It was the spring of 2002 and a young Ukrainian woman named Valentyna Telychenko was puzzled. Why, she wondered, do Ukrainian journalists still perform so poorly? After all, millions of dollars had been spent bringing trainers to teach journalists in this former Soviet republic and sending Ukrainian journalists to the United States and Western Europe so they could visit news organizations and learn from them.
Telychenko knew that changes should be evident by now. Journalists—if not the public they serve—should be able to see signs of improvement at least in the standards of journalistic practice. But she didn't find any when she analyzed the effect of the training and exchange programs for a Western donor. Despite the investment of tens of millions of dollars, she found that the quality of journalists' work was as bad as before the money started to flow. Her conclusion—that money was being wasted—was not well received.
When she met a fact-finding mission from the Danish nonprofit International Media Support (IMS) that summer, Telychenko asked a logical question: Is it possible to establish a project in which journalists can use the skills they are being taught? Her question emerged out of a number of conversations with journalists who had received Western-funded training. A frequent comment was "Oh yes, I would love to have that opportunity, but my newspaper (or radio or TV station) has no money." So once the trainers left or the reporter returned from overseas, there was no opportunity to practice what had been learned.
IMS took this finding back to the Danish Association for Investigative Journalism (Foreningen for Undersøgende Journalistik, FUJ). It had already partnered with Investigative Reporters and Editors in establishing the Global Investigative Journalism Conference, next being held in Kiev, Ukraine this October.
Hearing from Telychenko about the challenges facing journalists in Ukraine, FUJ and IMS decided in January 2003 to create Scoop, an organization to support the efforts of investigative reporters in places like Ukraine, where internal support is limited or nonexistent. Scoop is now active in 13 countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe and has been involved in establishing similar organizations in the Middle East (Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, ARIJ) and West Africa (Programme for African Investigative Reporting, PAIR). Since its founding, Scoop has supported the work of reporters and editors involved with more than 400 investigations; 25 of them have won awards in their own nations or internationally.
How Scoop Works
The way we work at Scoop is quite simple: Journalists who have promising ideas for investigations but work for news organizations with few resources apply for support. Mostly Scoop provides financial support, but because it is part of an international network journalists can also find expertise; partners, if needed; and back-up assistance, in case they get into trouble.
Scoop was designed to be a support structure for journalists. It is not in the business of building centers, creating associations, or providing training. Reporters are creating nonprofit centers for investigative reporting in their countries, and we offer support for their efforts. Scoop's mission is to respond to the local needs of investigative journalists so if training is the local need, then Scoop offers it, or, in most cases, asks a training organization to step in.
Scoop's efforts in Europe are overseen by a committee of Danish journalists as well as journalists representing the participating countries. Separate committees oversee Russia and the Caucasus. Each committee develops guidelines and operating plans; applications for funding are handled on the local level by coordinators for each participating nation or region. The native journalists are paid a small annual stipend; the Scandinavian journalists are volunteers.
We promote a peer-to-peer approach so reporters and editors involved with Scoop are in contact with working Western reporters and editors but they pursue stories on their own. Scoop coordinators don't rewrite or edit stories and they do very little coaching. Information about published stories, along with links to them, appear on Scoop's website. Every Scoop-supported story is subject to a legal review before it is published or broadcast. Scoop has only been sued once (in Moldova) and it prevailed.
Scoop supports small investigations that are of national interest—many of which have a budget of less than $1,300. But it also funds investigations involving teams from several countries and some of these cross-border projects have received grants of more than $53,000. With globalization well under way, it is imperative that reporters' investigative efforts assume global dimensions as well.
To summarize, Scoop's key operating principles are:
Support local investigative projects
Step in when journalists ask for our assistance but do not order investigations or ask that specific issues be researched
Promote the peer-to-peer approach of journalists working with journalists
Establish regional networks to promote transnational investigations.
Has Scoop been worth the many millions that the Neighbourhood Programme of the Danish government, the Open Society Foundations, and many other foundations have given to support its work? We know Scoop is making a difference. Enthusiastic reporters all over Eastern Europe and Russia are digging up the kind of information that those in authority, including the oligarchs, would like to keep hidden. Nonprofit centers for investigative reporting are being developed in many of these countries—and there are even investigative programs appearing on local TV in some parts of this region. In countries where we've been active, investigations funded by Scoop have changed laws, led to corrupt bureaucrats being fired, and alerted people to the pollution of their tap water.
Ask the former president of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin, about Scoop. An investigation into election fraud and another that looked at how the Voronin family used the presidency to enrich its own coffers led to his party's defeat and his own election loss.
Telychenko no longer works for Scoop. In Ukraine she has taken a role closely related to the passion that drove her to come up with this idea. She is the lawyer representing the widow of the murdered Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze in court cases trying to solve the brutal crime.
Henrik Kaufholz, whose journalism career started in 1967, is a reporter at the Danish daily Politiken. Co-founder of the Danish Association for Investigative Journalism (FUJ), he is FUJ's representative at Scoop for Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Russia. He has been a correspondent in Moscow, Bonn and Berlin, and he covered the war in the Balkans from 1991 to 1995.