BIRN Summer School: Pitching Stories and Interviewing Extremists

Day Four in Herceg Novi sees filmmaker Sundermeyer and programmer Bushcek join the line-up.

Pitching, geolocating and interviews with extremists were all on the agenda of Day Four of BIRN’s 2019 Summer School, which saw German ARD filmmaker Olaf Sundermeyer and independent programmer Christo Bushcek share their expertise with participants.

Lead Trainer Blake Morrison of Reuters opened the day with tips on how to pitch investigative stories, including the importance of focus and being able to explain ideas succinctly.

The gathered journalists – from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and the United States – had another chance to practice geolocating using open-source data with investigator Ben Strick of BBC Africa Eye and Bellingcat.

Photo: BIRN

Strick demonstrated how he and his colleagues had identified the soldiers behind civilian killings in Cameroon using maps, satellite images, video footage and official sources.

Sundermeyer, an author, filmmaker and investigative journalist with the German public broadcaster ARD, joined the line-up on Day Four with excerpts from his investigative documentaries and a talk about how to gain access to far-right groups in order to get a full picture of their rise in Germany.

“I respect everybody, every human being, even those who hate me as a journalist,” Sundermeyer said.

Among his tips for successful fieldwork: “A fixer is the most important person for journalists in foreign countries” and “You have to be patient with sources. Pay attention to them, spend time with them but never pay them”.

Photo: BIRN

The last session was reserved for Bushcek, a programmer who works on tools to help investigative journalists.

BIRN’s Summer School is organised in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, The Balkan Trust for Democracy and Austrian Development Agency, the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation, and with support from the European Union.

BIRN Summer School Day 3: Fact-Checking and Geolocating

BBC Africa Eye investigator Ben Strick and Ivana Jeremic, BIRN editor, joined the line-up of BIRN’s 10th Summer School.

“Fact-checkers are not boring,” BIRN editor Ivana Jeremic told participants on the third day of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Journalism in Montenegro on Wednesday. “They are here to make your story better”.

That was just one of the messages from Jeremic’s talk on the importance of fact-checking in journalism.

“Keep track of your activities and data. Question your thesis. Use timelines. Use Excel or Google Sheets. Save all the emails, messages and calls. Fact-checking will make your story even better,” Jeremic told the assembled journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and the United States.

Photo: BIRN

In the second session, Ben Strick, an investigator at BBC Africa Eye and Bellingcat, took participants through the fundamentals of open source data from Strava, Google Maps to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

In an interactive session, reporters had the opportunity to geolocate and chrono-locate various videos and pictures with Strick’s help.

Lead trainer Blake Morrison, Reuters investigative projects editor, discussed the art of the interview.

“Be yourself. Don’t deceive. Don’t get flustered. Ask for help,” he said. “You must be genuinely interested.”

The day ended with a screening of the Bellingcat documentary “Truth in a Post-Truth World”.

BIRN’s Summer School is organised in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, The Balkan Trust for Democracy and Austrian Development Agency, the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation, and with support from the European Union.

On Day Two of BIRN Summer School, ‘Know Your Story’

US cinematographer Andrew Baker and investigative reporter Dragana Peco joined BIRN’s 10th Summer School in Montenegro.

Day Two of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Journalism looked at the importance of proof, how to visualise an investigation for multimedia and methods of tracking offshore companies.

In the Montenegrin coastal town of Herceg Novi, lead trainer Blake Morrison put 30 reporters from the Balkans, Belgium, Hungary and the United States through their paces in trying to prove the stories they were reading were fake.

“Get rid of possible, leave provable,” said Morrison, investigative projects editor at Reuters.

Photo: BIRN

After a short break, the journalists spent three hours with US cinematographer Andrew Baker, who looked at ways to make investigative journalism visual.

“Know your story and follow it. Know your scene”, said Baker. “You have to be flexible, to know to pick up a camera or microphone, even if it is not your job. And always have a sound guy.”

Those attending the weeklong course, the 10th edition of BIRN’s Summer School, also heard from Dragan Peco, an investigative journalist with Serbian KRIK and the international Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, about how to track hidden offshore firms.

BIRN’s Summer School is organised in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, The Balkan Trust for Democracy and Austrian Development Agency, the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation, and with support from the European Union.

Data Leaks and Ship Tracking: BIRN’s 10th Summer School Begins

Reporters from across the Balkan region and beyond have gathered on the Montenegrin coast for a week of lectures, debates and workshops on the very best practices of investigative journalism.

The 10th edition of the BIRN Summer School of Investigative Journalism kicked off on Monday in the Montenegrin coastal town of Herceg Novi.

The weeklong summer school brings together journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and the United States.

On the first day, after an introduction by Marija Ristic, regional director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, those attending heard from Reuters investigative projects editor and the school’s lead trainer Blake Morrison about how to approach complex investigative stories, pitch ideas and find the right words to craft them.

“Experts aren’t simply meant to be quoted in stories,” Morrison said in one of his tips for those attending.

“The best ones – the most helpful, at least – are the ones who serve as your guide to understanding what you cover. Find a few. Be aware of their biases and treat them with a reporter’s skepticism. Ask them what are you missing. What do they see?”

Suddeutsche Zeitung journalist Frederik Obermaier, who was part of the Panama Papers investigation, spoke about investigating data, verifying leaks and the problems he and his team faced as they trawled though terabytes of data.

Frederik Obermaier

“Authenticity, public interest, no conditions, request for comment and known identity of the source, are 5 tips on what to check for when dealing with data leaks,” said Obermaier.

