BIRN Summer School Day 4: How to Scale Up Investigation

On the fourth third day of BIRN’s Summer School in Dubrovnik, journalists heard how to pitch stories, structure investigative projects and use open data.

The fourth day of BIRN’s Summer School Master Class of Investigative Journalism in the historic city of Dubrovnik on Thursday started with a session on pitching story ideas, run by Lawrence Marzouk, editor with Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Marzouk explained how stories can be pitched to editors without overpromising while bearing in mind the possible angle, sources and the outcomes.

“You need a clear idea; do not spread a lot of different things,“ he said.

Marzouk said journalists should try not promise too much from a story and must be realistic, but their stories have to be fresh and new, workable and possible, to explain why something is important.

“At the beginning, you should at least have a theory in your head, something you would try to prove,“ he said.

Miranda Patrucic, an investigative reporter and regional editor with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, continued her lecture on how to “follow the money“.

She explained how to gather publicly available information about companies and how to research their financial statements and assets.

“A financial statement summarizes the revenues, costs and expenses incurred during a specific period of time,“ Patrucic explained.

In the afternoon session, Blake Morrison, lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, advised journalists on how to pitch stories and structure investigative projects.

“You should always think of how to better communicate the story, to use the audio-video material, the data,” he said.

During the last Thursday’s session, BIRN’s Marzouk shed light on a case study about the arms trade from the Balkans and Central Europe to the Middle East.

Journalists heard how to use open data to trace and track the arms trade.

Marzouk explained that, while researching a “controversial industry” like the arms trade, journalists “have to harvest all the possible open source databases” because the industry is highly regulated, meaning that there is a lot of documentation.

During the fourth day, participants at the Summer School also continued to work on their investigation proposals that they will present on Friday.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with the support of USAID Macedonia.

BIRN Summer School: The Art of Interviews and Tracing Money

On the third day of BIRN’s Summer School, journalists heard how to conduct interviews and investigate offshore industries.

On day three of the BIRN summer school in Dubrovnik, Blake Morrison, the lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, held a session on the “art of interviewing” and on how to convince difficult sources to talk, describing interviews as a crucial component of the journalistic job.

The task was “how to get the information from the people. And to do it ethically,” he said.

“My philosophy on interviewing is pretty simple… Think of it as a blind date,” he noted,  explaining that the interviewee needs to “be understood.

“It’s very important to be curious. If you don’t understand something, don’t presume, ask,” he continued.

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Morrison explained that there are three types of interview: information interviews, which involve collecting information on something; accountability interviews, asking a person to explain his or her acts; and emotional interviews, in which person sheds light on his or her emotional perspective.

Morrison emphasised the need for preparation and gave insight into why some people agree to give an interview: vanity, the need to be understood, self-interest, desperation, guilt and curiosity.

“I really believe as a journalist is that our commitment to honesty is crucial,” Morrison said.

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The workshop on data journalism and using advanced internet research continued on Wednesday.

Henk van Ess, who works with a number of European media outlets, as well as Bellingcat, continued his training on data journalism, answering questions from the participants through stories he has covered over the years.

He showed the participants how to use open sources and social media for their investigative stories, showing the example of the work he did in tracing the ISIS executer, Jihadi John.

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Miranda Patrucic, an investigative reporter and regional editor with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, also held an interactive lecture on how to “follow the money” and how to investigate offshore industry.

She conducted an exercise on tracking money and on shell and shelf companies through various databases, both open-source and paid-for.

“Many of offshore companies have a legitimate purpose in the business word, however, they could be manipulated by criminals to hide their crimes, money laundering,“ Patrucic observed.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

 

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with the support of USAID Macedonia.

BIRN Summer School Day 2: Social Media, Fact-Checking for Investigative Journalists

BIRN’s Summer School continued on Tuesday with sessions exploring data journalism and fact-checking methods.

Head trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, Blake Morrison, showed BIRN Summer School Master Class of Investigative Journalism how to use a creative approach to fact-checking in Dubrovnik.

An interactive exercise explored the difference between supposition and proof and how to separate fact from suspicion, while determining standards for fact-checking.

Monday’s workshop on data journalism continued into its second day. Christiaan Triebert, a conflict researcher with Bellingcat, led the group. Bellingcat has achieved notoriety for its utilisation of open source information to investigate armed conflicts and corruption, and has won multiple awards.

During the workshop, participants learned about analytical tools required for data journalism, while Triebert explained the process of digital open source investigation, and how it can improve investigative reporting skills.

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The middle of the session examined the capacity of geolocation tools to pinpoint exact places and how to use satellite imagery as a fact-checking tool. Triebert explained how advanced internet applications such as Google Maps can bolster research underpinning complex investigative stories.

