‘Do not go in until you are fully armed’: Investigative journalist Randy Richmond on journalism as a weapon against systemic problems

Randy Richmond via Mike Hensen / Postmedia Network

“That wasn’t the real story.”

London Free Press journalist Randy Richmond stresses in the introduction of ‘WE ARE THE COPS’, a six-part investigative series examining an incident of police brutality, that the officers’ recollection of the incident conveniently excluded critical parts of the story that would reveal the full truth behind one woman’s arrest.

Richmond worked on the story for one year before it was published. He spent the majority of his time tracking down and interviewing the victim, fighting the crown for the release of surveillance footage, and researching the officers at the scene.

When ‘WE ARE THE COPS’ was published, the young woman’s story was finally—and truthfully—told. Following its release, the London police department and ANOVA (a shelter for abused women and their children) immediately and publicly denounced the officers’ use of violence.

Investigative stories on incidents like these (that are usually covered up and hidden) reveal systemic issues in society. Often times, minority or oppressed groups fall victim to abuses of power.

Richmond is no stranger to reporting from the margins.

Over the past few years, he has published numerous exposés on the mistreatment of inmates in prison, the assault against sex workers, and the stigma surrounding mental health and drugs.

Speaking at a guest lecture for a journalism class at Western University, Richmond explains that one of the greatest challenges of being an investigative reporter is that you are speaking on behalf of those who are not typically heard.

For Richmond, this means that he has to convince many that the stories of people who are shunned by mainstream media are worth listening to. He has adopted different techniques and strategies to ensure that authority figures (police officers, prison guards, and lawyers) don’t prevent him from going through with the story.

There will be attempts to suppress the media: “Do not go in until you are fully armed,” he said. “Don’t show your hand […] Stories often get killed.”

Perseverance is key, but Richmond advises students that the “best expertise is being curious and wanting to listen to people’s stories”. He tries to offer a sense of relatability when interviewing people, volunteering information on his own life as a husband and father of three daughters.

Richmond has won numerous awards for his work, including a Michener Award and the Canadian Mental Health Association award. With 30 years of journalism experience under his belt, Richmond has perfected the ability to convince marginalized people to tell important stories and to convince the rest of the world to listen.

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Fiona Huynh

Academic pieces from my time as a Media and Digital Communications student at Western University.