BRUSSELS - Teams of journalists working on a grant-supported story can get assistance from an experienced mentor. Here’s why that is a good thing.

Journalismfund’s mission has always been to support in-depth and independent journalism. The ways in which we’ve been doing that have evolved along with the changing needs and demands of journalists. One of the more recent services we offer our grantees is the chance to get support and assistance from a mentor for a story.

Nick Mathiason is co-director of Finance Uncovered, which has trained more than 350 journalists and activists from over 90 countries on how to investigate tax abuse, money laundering and corruption. Finance Uncovered then helps many of its participants publish stories on illicit finance. Nick is one of the mentors of Journalismfund Europe. We spoke with him to find out how exactly a mentor can have a big impact on a story.

1)    A heap of experience

First and foremost, a mentor comes with all their journalistic experience. Mathiason notices that especially less experienced journalist teams are sometimes not aware of exactly which of their findings will resonate as a story and which won’t. While a broad perspective on your story might help in the research phase, it doesn’t always once you start telling the story. Sometimes you have to narrow it down and get the story out there as quickly as possible. It’s good for a team to have someone to remind you of that when you are knee-deep in your story.

2)    Tailored to your needs and story

A mentor works with you and your team to tackle the specific challenges that come with your story. In Mathiason’s experience, a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works when it comes to supporting journalists. Every project has its needs just like every team of journalists has its own dynamic. All our mentors tailor their help to the specific needs of each story and team, whether that comes down to actively brainstorming and helping to find new leads, or mere project management of a collaboration.

3)    Smoother cross-border collaboration

Transnational stories involving journalists from several different countries and continents can be a challenge. Because of the differences in time zones, languages, workplaces and methods, good coordination between all team members is of vital importance. A mentor almost always has a positive effect on that coordination, be it in helping the team gain momentum, in offering advice on how to guard the common story, or in tackling logistic and practical issues by setting clear targets for each team member.

4)    Complementing the skillset of your team

An additional, experienced team member can bring a lot of extra know-how to the table. Journalists specialize in all kinds of things, from migration or intelligence services to healthcare and art, so there is a mentor out there for every project. For our Money Trail grants, for example, mentors like Mathiason offer the financial knowledge that is indispensable for these kinds of investigations: insight in bookkeeping, property location, fiscal legislation etc.

5)    Access to a network of skilled journalists

A mentor doesn’t come alone: they bring with them their network of contacts. Mathiason explains that Finance Uncovered has good contacts with a lot of talented people in especially Africa and Asia. They have more than once helped journalists find a colleague to work with in those regions.

6)    Find the perfect wording

Researching investigative stories can be risky business, but so can publishing them. People in power can go to great lengths to fight your story. A few wrong words or an unfortunately formulated sentence can be the difference between a lawsuit and no lawsuit. A mentor might better know what is possible to say without creating legal risk. For that reason, Mathiason offers editing help as a mentor, too, making sure that the wording doesn’t bring the team or the platform in legal difficulties. This is especially relevant when it concerns more technical stories.

Read all about Journalismfund’s mentoring programme here.

Nick Mathiason
Nick Mathiason is co-Director of Finance Uncovered. He is one of the mentors for our grant programmes.

Author: Raf Njotea

Nick Mathiason