Jens Egil Heftøy (37) lives in Oslo, Norway. He works as administrative manager at the Norwegian Foundation for Investigative Journalism (Stiftelsen for en Kritisk og Undersøkende Presse- SKUP) since 2009. He started his career as a journalist for a local newsroom at the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation in 1996. His professional experience also includes work for the online news environment, commercial radio and a business magazine focusing on the media industry.
Investigative Journalism in Norway: a Chat With Jens Egil Heftøy of the SKUP Foundation
1. First of all could you briefly introduce SKUP, its aims and activities?
SKUP is a non-profit foundation established in 1990 to inspire and educate Norwegian journalists in the field of investigative journalism. Similar initiatives in Denmark and Sweden were also established around this time. SKUP was a direct result of a group of Norwegian journalists who visited the Swedish conference in 1989.
The foundation is independent and self-owned but cooperates closely with the journalism union, the editors association, the institute for journalism, plus we have a close relationship with media companies in Norway. The foundation is run by a board of 15 journalists and editors from a wide range of media companies, both nationals and locals.
SKUP’s main event is the annual spring conference, which attracts over 600 journalists and editors from all over the country for a weekend. This makes SKUP one of Europe’s largest conferences for investigative journalism. The event features workshops, keynotes, CAR-training and debates on investigative journalistic methods and challenges. The core idea is encouraging colleagues from competing media companies to share their methods with each other, which is the best way to educate and inspire. Everything at SKUP is done on an ideal basis. The only paid position is the administrative manager. Even the Norwegian speakers at the conference are requested to pay a conference fee.
2. What is the current state of investigative journalism in Norway and how does it relate to the situation in other countries worldwide?
This is a hard question to answer, because it’s difficult to measure. First you have to decide what investigative journalism is. I think it’s often surrounded by too much mystery, which the journalists themselves are highly responsible for. It sounds so much cooler to say that you’re an investigative journalist, right? All journalism should be investigative, in my opinion. If not, it’s advertising- and way too many journalists are actually doing advertising nowadays.
Well, that was the moral speech. To try to answer on the state of affairs in Norway, one particular and measurable way is to look at the number of candidates for the annual SKUP Award. During the last 10 years this number has been fairly stable. The participation to our conference has increased, we see more job openings again, media companies are using their investigative journalists to promote their newspapers and newsrooms specifically hire investigative journalists. So, in this perspective I think investigative journalism is doing well in Norway: it looks to me like the editors and owners have understood that the only way to keep readers/listeners/viewers is to present exclusive content. Investigative journalism is good business.
So overall I’m optimistic on behalf of the investigative journalism, not only in Norway but also in the rest of the world. We see a lot of investigative units established worldwide these days and not just in traditional media but also in newly established organizations and non-profits.
3. What are the most important qualities an investigative journalist must possess or be willing to acquire?
This one is easier, although it’s a million answers to it. I think the main quality for any journalist will always be curiosity. Be eager to learn, solve puzzles and find out things, combined with huge patience and stamina. Remember that most of the work is quite boring. It’s not anything like TV: forget fake identities, deep throats and brown envelopes in dark parking spaces. Most of the time you spend reading material that turns out to be a dead-end.
Another important quality is to have an open mind. Be open to the fact that your idea could be wrong. The absolute worst thing you can do is to decide upfront what the story and angle is, and then start researching. If you do so you will only gather information that supports your ideas and the consequence can be fatal. Be the devil’s advocate: remember that facts against your arguments are as a natural part of the investigation as the facts that support your story.
4. How did investigative journalism change with the advent of new technologies, from what you could observe through your work at SKUP?
Everything is affected by new technology. It gives journalists new tools to do investigations. For journalism the Internet is an amazing step forward. It makes information more easily accessible and opens up a lot of opportunities, but technology can never replace humans. That’s a very dangerous road to go down. Internet and technology are very useful tools to use in journalism, but they are still just another tool.
Technology makes it necessary to learn new skills for journalists. One of the issues for investigative journalism now is that there is too much information available, so it’s more important to learn how to sort it through. One problem with all the information at our disposal is to find out what is true and what is not. To be critical to the source is more important now than ever because with new technology it is easier to manipulate information. Don’t trust anything, unless you researched it back to its origin.
Another challenge is the understanding of communication security. Protection of sources is every journalist’s most important issue. For this reason it is important for us to know how to secure our communication with sources, because I am afraid that lack of technical understanding among journalists can put sources at risk.
*Photo credit of mediabemanning
Thanks to Jens for sharing his experience and the story of SKUP!