Successful investigations are a combination of motivated people, careful decision-making and strategic methodology designed to deliver impactful investigative journalism.

This was the consensus during a panel discussion “Managing Investigations” at the recently held African Investigative Journalism Conference.

Session moderator, fraycollege CEO Paula Fray highlighted that investigative journalism adds value not only to the media but those affected and it’s the effective management of processes that make such investigations not only happen but also successful.

Small regional paper, Daily Dispatch editor Cheri-Ann James explains that before embarking on an investigation they question the value brought to the community they seek to empower most by the story.

Daily Dispatch won the 2020 Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism and CNN journalist of the year award for unravelling deep systemic issues that leave locals powerless.

“When deciding to tackle a particular project we ask ourselves what is the big public interest and how will this investigation affect the community we serve?” said James.

Focusing on the humanitarian sector, The New Humanitarian investigative editor Paisley Dodds said that at the heart of their stories are people affected by crises and confronted by flaws in society.

“With any story, be it an investigation or just a spot story, people are at the heart of our coverage and that means that with any of our stories there has to be a link to a humanitarian need,” she said.

Impact as a driving force

Dodds said impact drove the recent World Health Organisation (WHO) story, uncovering sexual abuse and exploitation by WHO officials in Congo during the Ebola response initiative.

She said it was an important story because of the size of the organisation and the fact that its structure is still dominated by men.

“The issue of sexual abuse and exploitation is often not covered though reporters actually uncover it,” she said.

“There weren’t any other people doing the story and we thought that it could have a huge impact, we thought that it was important for the women who were telling the stories on the ground but were not getting enough attention,” she added.

Prioritising investigations remains a difficult task with newsrooms having shrunk due to the economic crisis of the industry and the lack of resources to fund all bubbling issues.

James said behind their latest investigation were weekly crime reports by locals on livestock theft. These reports made for smaller bulletins but the story became magnified because people’s livelihoods were affected.

“Our investigations come from smaller stories we encounter in our day-to-day job as journalists. We take out one line and say that’s worth pursuing,” she said.

Risk assessment front of mind in investigations

Safety is always a looming concern for journalists with increasing attacks on reports both online and physically in parts of Africa.

According to an, African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) report, there have been incidents of physical attacks, illegal arrests and detentions and persecution of journalists in 2021 so far.

At least 11 have died across the continent.

James pointed out that safety precautions during investigations include constantly checking in on the location of reporters and assessing risk to avoid harm to both sources and journalists.

“There are different risks associated with different stories but at the end of the day, no life is worth a headline or a story,” she said.

“A lot of our planning […] means we need to ensure we have the right people on the ground who speak the languages and understand the security risks and understand the communities that we cover,” she said.

For more information on keeping journalists safe, please check the ,CPJ site.