For Robert Cribb, there was never any question.
“The only kind of journalism I ever wanted to do was investigative,” he says. True to his word that is exactly what Rob is doing with the Toronto Star.
“It’s the kind of journalism that looks at themes and motivations. It forces you to look for the moral of the story. It’s not about anecdotes. It’s about what the anecdotes say about larger truths.”
Rob has won national and international awards and citations for his investigations into offshore tax evasion, human trafficking and public health threats. He has spent weeks, and sometimes months on a single issue. He has done deep dives into data, filed countless Freedom of Information requests, and conducted thousands of interviews in pursuit of his stories. He has used hidden microphones and cameras.
“I used to be paralyzingly nervous with those. But the bottom line is that when we go undercover, we are very careful to ensure we are on the side of the angels. I have a very clear mission — to make sure the story is told.”
After his undergrad degree, Rob went to Carleton for a Masters in Journalism. He worked at the London Free Press before landing jobs at the CBC and, later, the Toronto Star. His bosses saw the value of his work and Rob believes he may be the luckiest journalist around. But there is often an emotional price to pay.
“The most haunting stories for me are the ones about child exploitation and abuse,” Rob explains. “They are the darkest and the hardest to tell. And yet those stories have empowered the people featured in them in ways that are very meaningful. These stories have influenced lawmakers and the public. I don’t think there is subject matter more important than this. It is a particularly under-covered area of journalism and that’s what draws me to it.”
But Rob is more than an investigative reporter. He is co-author of Digging Deeper: A Canadian Reporter’s Research Guide (Oxford University Press) and he teaches journalism at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and investigative reporting at Ryerson. It is at Ryerson where Rob created the National Student Investigative Reporting Network (NSIRN).
“It may be the thing that brings me the greatest sense of pride and hope for the future of investigative reporting in Canada,” he says.
The network brings together journalism schools from across the country, including King’s, and upwards of a hundred student journalists working in collaboration and in partnership with major news organizations.
“It is one potential way to save investigative reporting at a time of unprecedented economic restraint. It adds tremendous energy and resources bringing together young journalists to dig away at vital public interest stories in a way no news organization could ever match.”
It is a huge development in a career that can be traced back to Rob’s experience in the Foundation Year Program (FYP).
“FYP was a big factor for me. It completely rewired my brain. It taught me the kind of thinking that is very appropriate for investigative reporting. It is thematic thinking, it’s sweeping, it’s cinematic. And you start to look for human motivations that drive action. It’s classics, but it is also very journalistic. In a way, investigative journalism is FYP journalism.”
Posted: May 2019