“But you will still need traditional reporting and journalists on the ground,“ Triebert said.

Henk van Ess, who works with various European media outlets, as well as Bellingcat, also provided data journalism training, answering questions from BIRN Summer School participants about using social media as an investigative tool.

Journalists learned Facebook data mining methods, how to find elusive people through checking secret IDs, and how to discover closed groups or find people working for security agencies. In short, “how to search over two trillion Facebook postings in a clever way,“ he said.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with the support of USAID Macedonia.

Eighth BIRN Summer School Opens in Croatia

BIRN’s latest Summer School opened on Monday in Dubrovnik with interactive sessions on advanced digital research and use of open data sources.

Some 35 reporters from the Balkans and across the world gathered on Monday in the historic resort city of Dubrovnik in Croatia for the eighth BIRN Summer School Master Class on Investigative Journalism.

After greeting this year’s participants, Blake Morrison, the school’s lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, held an interactive exercise and discussion about the challenges of investigative reporting. Morrison shared sources and interview techniques and tips on researching complex investigations.

The first day continued with an introductory workshop on data journalism led by Christiaan Triebert, a conflict researcher with Bellingcat, a multi-award winning collective that uses online open source information to investigate armed conflicts and corruption.

During the workshop, participants learnt about the analytical tools needed for data journalism while Triebert explained the process of a digital open source investigation, research and verification, and how to use digital tools to uncover corruption and crime. “There is so much information available online,“ he said.

Henk van Ess, who works with various European media and Bellingcat, meanwhile showed how to go “fast and furious with stuff that seems impossible to validate”.

Van Ess shared plenty of practical tips to validate information from social media and other open sources.

Blake Morrison, the school’s lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters
Blake Morrison, the school’s lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters

In the afternoon, the participants were divided up into smaller groups for in-depth sessions with Reuter’s editor Morrison.

The eighth BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia,  the Czech Republic, Greece, Kosovo, Luxemburg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States.

The Summer School is organized in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung, Open Society Foundations and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation with support of USAID Macedonia.

BIRN Summer School Day 4: Scaling Up Investigations

On the fourth day of BIRN’s Summer School, trainers advised the journalists on how to pitch stories, structure investigative projects and use technology to assist their work.

The fourth day of BIRN’s Summer School Master Class of Investigative Journalism in the historic town of Konjic in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday started with a session on pitching story ideas, run by Blake Morrison, lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters.

Blake explained how stories can be pitched to editors without overpromising while bearing in mind all the possible outcomes.

“As reporters, you’ll have real highs and real lows, and we have a job to even them up… Sometimes as investigative reporters we dig a dry well and that’s normal. But nevertheless, we aim to have less of them,” he told the participants.

“Sometimes you work on a story that just doesn’t resonate. And that’s why we have to give them ‘legs’, which will make them have an effect,” he added.

Blake explained that journalist should not promise too much from a story and must be realistic, but nevertheless should believe in the most positive outcome, while not pretending it’s possible to predict every possible outcome of their research.

Blake concluded that journalists should know that they are not alone in their work, and if they do not have editors to support them, they should find support among colleagues or elsewhere.

Lawrence Marzouk, a journalist and editor with Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, shed light on a case study about the arms trade from the Balkans and Central Europe to the Middle East, a report that caused serious reactions in the countries mentioned.

“You should first ‘pick the lowest hanging fruit’,” he said, while explaining how the reporting team tracked 1.2 billion euros of weapons sold to Middle Eastern countries.

Marzouk explained how reporters, while researching a “controversial industry” like the arms trade, “have to harvest all the possible open source databases” because the industry is highly regulated, meaning that there is a lot of documentation.

“To find the weakest link in the system, you have to know the system,” he.

Participants then had the opportunity to discuss techniques and databases with Marzouk using the arms trade story as an example.

Miranda Patrucic, an investigative reporter and regional editor with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, presented her work connected to the Panama Papers, giving an insight into how the research was done.

Patrucic explained how the offshore industry functions, through proxies, different types of companies, trusts and bearer shareholders. She also explained the interest countries with tax heavens have in allowing offshore companies to operate.

“These island states are very small with small costs. And all the documents for opening offshore companies, such as a certificate of good standing, cost something and the states make a significant profit on it,” she explained.

By showing concrete examples from the Panama Papers, Patrucic explained to the participants how to ‘follow the money’ and the businesses of offshore companies.

The former editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Martin Kaiser, ended the day with his masterclass session on investigative journalism.

“First of all, a journalist’s first obligation is to the truth,” Kaiser said.

