Participating journalists have described recent training in investigative techniques held at Wits University as encouraging and valuable, writes Dumi Sigogo.

Charles King, from Mpumalanga, said: “Although I wanted to be an investigative journalist, I didn’t have the slightest understanding of how an investigative report is done, but this workshop has really exposed me to many techniques on how to plan and carry out an investigative piece.”

Senior journalist and author Goodynuff Mashego, also from Mpumalanga, said the IJW taught him how to generate investigative news stories. “It has largely exposed me to the tools required in a comprehensive investigation of a story, from corruption to issues of water supply and the absence of it.

“It has exposed me to avenues of the investigations toolbox that I did not utilise when I was doing my investigative pieces in the past,” said Mashego.
Thokozani Makhaya, an executive producer with Serongwanyane Technologies, said the workshop helped him to understand how to use a range of search engines and online tools methodically.

The journalists also said time, resources and money discouraged journalists from doing investigative work.
“We all know newspapers are obsessed with cutting on costs and maximising profits, so an investigation that will involve lots of travel and digging is not what newspapers are fond of given that they deal in hard news, not exposes. That lack of appreciation by newspapers for the investigative work makes many journos see investigative journalism as a bore,” said Mashego.

Carien du Plessis, political reporter for Beeld, told one session of the workshop that journalists needed to be patient when undertaking an investigation.  The research for one story she did, dealing with a controversial South African company, took 2 years.

“At least in countries like America you can get court and tender documents on the web so it makes it a whole lot easy for journalists,” Du Plessis said.
Gideon Mudzweda, a journalist with Lowveld Media, said his investigative articles often hit a snag because it was hard to obtain documentary evidence. However, a training session on the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) would help him get information from unwilling and uncooperative sources.

“Documentary evidence is important because at one time I was doing a story about a corrupt government official. His lawyers threatened legal action and the guy had me under surveillance and I felt my life and that of my family was in danger. But then at times those are just threats because we went to press and nothing happened because I had the necessary evidence for my story,” Mudzweda said.
Smanga Tshabalala, a freelancer with Media24, said most freelancers and small, under-resourced publications are discouraged from carrying out investigative work because publishers only pay per word and won’t fund such projects.

He said: “If you use your own resources, even for travelling, some publications don’t reimburse you the money you will have used to do the investigative story, they just pay for the words so it becomes financially not viable to carry out investigations as a freelance journalist,” said Tshabalala.

The training series, funded by USAID, began in July and has seen journalists from South Africa and Zimbabwe learning about areas such as media law, ethics, source mapping & planning, interviewing techniques, social networks, investigating local governments and tenders, creative writing and writing for the web.
The journalists are each required to produce an investigative story before the end of the training in October. The investigative journalism project also requires the journalist to produce stories on xenophobia, migration and environment.