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IRE expands access to investigative journalism training with first-ever AccessFest

IRE successfully hosted the first-ever AccessFest, a virtual-by-design conference with an emphasis on DBEI programming.

Over the course of two-and-a-half days, our expert panelists led important conversations about diversifying newsrooms, building trust in communities, including more voices in coverage and becoming stronger advocates for ourselves as journalists.

And our members showed up engaged and ready to learn.

More than 300 people attended the virtual conference, which offered both DBEI programming and the traditional IRE conference training, Lauren Grandestaff, IRE’s director of content, said.

IRE members can access AccessFest23 session recordings here.

"We’re so excited to see the evolution and expansion of AccessFest," Grandestaff said. "Although it started as a smaller symposium (the DBEI Symposium) a few years ago, our rebranded fall virtual conference has morphed into IRE fulfilling the need for more accessible training — not only in diversity and inclusion spaces, but also in the investigative and data work that we’re so well-known for."

At IRE, we believe this training is crucial in our industry. Journalists need a critical mix of traditional technical skills and cultural competency awareness to truly make an impact, said Francisco Vara-Orta, IRE’s director of diversity and inclusion.

"We are in an era of journalism where many of our colleagues are seeking a sense of belonging in the industry," Vara-Orta said. "They are examining the role identity plays in work, prompted by heightened global discourse in politics and pop culture, and they are seeking ways to strengthen the work they do to meet this moment."

Maria Hinojosa, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and founder of Futuro Media, touched on these topics and shared her own story of resilience in the conference’s keynote conversation.

In a session called "Finding your voice," Jill Geisler taught attendees how to speak up on issues. In another session, panelists came together to discuss the nuances of covering stories about mixed race populations — and their own experiences of being mixed race in the industry. And with growing numbers of media workers facing anxiety, depression and burnout, Mar Cabra lent an ear and shared tips to improve mental health culture in newsrooms.

In the same spirit, we made an effort to collaborate with partner organizations to offer members informative, valuable and culturally relevant programming. We worked with the National Center on Disability and Journalism, Trans Journalists Association, Education Writers Association, Indigenous Journalist Association, Trusting News and other partners to organize sessions.

IRE members can access AccessFest23 session recordings here.

As a benefit to non-members in the journalism industry, we also opened up one special session to the general public for free online: "Examine staff diversity and bias as a tool for more nuanced coverage," hosted by Lynn Walsh, of Trusting News, and Letrell Crittendon, of American Press Institute.

This panel created important dialogue about who is represented in newsroom coverage (and staff) and who is left out. The recording of this session is available here:

Lynn Walsh of Trusting News and Letrell Crittendon of American Press Institute present "Examine staff diversity and bias as a tool for more nuanced coverage," at AccessFest23.

Better representation may mean looking locally for talent and collaborating with other newsrooms, Crittendon said. If you’re looking for new voices in coverage, maybe reporters should get a day to go out and meet people in the community — without the pressure of producing a story, Walsh recommended.

"By holding each other accountable, by listening to each other…we can have more fair, nuanced and better news coverage," Walsh said.

In addition to better news coverage and representation, we also hoped to emphasize accessibility at this conference. The virtual nature allowed us to welcome people from around the country (and the world!) and include folks who may have wanted to skip the travel and accommodations that come with attending an in-person event.

Though it was our first official AccessFest, this conference is just one part of our broader mission to expand investigative training resources to people traditionally underrepresented in the field. In line with this goal, we launched IRE Guides at AccessFest23. Guides is an IRE website offering free online resources, educational materials and more. It’s open to anyone interested in investigative journalism.

Here’s what some of our attendees had to say:

After an exciting first year, we hope AccessFest will reach even more people and expand access to investigative journalism in the years to come.

"We’ve learned so much in the last few years with the DBEI Symposium and now AccessFest," Grandestaff said. "We look forward to the opportunity to grow with the needs of the industry and our membership."

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