Harnessing Global Insights to Refine Grassroots Accountability Journalism: Lessons from GIJC’23 for WikiTimes

It was a melting pot of journalistic innovation and resilience. The 2023 Global Investigative Journalism Conference (GIJC 2023), a biennial gathering that has become the lodestar for investigative reporters worldwide, is the 13th since the ritual started.

Yours faithfully is among the over 2,100 journalists from 132 countries who convened for the conference. A gathering of courage, knowledge and resilience, the conference was a defining moment for me in my journalistic sojourn.

It offered myriad of lessons, particularly pertinent to WikkiTimes and our local journalism. The conference was a reinforcing moment for me; one that will shape our operations at the outlet for decades to come.

Despite being an incredibly challenging period for me, mainly due to my editor, Yakubu Mohammed, falling ill and needing surgery, the valuable lessons and connections I’ve established will endure throughout my career as a journalist.

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From technology to the strength of collaboration, and from the craft of storytelling to standing up against corrupt leaders, the impact of GIJC23 and its teachings will be everlasting. It holds great significance for the media outlet I founded, WikkiTimes, which is dedicated to grassroots accountability, data-driven, and investigative journalism in marginalized communities in Northern Nigeria

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A key takeaway from the conference was how local outlets such as WikkiTimes will leverage on technology in investigative reporting. The argument was that digital tools are no longer auxiliaries,but rather essentials in the journalist’s toolkit. For WikkiTimes, this means incorporating digital forensics, data mining, and leveraging open-source intelligence into our investigative processes are non-negotiable. That is the way to go and we have since adopted measures to make this a reality. Digital tools like Google Earth,Wayback Machine etc could transform how stories are unearthed and told. This tech-driven approach could be particularly transformative in uncovering local corruption or environmental abuses in Nigeria in north east Nigeria where Boko Haram has held sway for ages.

Another essential lesson we learned was the significance of partnerships and collaboration, often referred to as the “game-changer” in investigative journalism. Our experiences at WikkiTimes, where we encountered challenges while exposing issues involving authoritarian rulers, have reinforced the vital role of partnerships and collaborations in our survival.

Engaging in both local and international collaborations allows us to share resources, tap into diverse expertise, and extend our impact, beyond our spheres of influence. Such partnerships prove especially valuable in cross-border investigations and in-depth reporting on issues such as human trafficking and financial corruption that transcend geographical boundaries. Moreover, they offer a sense of solidarity among journalists, mutually reinforcing our shared challenges, helping us mobilize local and global support for the journalists and newsrooms involved.

Another noteworthy lesson focused on the importance of character-driven narratives in storytelling. This concept deeply intrigued me, for, it has the potential to revolutionize journalism at WikkiTimes. Crafting stories around individuals, whether they are victims of injustice or whistleblowers, serves to humanize complex issues, making them more relatable to a wider audience

Data journalism, a recurring theme throughout the conference, presents an exciting opportunity for exploration at WikkiTimes. From creating visualizations to conducting in-depth analyses, WikkiTimes and other local newsrooms can offer compelling evidence within stories concerning local governance and social issues. We have already demonstrated the relevance of this form of journalism in our local context, as it greatly aids in holding those in power accountable.

Beyond data journalism, a pressing concern that consistently troubles me is the issue of funding for investigative journalism. While less discussed, it remains a crucial aspect of journalism. As a reporter and newsroom manager, I am deeply concerned about the fact that one of the primary threats facing newsrooms worldwide is the question of financial sustainability. This is not unique to Nigeria; it is a global challenge. However, at the conference, we gleaned valuable insights into how newsrooms, especially local outlets like WikkiTimes, can ensure their sustainability despite dwindling revenues in the media industry.

Discussions about sustainability have allowed me to integrate these lessons into our ongoing Nigeria Media Innovation Programme (NAMIP), which is aimed at positioning WikkiTimes for financial sustainability. The notion that independent journalism can endure by adopting a multifaceted approach that combines ethical journalism and viable business models is both promising and reinforcing for the type of newsroom we operate at WikkiTimes. Admittedly, it can be a daunting and challenging endeavor, particularly within the context of our environment, but it is feasible and attainable.

One often ignored topic in Northern Nigeria is the question of female investigative reporters. At the GIJC 2023, a conversation about the unique challenges faced by female investigative reporters was another point of attraction for me. We have struggled to attract female reporters for WikkiTimes in northern Nigeria. Which means, adequately reporting women in this region will continue to remain fragile in view of the complex societal structures and norms. Access to the female gender to get them tell their stories has always remain a challenging issues in northern Nigeria. Learning from the GIJC has enabled us to whither the storm. We have got two additional competent reporters for the newsroom and has started the “Unheard Voices” podcast which is meant to address the long question of patriarchal dominance in norther Nigeria.

Another valuable lesson that will continue to shape WikkiTimes stride in holding power to account borders on digital threats and cyber security. We have had our own share of this problem as an outlet. The conversation about digital threats at the GIJC reignited the debate about its escalating tendencies at an alarming scale. WikkiTimes’ journalists must be equipped to handle cybersecurity risks, more than any time in the history of our existence. This is a pillar we must factor in prominently as we move into 2024– thanks to the connection we have established with the Citizen’s Lab in Toronto– Canada. The argument about understanding digital safety– from secure communication to data protection, is crucial for journalists dealing with sensitive information.

ALSO READ: For Exposing Terrorism Funding, Illegal Mining in Niger State, Police Threaten WikkiTimes Editor, Wife, Others

Reporting in autocratic and restrictive environments, a reality for many journalists at the conference, offered lessons in resilience and innovative reporting techniques. These insights seemed especially valuable for WikkiTimes, operating in a country with disturbing cases of press freedom where yours faithfully also had his fare share of the toxicity.

Above all, the GIJC’23 redefined the role of investigative journalism in deepening democracies worldwide– a crusade that remains challenging precisely in fragile environment such as the one WikkiTimes operate in. But it is a reinforcing conference– one that reminds us that we need to be more committed not just in hold power to account but also to educate and uphold democratic values.

As I bid farewell to Gothenburg, I carried with me a trove of knowledge and experiences. GIJC 2023 was not just a professional gathering; it was a beacon of inspiration, guiding WikkiTimes towards a future where our journalism could make a real difference, both locally and globally. The lessons learned, amidst personal turmoil and professional growth, promised to shape our path ahead. It will no doubt illuminate the way for WikkiTimes to be a leader in Nigerian journalism.

Haruna Mohammed is the Publisher of WikkiTimes.

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