Late last year, IRIN turned 20: two decades of award-winning reportage, photography and documentaries from some of the toughest places on earth.

We celebrated quietly, with an internal Slack message, and then our small team got back to work. #humblebrag

This week, with a little more fanfare, we’re launching our new website. It’s fast, with clean and simple design, and looks great on mobiles and tablets. It’ll allow us to deliver more dynamic and visual storytelling on a range of platforms.

We’d also like to introduce the first (and still growing!) board of directors of our new independent non-profit, IRIN Association, constituted last month in Geneva. It is led by Pulitzer Prize-nominated international correspondent, author and professor Howard French (see our press release for more).

We’re very pleased to have the support of Howard, as well as the other initial board members: Human Rights Watch investigator Peter Bouckaert, former deputy head of Switzerland’s humanitarian aid department Marco Ferrari, civil society strategist Andy Martin, and our very own former Officer-in-Charge Mark Bidder (we know we’re short on diversity - more members will be joining soon).

We’ve been on quite a journey over the last year, since we spun off from the UN. Sweat, tears and all the rest of it.

Unlike many news outlets, we haven’t done a lot of marketing and self-promotion. We’ve generally just kept our heads down and tried to let our work speak for itself.

But it’s time to speak up – partly because, well, we need your help.

Here’s why:

I joined IRIN because it was one of the few places I could do the kind of journalism I believed in: in-depth, informed, focused on adding value rather than regurgitating nonsense and conjecture.

As part of the UN, we had ample funds but had to fight for our editorial independence. Now we are able to speak freely but have to fight for our financial sustainability.

Serious journalism needs investment. Serious, field-based journalism in three languages from remote parts of the world is even more expensive. There is no silver bullet business model.

Yet public service media on the international scene are notoriously under-supported and face constant challenges to prove their worth. Traditional aid donors invest little in information even at a time when it is one of the most important pillars of any crisis response.

The humanitarian landscape has changed tremendously since we were founded following the Rwandan genocide. The number of people affected by humanitarian crises has more than doubled over the past decade (to 89 million by the last UN count). Climate change, population growth, volatile markets, water scarcity, extremism and the mushrooming of armed groups are pushing more and more communities to the edge. The number and diversity of crisis responders has also increased, as has the cost: $24 billion in 2014 alone. 

Our proposition is based on the following beliefs:  

  • Human suffering – no matter where it takes place – is equally deserving of attention, understanding and relief.
  • Free and independent reporting can increase public awareness and understanding of humanitarian crises; and strengthen preventative action as well as response.
  • People at the heart of crises have insights and solutions that must be considered by decision-makers sitting in far-away capitals.
  • Increased transparency and accountability contribute to better allocation of increasingly stretched aid resources. The emergency relief sector receives billions of dollars of taxpayer money every year and deserves the same scrutiny as any other.
  • Climate change, war, humanitarian crises, migration, aid policy – they are all interconnected. Problems on the other side of the Earth affect all of us. To know is to understand; to understand is to be able to act. We can no longer afford to live with blinders on.
  • People on opposite sides of the planet are not so different: we all want to be safe, to put our kids into school, to live a decent life.

Like everyone in these uncertain times for the news industry, we face legitimate questions about our business model, USP and target audience. Since leaving the UN, we’ve cut our costs by more than half. We are re-evaluating how IRIN can add the most value and are ready to pivot. We have continuously evolved over the last two decades - but never as much as in the last few months.

You’ve seen us experiment with formats and styles – from Twitter quote cards to narrative long-form; from video explainers to data visualisations. We’ve introduced a new editorial voice – a bolder IRIN – willing to call out UN leaders on inconsistencies; expose what refugees really think of the aid agencies meant to be helping them; and shine a light on the wasteful oligarchies in aid financing.

It is a constant challenge in this age of clickbait and algorithmocracy to remain authentic and principled. Balancing broad appeal and work of substance is no easy task, but ultimately, we must do justice to those in crisis. And we adamantly believe the emergency aid sector needs to be scrutinised by an informed and independent voice.

The work we do matters – it matters to the Palestinian refugees living in Syria’s Yarmouk camp; it matters to the victims of the terrible violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and it matters to all those who want to hold the aid industry to the highest standard (for more, read our manifesto).

And at this critical time in the world, a nuanced understanding of crises is more important than ever.

If this resonates with you:

Work with us: We are looking to expand our network of partners to ensure our financial sustainability in 2016 and beyond. We’re not asking for individual donations (yet) but if you’re a funder or philanthropist who believes in telling the untold stories at the heart of crises, please get in touch. It’s not all about cash though. If you’d like to collaborate with us to develop new products, republish our content, or co-produce, we’d love to hear from you too.

Engage: Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Medium and subscribe to our free daily newsletters. Check out our updates page for the latest. Experience some of our new ways of storytelling: explore our interactive data visualisations; play our humanitarian buzzword bingo; and add your comments to our public Google Docs. Take part in our live Twitter chats and give us your feedback by email, on social media, or by commenting on stories.   

Share: Help us build our community. When you read a story that shocks, moves or gives you an “ah-ha” moment, please take a second to share it with friends and colleagues.

It’s been an incredible 20 years. Today marks the start of a new chapter for IRIN. Join us in building an even more promising future.


Heba Aly
Managing Editor
[email protected]

16 February 2016

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