This is the preface of the VVOJ publication: Investigative Journalism in Europe (2005).
Research into (investigative) journalism has been an important activity for the Vereniging van Onderzoeksjournalisten (VVOJ) since this Dutch-Flemish ‘association of investigative journalists’ was founded in 2002. The ambitions to increase our knowledge about the different cultures in which we do our jobs came up in a very logical fashion: in order to be able to formulate the future activities of the newborn association, the founders had to know more about the professional skills, choices, opinions, ambitions and working conditions of investigative journalists in the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as the preconditions under which they have to do their jobs.
The project ‘Investigative Journalism in Europe’ is the result of the same way of thinking. In order to be able to draw up a programme for the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2005 that meets the needs of many journalists, the VVOJ had to know more about journalism culture and practice in other countries. We also needed to find excellent investigative projects that could be an example to others, and experienced investigative journalist who would be great speakers.
It turned out a research project is the best way to gather this information, especially for an association that has no paid staff to organise a conference. We have been able to find funds for the project, so we could hire journalists to do the part of the research for us. But even more important is that the project has resulted in this book, a unique comparison of the current state of investigative journalism in twenty European countries. Information about professional practices and newsroom culture in various European countries is now available to journalists seeking cooperation with foreign colleagues, to media wishing to develop cross-border investigative journalism, and to training institutions with international ambitions. This will be a first step towards laying the foundations for a European network of investigative reporters and editors.
The focus on ‘Europe’ in this project should be seen as a practical limitation. We would have loved to do a project ‘Investigative Journalism in the World’. Let us hope future hosts of the Global Investigative Journalism Conference will pick up what we left over: research into investigative journalism in Africa, North America, South America, Asia…. Wouldn’t it be great to have an overall picture?
‘Investigative Journalism in Europe’ is the fourth research project the VVOJ has conducted. The first project ‘Onderzoeksjournalistiek in Nederland en Vlaanderen’ (‘Investigative Journalism in the Netherlands and Flanders’) was presented at the first VVOJ-conference in November 2002 and played an important part in shaping the association in the years after. ‘Investigative Journalism in the US and Sweden’ was the first VVOJ-report in English and got into the differences between journalistic culture in the USA, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium. ‘Lesmateriaal voor Computer Assisted Reporting’ (‘Courseware for Computer Assisted Reporting’) helped us organise training.
What is striking in all these projects is that there is so much that we don’t know about our own profession. The VVOJ feels it is an important job for organisations like ours to fill this gap. We have to be able to define what we are doing and why we are doing it, in order to be able to defend and stimulate investigative journalism. A pilot can’t fly an airplane if he doesn’t know which buttons to press.
I would like to thank the Bedrijfsfonds voor de Pers, The Guardian Foundation, Stichting Democratie en Media and the Open Society Institute for their financial support to this project. I thank the journalists — most of them VVOJ-members — who went abroad to do the fieldwork and who wrote the country reports. Some of them were not paid, or only very little. Without them, the VVOJ wouldn’t have been able to present a project that covered so many countries. I would also like to thank the 200 interviewees in twenty countries for their time and willingness to share their knowledge with us. And finally I thank VVOJ-board member and project editor Dick van Eijk who put so much effort and time in accomplishing ‘Investigative Journalism in Europe’. It’s been an honour for me to support the project as business manager and fund raiser.