The debate continued during Obermaier’s second session when he looked at the case of the video leak that brought down Austria’s right-wing vice-chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, and eventually the country’s coalition government.

After a break, the reporters discussed story proposals and heard from BIRN’s investigative editor, Ivan Angelovski, about how to track ships and planes online.

BIRN’s Summer School is organised in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, headed by Hendrik Sittig, The Balkan Trust for Democracy and Austrian Development Agency, the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation and with support from the European Union.

Deadline for BIRN Summer School – 2019 scholarships is extended

Due to popular demand deadline for BIRN Summer School – 2019 scholarships is extended until 25. July.

Applications for scholarships must be received by July 25th, 2019. No application for an assisted place will be considered after this deadline. Standard applications (for non-scholarship applicants) must be received by August 1st, 2019. All participants will receive a BIRN Summer School certificate.

The tenth annual BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting will take place in Herceg Novi, Montenegro, in the heart of Boka Bay. Between August 18 and 25, reporters will have the opportunities to learn cutting-edge investigation skills while enjoying the delights of the Adriatic Sea.

Successful applicants will be provided with excellent possibilities for networking – and the possibility of getting a grant for a story idea.

For five days, 30 attendees will have the opportunity to learn from award-winning journalists and editors on how to conduct open source investigations, visualize stories, and investigate big data and verify leaks. Reporters will work together in groups throughout the week to develop an idea for a hard-hitting investigation, which will be presented to a panel of judges on the final day.

Best ideas will be awarded with funds and editorial support.

Like every year, BIRN Summer School trainers are committed to helping attendees develop the skills necessary for every journalist who specializes in investigative journalism. Among the trainers at the 10th Birn Summer School are: Blake Morrison, projects editor at Reuters; Frederik Obermaier, Süddeutsche Zeitung; and Benjamin Strick, BBC Africa Eye, and Bellingcat.

Take an opportunity to improve investigative skills and learn the latest tricks from media experts – apply now

For more information about the enrolment requirements, trainers and agenda please check BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting page.

If you need further information, don’t hesitate to contact us at birnsummerschool@birn.eu.com.

Ivan Angelovski

Ivan Angelovski is an investigative reporter and editor working on long term international projects with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

He was a member of a team of reporters that won the 2017 Global Investigative Journalism Conference’s citation of excellence, 2017 Investigative Reporting Award with the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia and the second prize of the EU investigative journalism award in the Western Balkans and Turkey in 2016.

Previously he was an investigative reporter for the Insider documentary program at TVB92 in Belgrade, Serbia.

Ivana Jeremic

Based in Belgrade, Ivana is an editor at Balkan Insight who coordinates and works on investigative stories.

Before joining BIRN, Ivana was an investigative reporter and fact-checker at the Serbian Center for Investigative Journalism  from 2012 to 2017 and was Deputy Editor-in-Chief at the same organisation from 2017 to 2018. For the last seven years, she has also been a fact-checker at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

Additionally, she has been an External Assessor at the Intern Journalism formational Fact-checking Network since 2017. Ivana is the 2017 European Press Prize Investigative Reporting Award laureate. She also received the 2017 Balkan Fact-checking Award, which, under the auspices of the International Fact-Checking Network, was established with the aim of encouraging citizens and journalists in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia to base articles on thoroughly fact-checked information. Ivana has been a fellow of BIRN’s 2018 Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence.

Dragana Peco

Dragana Peco works as an investigative journalist at KRIK and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and a staff researcher for the Investigative Dashboard (ID) online platform.

For six years she worked for the Centre for Investigative Reporting of Serbia (CINS). She won international 2018 Award for Outstanding Merits in Investigative Journalism, given by the Central European Initiative (CEI) and the South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO).

As part of the KRIK investigative team, in 2017 Dragana won Data Journalism Award and the journalistic award for ethics and courage „Dusan Bogavac“. She received the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence 2014 and three National awards for investigative journalism, in 2011, 2014 and 2016. Dragana trains other reporters in advanced journalism techniques, how to research business registries worldwide and follow the money.

Andrew Baker

Andrew Baker is a freelance filmmaker and photographer. His work is focused on documentary, both long-form and short.

His current projects include the feature documentary “Bellwether,” an expansive two-year production following the 2016 presidential election through the eyes of Terre Haute, Indiana — the one county in America that always votes for the winning president — and Beekeeping on Pluto, a 40-minute film exploring creation through the world of a Vermont blacksmith.

As a cinematographer and/or cameraman, he worked on “Severed” (Reuters documentary series, 2018), “Betrayal: The Plot that Won the White House” (MSNCB), Ultimaker product films, SNA Displays (Outsider), an untitled Tim O’Brien documentary (Look Alive films, dir. Aaron Matthews) and Ultimaker product films (Ultimaker). He lives in New York.

Olaf Sundermeyer

Author and journalist Olaf Sundermeyer studied law at the Ruhr-University Bochum and journalism at the University of Dortmund.

He has worked for national editorial offices in print media, such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), on radio and on television. His regular editorial team has been with Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB) since 2012.

His journalistic specialty is internal security issues such as extremism, crime, and violence in football. He is interested in the causes of conflict as well as the motives of violent activists, speaking with extremists in prison to uncover their motives. Sundermeyer is the author of several books; the most recent, “Gauland – The revenge of the old man” follows the transition of Alexander Gauland, AfD party chairman, from conservativist to extremist.

The biography is based on many of Sundermeyer’s conservations with Gauland and other relevant personalities. For his work, he was awarded the “Long Breath” research award in 2016 and 2018 and the German-Polish journalism award in 2014. Sundermeyer lives in Berlin.