— Francisco Vara-Orta (@fvaraorta) June 18, 2016
By Sarah Gamard
The word “family” comes up often at IRE conferences. Sheila Coronel began her keynote speech in New Orleans by saying she felt she was in a room with 1,800 cousins from all over the world — a global front of like-minded muckrakers.
The award-winning pioneer, who has long uncovered corruption in the Philippines and now teaches at the Columbia Journalism School, spoke to a ballroom full of reporters, editors and news affiliates on Saturday.
“Look at where we are now,” Coronel said, noting the “explosion” of investigative reporting around the world.
Ten years ago, during her first lecture at Columbia, she told her students they were at the dawn of a new muckraking age. She pointed to two of this year’s biggest investigations as perfect examples of the type of impact today’s reporters have marshalled. Tax-evading billionaires are “quaking in their private jets” since the release of the Panama Papers. The Associated Press’ “Seafood from Slaves” investigation freed hundreds of slaves in Thailand, while holding the entire supply chain responsible, right up to Walmart.
Coronel attributed the new wave of blockbuster investigations to collaborations across newsrooms and countries. “The era of the lone wolf is over,” she said.
The longtime journalist is a member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN). She said future muckrakers won’t be so tightly tethered to their home country because cross-border reporting barriers are no longer insurmountable.
But there are still challenges: Coronel said revenues are falling, threatening the stability of the free press. There's no holy grail to secure funding now and in the future, she said, but journalism’s new global network provides a model for international support.
Membership between journalism networks today is informal and members are bound by reciprocity and trust. Cross-border journalism networks like GIJN function similarly to the nefarious enterprises they investigate — like jihadist networks — because it takes one broad coalition to challenge another.
Investigative reporting, Colonel said, is still about “exposing the bastards," but it's also about opening up spaces and providing facts that inspire intelligent debate and invoke reader empathy.
She exalted the investigative journalists who have put their own welfare on the line for their work and continue to report in the face of danger and death threats, including Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism’s research director Hamoud Almahmoud, El Faro’s Oscar Martinez and Mada Masr’s Lina Attalah.
Coronel is optimistic that, if reporters shine a light on the wrongdoing, the world can become a more informed place, a better place.
Sarah Gamard is a New Orleans native, LSU undergraduate and summer staff writer at The Lens. She loves writing and telling a good story.