Is it possible to create an efficient business model for investigative journalism in emerging countries? This question was debated in Geneva by Margo SMIT (Dutch-Flemish Association Of Investigative Journalists), Evelyn Groenink (FAIR, South Africa), Charles Rukuni (FAIR, Zimbabwe), and Shantanu Guha Ray (Tehelka news magazine, India).
We particulary met Charles Rukuni, the projects manager and mentor for the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR).
"When I got into journalism, Zimbabwe was still Southern Rhodesia and there were very few openings for black journalists, except if you went into sport. I studied by correspondence and started to write for a catholic weekly which had some black reporters but it was banned only two months after I started, but I joined the reporters that had been working for that paper and started working for them. I therefore started working hands on before training.
At the time, to get into journalism, you had to start as a cadet, then wait for two years and qualify as a reporter. When I tried to join the daily, I failed. I never knew if the application was wrong or the interview. So I continued to work for this paper that was sometimes banned and unbanned. At the time of the transitional government in 1978, we were sent to college expecting that the paper would be unbanned, but it was never unbanned, and I started to work as a freelance professional. The paper was unbanned by the transitional government of Lord Soames. I worked for it for a few months but it was a short adventure and I went back to freelancing. The funny thing is that in '81 I joined the paper that had turned me down before, and this time as a senior reporter, and that's how I joined the mainstream media.
I left the paper ten years later and started my own publication, called “The Insider”. It was based on the principle of “Africa Confidential”. It was printed until 2003, when it became electronic, in the form of a blog. I joined the congress of trade unions, where I met the secretary of the trade unions who is now Prime Minister. My role was to expose wrong doing among workers, to criticize unions that were not doing their work and that was not accepted by some leaders of the trade unions. Then I joined a news agency called “Africa Information Afrique” as the training editor. The agency covered news of southern Africa, from Namibia to Tanzania. That got me interested in training. I worked for AIA until 2003. I started to work for the Financial Gazette in 2004, as a correspondent.
I became a member of the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR), and in 2008 I was elected chairman. I joined FAIR full-time asprojects manager and mentor in June 2009. Our activities are mainly training and editing. FAIR's mission is to enhance, deepen and build investigative journalism throughout the continent. We don't publish the investigations, we act in backstage, supporting and advising investigative journalists. We only publish the transnational investigative report yearly."
GIJC : Do you have some advises ?
- Make sure the story you are thinking of is of public interest. You can do this by surveying grassroots.
- Make sure you have the audience. The grassroots who helped you raise the issue are also your audience. Use the grassroots contacts to explain that your subject is of real public interest concern.
- Make sure you have the buy in the media house.
- Try to show that your issue is more than local importance. If the issue affects people in more than one country, the sponsor will also feel that it is an important issue.
- Presentation matters. Show the potential sponsor that you have done your homework: that you know what story you want to write, how you are going to package it, what time frame you are looking at, and for which media house and audience you will be doing it- Make sure that they see your point: that all that is needed to bring out a great story, is some money.
- Try your local or international networks of fellow journalists, they may be interested to help, or support your proposal vis a vis founders.
- Try to get some financial support from the media house. Funders will be impressed, media more committed and it gives you as a journalist professional pride boost.
- Do a good job, it may boost the sales of the newspaper that published it that day. Such proven success will impress funders and media institutions alike.
- Build a reputation for making waves, audience-wise. If you secure an audience, advertisers who want to reach that audience will give you adverts.
- Be careful with issues that seem easily fundable because there are NGO's operating in the field. If you are paid by an NGO, there is a risk that you will be expected to be a mouthpiece of the NGO, and not an independent investigative. Always ask: what if some of my findings do not concur with your message?