By Jane Wiertel
June 5, 2021
When Alexandre Brutelle first became a journalist in 2014, he did not anticipate that his experiences would lead him to form an international network of journalists and experts focused on environmental investigations.
After collaborating and connecting with colleagues in Europe, Africa, North America, and other places around the world, Brutelle said he began to develop a strong list of contacts from training sessions that he participated in and administered. Simultaneously, he developed friendships and connections with scientists that possessed expertise in satellite imagery analysis and geoinformatics, scientific developments that allow scientists to better understand the Earth through imagery analysis. The initial connections with these groups of scientists and journalists allowed Brutelle to create the foundation for what would soon become the Environmental Investigative Forum (EIF).
At first, Brutelle said he did not believe that his two groups of friends could combine their talents. However, he took a leap of faith with one project and combined each groups’ skill sets. With the success of the first project, he pushed for collaboration on another project, and then another. The third project had an abundance of resources from both scientists and journalists that led to its success, Brutelle said.
“Based on this project, we decided to formalize the networks a bit more,” said Brutelle.
The organization started out informally in 2019. No registration or application was required to join the organization. There were no promotions of the developing network, either. However, as Brutelle continued to recognize the need for environmental reports and experts to support these projects, he brought together his resources and founded the organization a year later in November 2020.
The EIF has operated on two levels since its founding. The first is a team of individuals who work at the organizational level, developing projects to pursue, monitoring funding opportunities, and applying for grants that would allow community members to pursue those opportunities.
The network is the second level of the organization. Here, members receive support and advice from team members with experience or expertise in reporting on their areas of focus. Such support could take shape in the development of a hypothesis for an investigation, extra research on a certain topic area or initiating conversations to brainstorm story ideas, said Brutelle. One of EIF’s more recent projects found on the organization’s website investigates a French official involved in wood exportations but did not pay taxes.
“In the best-case scenario, we’re going to find some tailored funding opportunities that we can make them apply to with story ideas,” Brutelle said. “That’s the way that, at the moment, we support people.”
As they continue to support their current environmental investigations, Brutelle and other members of the EIF have also been considering what is next for the organization. Their efforts are focused on becoming more sustainable within the next couple of years in order to better serve the international community of journalists. The organization would one day like to be able to sponsor its own training events and frameworks that can be used by people within and outside of the network.
The EIF has also made connections with other non-profit organizations such as the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ) in order to achieve their aspirations. Through its partnership with the CCIJ, the EIF is looking to develop freelance investigative projects and other training opportunities in order to strengthen its impact with journalists and experts across the world.
“I would say all the encouragement that we got so far from many different networks, including the CCIJ, that we’re really grateful that you’re giving us this interest on this little space to talk,” said Brutelle.