How I learned to be an investigative reporter

What does it mean to be an investigative reporter? A year ago if I had been asked this question I probably would have just given a quick theatrical answer.

“It means going in the trenches for the goods, the leads, the headlines,” would have probably been my response.

Though I am no expert, today I have a greater understanding of what investigative reporting entails. This is primarily due to the Georgia News Lab and a man named David Armstrong.

This week the Association of Opinion Journalists Foundation announced that Armstrong would be the 2016 recipient of the Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship, given to educators who promote diversity in journalism, and as one of his former Georgia News Lab students I am not at all surprised.

Credit: Brad Schrade

Credit: Brad Schrade

To give a little background, the Georgia News Lab is an award-winning investigative reporting training program for students from institutions like Georgia State University, Clark Atlanta University, Emory, UGA and Morehouse, my alma mater.

Strengthened by its partnership with the AJC and Channel 2 Action News, the program allows students to receive firsthand experience with investigative journalism while also networking with journalists already experienced within the field.

Prior to being a part of the program my opinion of what an investigative reporter looked like was based on what I had observed from comic books and film. Basically it was a white guy with a pen on his ear and a hat with a piece of paper reading press strapped to the side.

Though a hilariously dated image, to me it reflected the primary demographic of reporters in newsrooms throughout the country. The issue with this perception was that I never envisioned an image of an investigative reporter that looked like me, a black man aspiring to be a journalist.

From day one at the Georgia News Lab I was not only surrounded by a diverse group of peers but I was also taken seriously as a journalist. Most programs that seek student journalists, especially those of color, have a tendency to coddle and underestimate. With Armstrong that was far from the case.

Though we were students, Armstrong looked at us as professional journalists and treated as such. Now that doesn’t mean that we were immediately thrown into the lion’s den with nothing but a notepad and our charm. At its core the program is still educational.

However, there was always a consistent respect of our skills and intelligence. That is in part why I am not at all surprised that Armstrong would be receiving an award for his role as an educator in propelling journalists of color into the field of journalism. Half of my class, including myself, are living examples of it.

As a person of color and student of the program, the Georgia News Lab is truly a career-changing program and I am certainly far from the only person who thinks so.

Following its inception the Georgia News Lab has received several major awards for its great work. To name a few, in the past year the program has been awarded with an Online News Association’s Challenge Fund Grand Prize as well as the Atlanta Press Club’s Impact Award.

It has also been nationally recognized by publications like the Columbia Journalism Review for its commitment to bring diversity to investigative reporting. It is because of this commitment that I sit as an intern today with the AJC.