to have had all began with conversations as a young journalist at the conferences. I’ve worked in newsrooms large and small, in different regions of the country, in broadcast and print, and the one constant has been IRE’s training and community of practitioners. It’s been the touchstone that kept me going down the path of watchdog journalism when obstacles, challenges, even a debilitating injury, emerged along the way.

I’m running for the board because I want to give back to the organization that’s given me so much. I want us all to feel welcome within IRE, no matter our background or experience, so that we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder through this moment in history when watchdog work is more important than ever.

I hope to bring with me an empathy for the various perspectives and experiences that exist throughout our organization, and look for ways to connect us. Whether it’s the medium we work in, the place we’re from, our race, religion, age…what we share in common is the same sense of serving the public that flowed from those Neff Annex file cabinets all those years ago. The sense that investigative and data journalism can be a check on unchecked power, a force for public good in society. I want to help ensure that IRE is providing the training to keep us all in the fight now, and for years to come.
Date elected: 2022
Term expiration: 2024
109 Lee Hills Hall, Missouri School of Journalism   |   221 S. Eighth St., Columbia, MO 65201   |   573-882-2042   |   |   Privacy Policy
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