Inga Springe - “I can really change things”
Exposing the Invisible talks to investigative journalist Inga Springe about the urge and power to change things through investigations and how to keep that urge alive in times of personal or external crises. This interview was conducted in June 2022.
About the Interviewee
Inga Spriņģe is an award-winning investigative journalist, broadcaster, and one of the two founders of the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism Re:Baltica. Inga is a member of two international investigative journalism networks: the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). She has been giving lectures for different audiences on topics such as media literacy, misinformation, fact-checking and investigative journalism.
Exposing the Invisible in conversation with Inga Springe from Re:Baltica
(Note: the transcript includes minor edits for clarity reasons.)
Inga Springe (IS):
Okay, so my name is Inga Springe. And I am investigative reporter from Latvia, I am also co-founder of Baltic Centre for Investigative Journalism: reBaltica.
- Exposing the Invisible (ETI): Why did you decide to become an investigative journalist?
I'm working as investigative journalist because I want to change things. I just don't want to be observer, or be the one who sits on internet and writes bad comments and knows everything the best but don't do anything. So as an investigative reporter, I can really change things. Not like even regular reporters report about things like what happened. But I also want to influence and do some changes. And this is a perfect job for this purpose.
- ETI: Is there a recent example where your journalism has led to change?
There is one very recent example like now when the war in Ukraine started, I was the same desperate like everyone in my home country, like in Latvia and Estonia, where I'm partly also living. You know, you're sitting on Twitter, reading all these horrible news. And you feel so much helpless, because we can't do anything. I can't go and say: “Putin, don't do it, please”. Yeah. It's like I'm just sitting and observing. And then I thought, no, I also want to do something. And we reached out to Ukrainian colleagues, investigative journalists, and said... I wrote them: “maybe it's very stupid and naive question, but is there something I from Latvia can do for you?” And they wrote me back by saying actually, no, “we are now doing investigation on forced forced Ukrainian deportation to Russian camps. And actually, these people when they get out of Russia, they come to Europe through Latvia, and Estonia. So maybe you can help us get some people stories, so we can document the testimonies and maybe also uncover war crimes.” And I was like “yes, of course, I will come and do it because this is finally I can do something physically something real not like just sitting and observing all these terrible things happening.” So this is what actually we also did. With my colleagues in Estonia, we approached local Ukrainian refugees and asked if they would be ready to share their stories, and Ukrainian did investigation and articles about it.
- ETI: What have your investigations revealed about the ways Ukrainians are being forcibly deported to Russia?
So, if we got in more detail, like the cities like Mariupol, it's for many months, people were staying in the basements and then at one point when the food ends and also water ends, or even Russian soldiers themselves came to them and said you need to leave because there is human crisis humanitarian crisis, you just need to leave the town. And then there is a certain way how people actually can leave. They are sometimes misled, they are told like, no you can't go to Kiev for example, you just can go only to Russia's direction. And then there's like first checkpoints or so called filtration camps, where people are checked in. For example, some man said they should dress out. Their tattoos are checked for example, and if there is something suspicious in Russian soldiers’ mind, then they just arrest this man and take them away.
If everything goes more or less Okay, the families can get through these deportation camps and then they are taken somewhere further away in Russia, for like refugee camps where they are placed. And these camps are very, very far away, even 1000s of kilometres away from Ukrainian border. And then what our Ukrainian colleagues are doing, they are documenting all these facts, these routes, how the phones are taken away from these people, how they are misled, where they actually have been taken. Because it's a war crime, it's a war crime, to take people away against their own will or by misleading them. And that's why I am really happy that I can help in a way for this, to document these war crimes, because I believe that one day it all will count, and they need to show to the world what's actually happening and how, against the laws and peoples’ will. It's being done.
- ETI: What does a typical day look like for an investigative reporter?
You know, actually for an investigative reporter, the typical day is quite boring and lonely. It's not like in an exciting movie, see what Hollywood movies you're watching. It's actually a very boring, lonely job, because you're sitting, reading some documents or trying to understand some data. Like I'm trying to convince Excel to work and talk with me, and it never speaks to me. So I need to find someone who can explain what this Excel sheets says, for example. It's actually like it's time consuming, boring, exhausting job. But then there comes this moment, when this Excel document speaks this you. And you're like, “Yes! This is why this guy was actually lying to me or what he wanted to hide from me”. And then there is this “aha!” moment, when you realise this. Then you call and ask already for comments to this bad guy. And then the most exciting thing is, of course, when you publish it, because sometimes it might even take – it's another thing I learned – it might take maybe five years for something to happen, like I've been reporting about corrupt custom service guy for five year, and nothing changed. He was only promoted, because governing politicians were supporting him. But then, political situation changed, and there were all the evidence for the new government actually to use against this corrupt guy. And then, there was criminal investigation, and he was convicted. Sometimes it takes a lot of time, but still these "aha!" moments, this is the one which really drives me. And when you publish, and you can see some impact. It always depends how much time it will take. But that's the next thing, which also is very, like, satisfying.
- ETI: Is there something that you have learned in your career that you wish you could tell your younger self?
Well, when I was 30, I wanted to quit journalism, when I was first time in panic. And I thought so this is what it feels that you don't know what you actually want to do, what you can do in your life. Because, like I said, I want to be investigative reporter because I can do change. But what I have learned after 20 years, changes take a lot of time. And there are many people who actually don't want change because they're afraid of some change, even if the change will benefit to them, but they're afraid to change their lives or do something differently. So I would tell to myself, no – so this was 20 years ago – to be ready that it will take much time, that it will be very hard, because change doesn't happen. It happens very slowly. Sometimes it never happened. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it. That we just need to take it a bit easier. But it wouldn't have worked on me because I've always been this kind of maximalist. I want to do everything and change and fight. And this is also what I believe. I also have changed my mind at first I thought everyone can be investigative journalist. You learn skills and you do it. Now I think: “no, it should be some special mindset.” Because investigative journalism is not about just coming and asking people questions and writing a story. It's a passion. It's a conviction. Conviction, no? Conviction. Yeah, it's a conviction. Yeah, you need to, you need to really want and care about it. Because all the people which I know in investigative journalism, they are not in a way normal people. They have some kind of deviances. You have some passion. Maybe it's sometimes some weakness, but you compensate something but it's not for normal people. I think so.
Credits and Licensing
CC BY-SA 4.0
This content is produced by Tactical Tech's Exposing the Invisible project, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license
Speaker: Inga Springe
Video production: Laurence Ivil
Editorial support and coordination: Wael Eskandar, Lieke Ploeger, Laura Ranca
Animation and graphic design: Yiorgos Bagakis, Paulina Rams, Jack Wolf
Music: “Chill Abstract (Intention)" by Coma Media
This video series is part of the Collaborative and Investigative Journalism Initiative (CIJI) project co-funded by the European Commission under the Pilot Project: "Supporting investigative journalism and media freedom in the EU" (DG CONNECT), September 2021 - August 2022
The content reflects the speaker’s views and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
First published on October 5, 2022