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Centre for  Investigative
Journalism Annual Convention

By Dave Yates

IF ABSOLUTE FIGURES ARE ANY INDICATION, then the Centre for Investigative Journalism is becoming a fact of life for more and more journalists across the country.

Only two years old, the Centre attracted some 600 people to its second annual convention at the end of March. That's an increase of about 200 over the first convention held in 1979.

And there's money in the bank to boot. At the end of last year, the Centre was languishing in a surplus of funds to the tune of $12,532.16.

The Centre felt so confident in its financial position that it subsidized travel to the convention and handed out three grants to journalists in the process of sniffing out what the Centre considers to be top-notch stories.

Details surrounding the grants, the journlists and their stories are being kept hush-hush so as not to tip off the prey.

The growing success of the Centre's conventions may bring with it a problem.

Already there is talk of limiting attendance at future conventions because the number of participants is becoming a mite unwieldy.

So far the Centre has been operated on a minimum of money thanks to the work of volunteers. But the day is coming when the Centre may have to hire an executive director.

As the Centre expands, costs go up, but discussions are being held with the federal revenue department with the aim of obtaining the tax status of a charity.

That would make contributions tax-exempt, making the Centre more attractive to donations from the large media companies.

Nevertheless, the financial position of the Centre will allow it to continue to expand regional workshops across the country, which may ease the pressure of numbers at the annual convention.

Plans are being made to hold next year's convention in Montreal again, but members want to get it into other cities in future years. Winnipeg has been suggested as the site for the convention in two years.

Another ticklish problem is the question of membership. Who should be allowed to join the Centre and attend conventions and regional seminars?

Some journalists feel there is no place for political party researchers or people who flak for large corporations (See the exchange between Gerry McAuliffe and Nick Fillmore, p. E22). While willing to share their modus operandi with other journalists, reporters prefer to play their cards close to the vest if people of other occupations are present.

But as one journalist pointed out, non-journalists can easily find out the proceedings of the convention by simply buying the tapes of each session.

Perhaps the most acute problem facing the Centre is the need to attract newspaper editors to the fold.

While there was an abundance of reporters from all media, as well as ample representation of producers and researchers from radio and TV, there was a sad lack of print editors.

Newspaper desk people appear to be a forgotten group or they are seen as a force opposed to reporters working on the same paper.

Some of the convention testimony indicates a disturbing gulf between reporters and desk people.

Louis-Gilles Francoeur had to pull an end-run round his bosses at Le Devoir to build his excellent articles on the fraudulent use of construction worker's pension funds.

The idea for the stories was initially axed by Le Devoir editors on the advice of lawyers.

So Francoeur, who churns out three to five labour stories a day for the paper, had to do his research on his own time.

Such an account is not unique to Le Devoir, but is a chilling indictment of how newspapers function across the country.

Yet the CIJ Review, containing 52 pages of investigative stories, is eloquent proof that editors want to publish good yarns.

The separatism between editors and reporters is bred, in part, by the nature of the newspaper business.

The first editions of afternoon newspapers go to press at 7 or 8 a.m., requiring armies of copy editors to work overnight.

Often they are cursing at stories by reporters they have never even met.

Yet their cooperation and good humour is essential to sensitive handling and meaningful display of stories into which reporters have poured a lot of sweat.

This gap of understanding is further accentuated by the fact that large numbers of desk people come from other countries and have little experience with local customs and issues.

Certainly the benefits for desk people at a CIJ convention are obvious. Not only would they get truckloads of good story ideas, but they would obtain a better appreciation of hurdles involved in digging out a good story.

Perhaps the CIJ might move to include more city editors and managing editors on panel discussions. After all, the inspiration for the many good stories being done doesn't just grow from reporters.

Newsroom managers need to know how to apportion time, effort, personnel and money to get stories which give readers a more profound view of local events.

Individual reports on many CIJ convention workshops can be found in the following articles:

Radio Journalism
Tools of the Trade
Getting the Story
The Referendum
Canadian Journalism--Pension Funds
Canadian Journalism
TV Journalism


Published in Sources May/June 1980 

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