“[Journalism’s] essence is discipline and verification… it must serve as an independent monitor of power,” he added. “It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise, meaning you have to listen… We make mistakes and when we do, we correct them.”

He also said that stories must be interesting and relevant.

“You got a significant story, how do you make it interesting? How do you make it relevant? How do you write in such a manner that it captures people’s attention?” Kaiser asked.

He explained that contemporary journalism has to use all the newest technologies and tools for writing stories, but underlined that journalists should remain “great storytellers” who “shed light where there was darkness”.

After presenting an outline of his work on a story about the high incidence of drunken drivers in the US state of Wisconsin, Kaiser gave the participants the opportunity to discuss what works and what does not in investigative journalism.

The Summer School is organised by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and with the support of the Open Society Foundations and USAID Macedonia.

 

BIRN Summer School Day 3: Interviewing Techniques and Sourcing

On the third day of BIRN’s Summer School, journalists heard how to harness the power of social media, carry out interviews and develop sources for stories.

The third day of BIRN’s Summer School Master Class of Investigative Journalism started with Paul Myers, an expert in using social media for investigations, offering tips on searching Twitter and Facebook for investigative stories

“If you have to approach the person on social media, try to do it over the publication’s [media] account and not your private account, and then people will attack your company and not you,” Myers told participants at the school, held this year in the historic town of Konjic, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“In short, everybody we’re investigating is either on Facebook or has family on Facebook. The information you can get from different social networks, websites, directories are offering a mosaic of information that you can wander around […] proving things that need to be proved, finding new information you didn’t have before that will help to develop your stories,” he added.

Blake Morrison, lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, held a session on the art of interviewing.

Morrison said: “My philosophy on interviewing is pretty simple… Think of it as an important meeting. With a stranger,” explaining that the interviewee needs to “be understood”.

“It’s important to be authentic, because people can tell when someone is unauthentic and misrepresent themselves,” he added.

“If we do a job well, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. That’s the confidence I am talking about,” Morrison said.

“It’s very important to be curious. If you don’t understand something, don’t presume, ask,” he concluded.

He explained that there are three types of interview: information interviews, which involve collecting information on something; accountability interview, asking the person to explain his or her acts; and emotional ones, in which person sheds light on his or her emotional perspective.

Morrison emphasised the need for preparation and gave an insight into why people agree to give an interview: vanity, need to be understood, self-interest, desperation, guilt and curiosity.

Jim Mintz, an adjunct professor of the Stabile Centre for Investigative Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School, spoke about how to develop sources.

“I am here to spur your ambition to go deeper in developing sources,” he emphasised, “and not expose only people that are responsible for wrongdoings, but systems of wrongdoing”.

“All investigative stories start from outside and one wants to get inside. Since things are in the heads of people, one must have skills for developing source,” he added, explaining that journalist must enter a “deep inside a secret world”.

Mintz explained that entering this “secret world” will lead journalists into complicated “mazes” of complex relations and events.

“In this maze, you’ll find people that genuinely can help you, that can guide you,” he said.

Mintz explained that journalists should try to develop genuine relationships with sources.

He concluded that it is very important that journalists work hard in order to gain the trust and respect from sources.

After the joint sessions, participants split into smaller groups for sessions with Mintz, investigative reporter and regional editor with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Miranda Patrucic and former editor at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Martin Kaiser.

The Summer School is organised by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and with the support of the Open Society Foundations and USAID Macedonia.

BIRN Summer School Day 2: Social Media for Investigators

On the second day of BIRN’s Summer School, journalists learned how to creatively structure stories and use various databases and other investigative tools.

Lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, Blake Morrison, showed the participants of the BIRN Summer School Master Class of Investigative Journalism in Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday how to use a creative approach to structuring stories.

Morrison emphasised the need to persuade people who are sceptical about the narrative.

“Your job is to persuade people who fundamentally disagree with what you say,” Morrison said, underlining the importance of being imaginative when structuring a story.

“I want you to imagine the best story possible. To ask yourselves: ‘What would be the best source [for the story] imaginable that’s out there,’” he said.

“You need to believe that you’re able to make any story possible… but you need to manage your stories possible,” Morrison told the participants.

He explained how all investigative stories should be explained within six words and can be described using three questions: what is the issue, what is the harm and who is to blame.

Morrison concluded that journalists have to ask themselves the “so what?” question – why is something important – and “why now?” question, which explains the importance of the story at that moment in time.

Also on Tuesday, Crina Boros, a watchdog reporter from Centre for Investigative Journalism, continued her training on data journalism, answering questions from the participants through stories she has covered over the years.

She showed the participants how to use public registers and databases while writing stories.

