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IRE national conference goes virtual, enabling global attendance

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 IRE conference will be a virtual event rather than an in-person gathering. For the first time, attendees across the United States and around the world will be able to participate in the signature investigative reporting event via a secure, interactive digital platform.

“We’re disappointed not to be able to see our IRE family in person,” IRE Board President Cheryl W. Thompson said. “But large indoor gatherings continue to be a potential danger during a pandemic, and the health and safety of our attendees are our top priority.”

The #IRE20 conference had been scheduled for late August at National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

Instead, a virtual #IRE20 global conference will be held Sept. 21-25. Most sessions will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Eastern time, to allow for participation across the United States and around the world. Most sessions will be recorded and available for attendees on demand for up to one year on the Pathable platform.

“This will be a historic event for IRE -- our first global virtual conference,” Executive Director Doug Haddix said. “As always, we’ll deliver a robust schedule filled with panels, demos and plenty of opportunities for attendees to interact one-on-one, in small groups and in larger gatherings.”

Ronan Farrow will give the keynote speech, as previously scheduled. Farrow is author of the best-selling “Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators.” His 2019 book details his efforts to investigate allegations of rape, sexual assault and abuse of women by powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and allegations of intimidation and cover-up by powerful institutions including the news media. Farrow is a contributing writer to The New Yorker. He previously worked as an anchor and investigative reporter at MSNBC and NBC News, with his print commentary and reporting appearing in publications including the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

Registration is expected to open in mid- to late July. Until then, here are FAQs to provide information known at this point:

What happens if I already registered for the August conference?

You’ll receive an email with information about your options and instructions. You may:

  • Cancel the registration and receive a full refund (minus any membership fees paid).
  • Cancel the registration and donate the amount to IRE general operations or a specific scholarship or fellowship fund.
  • Transfer your registration to the virtual conference (with a refund of the cost difference).
  • Transfer your registration to the virtual conference and donate the cost difference to IRE general operations or a specific scholarship or fellowship fund.

What should I do if I already have reserved rooms at the Gaylord National Hotel?

Attendees who have reservations through the IRE room block at Gaylord National Hotel will be canceled directly by the hotel and any deposits will be refunded. 

How about airline, train or other travel arrangements?

IRE is not able to refund airline, train or other transportation ticket costs. Please contact your transportation company directly regarding ticket cancellations. During this time of heightened health concerns, many airlines have relaxed their cancellation policies.

What will registration cost for the virtual IRE20 conference?

The IRE Board of Directors is creating a task force to study pricing options. Rates will be set before registration opens in mid- to late July.

When will registration open?

Mid- to late July.

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

Once you’re registered, you’ll receive a secure link that will allow you (and only you!) to sign into the online conference a few days before the event begins on September 21. Once inside the virtual conference, you may browse the schedule, build your own personalized schedule, request one-on-one meetings with other attendees and much more. We expect to offer several options during any given time slot. The majority of sessions will feature video presentations with several speakers -- typically using slides and tipsheets, similar to in-person events. During most sessions, you’ll be able to ask questions and interact with panelists in real time. We’ll also feature interactive social gatherings online. A variety of one-hour and 30-minute sessions will be offered, with ample breaks, during the half-day conference blocks. Stay tuned for more details as we put together all of the offerings.

Will I need special equipment or software to participate?

No. All you’ll need is Internet access and a computer, laptop or tablet — much as you need to participate in an online video meeting. To attend a virtual meeting on the Pathable platform, we strongly recommend using Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge browsers. 

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 will be recorded and available to attendees for up to one year. You can view them at your convenience. Most sessions will include video plus any related tipsheets, slide decks and chat transcripts.

How does a virtual conference provide value to university students and professors?

For colleges and universities, the #IRE20 conference will provide a wide array of high-caliber digital learning materials. The $50 rate for students is more affordable than many textbooks. We encourage professors to integrate the #IRE20 digital conference into their syllabi for the upcoming academic year. In addition, a fully revised new edition of The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook is available for use in classrooms and newsrooms. IRE members receive discounted pricing.

Will #IRE20 be useful to international journalists?

Absolutely. An in-person IRE conference typically attracts 150 or more international journalists. We encourage international journalists, educators and students to join us online for #IRE20. An affordable registration rate -- plus no need to spend money on travel, lodging and meals -- opens up opportunities for far more journalists around the world to join IRE for learning, inspiration and collaboration. We’ll also provide ways for international journalists to connect with one another during the conference.

Will there still be a mentorship program? 

Yes. We’ll start taking applications soon for mentors and mentees. Being online, this year’s program will look a little different. But IRE still will match mentors with mentees and arrange for them to meet at a special event during the online conference.

What about the IRE Awards luncheon?

We’ll honor all IRE Award finalists and winners as in past years with an inspirational video, just as we would have done in person. In addition, we’re exploring creative new ways for attendees to interact with award winners in small video meetups. The physical awards will be shipped to winners.

Will smaller master classes be offered?

Yes, stay tuned for details on these exciting add-ons to the conference. We plan to offer small, interactive workshops on interviewing, writing, open source research, verification and more.

Will there be swag?

To commemorate IRE’s first virtual conference, T-shirts and other items will be available for purchase in the IRE Store.    

How can I become a sponsor of the virtual #IRE20 conference?

We’re working with current #IRE20 sponsors to show them interactive opportunities in our virtual conference platform. If you’d like information on the benefits of sponsoring #IRE20, please contact Chris Vachon, IRE director of partnerships, by email:

How can I keep up with new developments connected to #IRE20?

Please sign up here to receive e-mail updates about #IRE20. It’s the best way to stay up-to-date on the latest virtual conference news. If you already signed up for #IRE20 email updates (for our in-person conference), your information is still on our email list.

What if I have other questions?

We don’t know all of the answers at this point, but feel free to email any questions to

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