For investigative reporters, many risks and some answers

Reporters who dig up carefully buried facts about those in power can easily find themselves in danger. In countries where a tradition of watchdog journalism has not yet taken hold, the risks of practicing investigative reporting can be real and physical for those reporters that take it on. “Strictly speaking, the practice is almost like imposing a death warrant on yourself,” Kwame Karikari, head of the Ghana-based Media Foundation of West Africa on Thursday told a group of investigative reporters, media lawyers and press freedom advocates gathered at Columbia University in New York for a conference on countering threats and supporting innovations in the global watchdog press.

Russian speaker Roman Shleynov knows the risks well: Four colleagues at his newspaper,  Novaya Gazeta, have been murdered this decade. They include Anna Politkovskaya, who was known for her relentless reporting on Chechnya. Reporting in the provinces far from Moscow brings the greatest risk, he said.

When investigative journalists are attacked for their work, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon told the group, the best hope for justice is immediate documentation and a sustained effort at advocacy.

“Justice, if it’s ever achieved, is not going to be achieved quickly,” said Simon.

The conference continues today with a series of panels aimed at finding solutions to the legal, physical, and, lately, economic threats to investigative reporting in the United States and worldwide. Updates from the conference will appear throughout the day at the Watchdog Conference Web site, and audio from the panels is streaming live. 

Kristin Jones, a freelance journalist and researcher for the Center for Public Integrity, is a former senior research associate for CPJ. She is also a blogger for the Watchdog Conference.