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A clear consensus on the Centre is emerging

by Nick Fillmore

 

FIRST, SOME GENERAL COMMENTS. I think we should recognize that the Centre for Investigative Journalism is a very young organization—less than two years old. We have been deliberately slow in developing policy, waiting until more people across the country have thought about what directions we should take.

What is now emerging, however, is a consensus that, at least for the present time, the organization's emphasis will be on education:

  1. More that 1,000 reporters and editors attended CIJ seminars across the country in 1979, aimed at upgrading the standards of journalism;
  2. More than 650 attended the annual convention, which consisted mainly of workshops of a more general (less investigative) nature;
  3. The CIJ Bulletin is published six times a year and deals specifically with improving investigative and research techniques;
  4. The Sourcefile allows active CIJ members to telephone 24 hours a day and obtain background information for stories they're working on;
  5. Special attention is being given to providing help for journalism schools to establish better courses that include investigative and research journalism;
  6. The first of a series of booklets on journalism techniques is being worked on; it will tell reporters how to obtain the most accurate information on corporate ownership;
  7. To encourage and promote investigative reporting, the CIJ has just published its first review of the best reporting done in Canada during 1979; a 1980 edition is in the planning.

Two other major areas:

  1. The CIJ has established a fund that will assist reporters in doing important stories that might otherwise not get done; the first three awards were announced at the Montreal convention;
  2. The CIJ has taken an extremely tough stand on the important of having the best possible Freedom of Information legislation in Canada and has allocated funds to fight for strong legislation.

These are the major activities—I think quite remarkable for an organization that is less than two years old.

What next? The new board of directors has its first meeting in May and the priority will be to develop further policies and programs. There is a feeling among many of those working for the Centre to this point that the priority is now to get more investigative and research reporting in the newsrooms. Going to seminars and conventions and talking about doing good work isn't enough.

Many of the questions raised by Gerry McAuliffe are the same questions that have been of concern to many CIJ members during the past months. We feel that some of them have been resolved; others are still being debated.

So, as best as we can manage at this point, here's a reply to McAuliffe's specific points.

Objectives:

The thrust, at this point, is clearly educational. As noted, the majority of our members are reporters and we think this is quite a natural development. We agree that there must now be a major push to get more desk and middle-management people involved.

Membership:

The CIJ is run and controlled by working journalists and voting membership is open only to working journalists. Anyone else is an associate member, has no involvement in the Centre and is only an observer at any of our activities.

But I should point out that a lot of people in the "other" associate category are supportive of the goals of the Centre. They belong to public interest groups and publishing companies and others are lawyers, environmentalists and (a small number) public relations people. All of these are not the enemy and we do not believe they should be denied access to information. We don't believe the CIJ should be a closed shop.

We see no conflict of interest in this area, because the "others" have no voting rights in the CIJ.

As for funding journalists who might investigate a government agency or crown corporation, people who work for them can only have nonvoting associate status. Government agencies and corporations can't hold membership of any type, as organizations.

Should PR people, etc. be allowed to attend seminars where reporters may be discussing their organizations? Some reporters have been intimidated by their presence, but the alternative—to deny access to general seminars, thus controlling information—is unacceptable (In reality, some PR people who thought of coming to the convention changed their minds and didn't attend when they realized some reporters would probaby be hostile.) The best answer seems to be to hold small, select miniseminars in association with the major convention. These would be attended by people who are basically selected and known by that investigative reporter who will be talking with them.

The way the Sourcefile operates, it’s unlikely that anyone who misrepresents themselves could obtain much information. The file consists of an index card system with the names of all CIJ members, plus others considered to be a source of accurate information. When a request for information is received, the CIJ looks through the card system, usually calls two or three people to determine the best person available who may have the information wanted and then passes the best names on to the person seeking the information. Then it's entirely up to the persons called whether they want to answer the questions of the caller.

Funding:

I've already replied to the point about membership. It is wrong to say that membership revenues are used to fund special projects (grants to journalists). The funding comes only from grants obtained from foundations or media corporations.

Anyone who studies the activities of the Centre listed at the top of this article would have to agree, I think, that we are carrying out educational activities. Both media companies and foundations have already told us that they can donate to the CIJ only if we have charitable tax status.

Training of staff: ideally this should be done by the owners, but they're not doing the job. We'll be pushing them to do more in the future, but. in the meantime, if no one is doing enough training, it's an excellent function for the Centre. If we don't do it, it simply won't get done.

Annual Meeting:

We agree it was a mistake to hold the meeting at the end of the convention. Next year it will be held during the middle of the convention and there will be more emphasis on providing a proper agenda and letting people who will run for the board of directors.

Nick Fillmore, vice-president of the CIJ, responds that the Centre is still experiencing its birth trauma. He says that its goals are becoming clearer, that membership must remain open and that the Centre has to be realistic about its finances and its program.

This article is in response to Confusion threatens the CIJ's credibility by Gerry McAuliffe.

Published in SOURCES May-June 1980

 



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