Miranda Patrucic, an investigative reporter and regional editor with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, also held an interactive lecture on how to ‘follow the money’ and find sources for stories abroad.

She presented The Khadija Project – named after Azerbaijani investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who was imprisoned in Azerbaijan after reporting on the financial schemes of President Ilham Aliyev’s family.

“One day she [Ismayilova] took part in a training, like the one you will get today, and learned how to follow the money abroad,” Patrucic told the participants.

She did an exercise about tracking money and companies through various databases, both open-source and paid-for.

Paul Myers, an expert in using social media for investigations, did a presentation on technical sites, tools and techniques. He showed how keywords are searched on Google and through social media, cutting the number of search results.

“Logic dictates search on Google, so you have to think what you search and discover logic behind it and look for that in Google,” he explained, while showing practical examples.

The Summer School is organised by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and with the support of the Open Society Foundations and USAID Macedonia.

The seventh BIRN Summer School has brought together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Seventh BIRN Summer School Begins in Bosnia

BIRN’s latest Summer School kicked off on Monday with interactive sessions on data journalism and fact-checking.

Journalists from across Europe and the USA have gathered in historic town of Konjic in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the BIRN Summer School Mater Class of Investigative Journalism.

After greeting this year’s participants, Blake Morrison, the school’s lead trainer and investigative projects editor at Reuters, held an interactive exercise on establishing facts in stories. Morrison showed journalists how to hone in on important details in complex investigations.

The first day continued with an introductory workshop on data journalism with Crina Boros, a watchdog reporter from Centre for Investigative Journalism, during which participants learnt the analytical tools needed for data journalism.

In the afternoon, the participants divided up into smaller group for in-depth sessions with Morrison and Martin Kaiser, a retired editor who led the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to three Pulitzer prizes.

The Summer School is organised by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and with support of the Open Society Foundations and USAID Macedonia.

The seventh BIRN Summer School brings together young journalists from Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, United Kingdom and United States of America.

Pulitzer Winner Hosts Sessions at BIRN Summer School

This year’s BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting will be held from August 21 to 27 in Konjic in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It will include sessions in mastering the latest techniques for searching the web and social media, interviewing techniques, working with sources and how to scale up your investigations.

Trainers at this year’s Summer School, as in the previous six years, are experienced and internationally-renowned journalists and editors from Reuters, Columbia University, the OCCRP and elsewhere.

The lead trainer will be Blake Morrison, investigative editor for Reuters in New York.

Social media expert Paul Myers, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Martin Kaiser, Knight Award winner Miranda Patrucic from OCCRP and Columbia University lecturer Jim Mintz will be some of the other trainers.

In the afternoon, the trainers will hold small group or one-on-one sessions with participants.

BIRN is providing scholarships for 20 Balkan journalists, while 10 international journalists will cover their own tuition fees.

BIRN is also providing funds for the best story idea. The three best story pitches will be funded in amounts between 1,500 to 3,000 euros.

Participants will also have a bit of time to enjoy rafting down the Neretva river and visiting Tito’s nuclear bunker.

 

Journalists Bid for Investigation Fund

After a week-long training programme in investigative reporting, the journalists at the sixth BIRN Summer School presented their own ideas for stories.

The final lecture at this year’s Summer School in Durres, Albania, was given on Friday by Vladan Joler, associate professor and chair of the New Media Department at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia.

Joler give a lecture about networks, data mining and data visualisation methods for investigating invisible internet infrastructures, data flow and online surveillance, and also explained how browsers and internet applications collect information on their users.

After his presentation, the participating journalists presented ideas for investigative stories that they had developed over the previous four days.

The journalists split into several groups and presented story ideas about the immigration issue in the Balkans, legal migration from Balkan countries, radical groups in the Balkans, people trafficking, the privatisation of public companies and quality controls on food.

Each group outlined how they planned to undertake their research and data collection.

A jury will now select the top two or three stories from the participating teams of journalists, who will be funded to develop their ideas.

The jury consists of Blake Morrison, investigative projects editor at Reuters in New York and the Summer School’s lead trainer, BIRN journalist and investigations editor Lawrence Marzouk, BIRN’s Balkan Transitional Justice assistant editor Marija Ristic, and Christian Spahr, director for the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Media Programme South East Europe.

During the five-day training programme in Durres, around 30 journalists from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Austria, Kosovo, Palestine, Germany and Georgia learned from leading media experts how to use social media to uncover crimes, skills for cracking open offshore companies and how to make reluctant sources talk.

The Summer School of Investigative Reporting 2015 was organised by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, in cooperation with the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, and with support of the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), Open Society Foundations and USAID Macedonia.