The Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH) has recently launched the Investigative Journalism Bureau (IJB), a collaborative newsroom that brings together students, journalists, and researchers to work on large investigative projects that may be of public interest. The bureau, which will be launching its first project later this month, aims to produce major investigative projects and teach students investigative skills. 

The high cost and time-consuming nature of investigative journalism means that it is often cut due to budget restraints despite its importance to the industry and the public. Robert Cribb, the founder and director of the IJB, told The Varsity that he hopes the model will preserve a practice that is often crippled by a “restrictive economic lens.”

Collaboration between academics, journalists, and media outlets

The project will take advantage of the overlap between the research undertaken by journalists and academics. According to Cribb, the combined resources of media companies and educational institutions provides a potentially valuable model that “benefits not just the public in terms of journalism,” but also journalists who can conduct more in-depth work and students who can gain experience.

The IJB is partnering with 10 universities in Canada and a number of media platforms, such as the Toronto Star and NBC News. One of the first steps to developing a project is negotiating with media partners so that the project will have the widest possible reach.

“A lot of people read daily newspapers… they are the lifeblood of the news flow,” Cribb explained. “They come out every day and they shape the conversation on a daily basis. They are mass consumed.” 

The IJB’s model will also allow investigations to be relevant to local areas, as opposed to stories in magazines that do investigations with a larger scope, such as those in The New Yorker. Even though the model is yet to be tested, Cribb believes that collaborative journalism should grow because of its advantages to news stories.

The IJB has partnered with the DLSPH for several reasons, according to Cribb, including the “visionary leadership” at the school and the fact that, as a school of public health, it has been very actively involved with newspapers over the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that as a “hub area of inquiry,” the school has a broad reach into issues that are newsworthy.

Professor Adalsteinn Brown, the dean of DLSPH, noted that the current pandemic has also proved how important it is to engage Canadians in matters of public health. He added that collaboration between academics and journalists can “bring important new insights to the public” and even save lives.

Benefits to journalism and students

The program will also offer students a great opportunity to develop research and investigative skills. “Students… gain these skills from public records research, to premium information requests, to investigative interviewing skills,” Cribb noted. According to the IJB’s website, students can get involved with the program through credited practicums or class projects.

He added that many students who participate in these kinds of programs go on to have very successful careers in media. “After contributing to stories that have changed minds and public policy, many leave with a passion and conviction for this work. When that happens, we all win.”

While university-affiliated investigative programs are not common, there are some nonprofits that conduct similar work to the IJB. Cribb said that there’s no way to know whether university-affiliated investigations will expand, but that there has been a definite shift to nonprofit journalism. “It is, without question, a more impactful way of doing the work we do in the service of the public interest.”