BIRN Summer School Ends with Investigative Pitches

A week-long training programme in Portoroz ended with participants presenting their investigative story proposals to BIRN editors.

The 12th annual BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting ended on August 27with 30 participants from SEE, CE, Ukraine and Finland pitching their investigative story proposals to BIRN editors.

A total of 11 pitches were presented; some focus on country-based issues while the majority are of a cross-border nature. BIRN editors will choose the best pitches, whose owners will receive funding, editorial support and mentoring from BIRN.

Proposed stories look into environmental issues, corruption allegations, reproductive rights and the ongoing war in Ukraine, to name a few.

Ivana Nikolic, in charge of BIRN’s Investigative Reporting Initiative, thanked all the participants for their motivation and hard work during the past week and urged them to keep in touch and collaborate.

Summer School is not only about learning innovative skills and techniques; it is also about networking, making friends and finding partners for your next cross-border story,Nikolic said.

During the week, 30 participants selected from a record-breaking 180 candidates learned about OSINT, database search, digital security, visual storytelling, and financial journalism from award-winning journalists from Germany, the UK, the US and the Balkans.

They also attended a panel discussion about war reporting, giving them a unique opportunity to hear different perspectives and experiences of journalists and filmmakers from Ukraine, Palestine and Serbia. More information about lectures and panels can be found here (

BIRN Summer School Day 5: Visual Evidence and Open Source Research

On the fifth day of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting, participants were introduced to open source research and the use of visual evidence in investigating reporting.

The fifth day of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting started with Meg Kelly and Sarah Cahlan, visual forensics reporters at the Washington Post, talking about how they use visual evidence in their work.

Cahlan and Kelly explained how they obtain information by submitting a public records request, speaking to witnesses, scrubbing social media, searching Google using all sorts of tools, monitoring satellite imagery, asking photographers to share photos and searching mapping software.

Trying to find where a video was recorded, a journalist should examine the visual and look for landmarks, signs, clothes, environmental features and shop names, the two visual forensics reporters advised. When reverse image searching, it’s important to use multiple engines (Google, Bing, Yandex) as they often provide different results, they added.

Cahlan and Kelly also discussed the basics of open source research and presented how they reported on the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, American weapons in Yemen and the January 6, 2021 mob attack on the US Capitol building.

The day ended with the journalists working on pitching cross-border investigative stories, which they will present on the sixth and final day of BIRN’s Summer School on Saturday.

BIRN Summer School Day 4: The Art of Visual Storytelling

On the fourth day of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting, the participants were introduced to visual storytelling techniques.

The fourth day of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting was about visual storytelling. Alexandra Heal, a visual journalism reporter at the Financial Times, talked about her experience of how to combine various sources and visual elements into a multimedia story.

“Just like some of the best investigations start with a simple fact, visuals can be simple, too. They don’t have to be something extraordinary and hard to make. Don’t dismiss something just because it is obvious,” Heal told participants.

Investigative journalists now have to analyse and present a lot of data, so learning visual journalism skills is essential, Heal said. She also highlighted the importance of breaking up long stories with visual elements. Participants discussed when to tell a story visually and what elements to use.

The day ended with the journalists working on pitching cross-border investigative stories.

The Summer School continues on Friday with lessons on how to use visual evidence in investigative reporting.

BIRN Summer School Day 3: Follow the Money

On the third day of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting, participants were introduced to financial journalism and discussed how to work as a journalist in a conflict zone.

The third day of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting on Wednesday started with financial and business journalism sessions.

Simon Bowers, an investigations editor at Finance Uncovered, talked about how to investigate company finance and follow money flows.

“Directors have only one thing to do, and that is to make a profit for shareholders. Therefore it’s important to know how to unpack financial statements and what notes to prioritise,” Bowers told participants.

Journalists also shared their experience of covering news in conflict zones. “In a war, it’s not just the bullets that are dangerous; the regime, the political elite can be a threat, too,” said BIRN journalist Milica Stojanovic.

Lina Kushch, first secretary of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, talked about her colleagues’ everyday hardships during the Russian invasion.

“Most Ukrainian journalists had no experience working in a conflict zone. Media outlets were unprepared for war; they didn’t have safety protocols. We tried to help them with online training and safety equipment,” Kushch told participants.

Her organisation prepared a journalist’s guide and set up a hotline with recommendations on safety.

Ahmad Al-Bazz, an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker from the Palestinian territories, said that although the times of direct military censorship have passed, problems persist because local and international business people are not interested in supporting Palestinian media outlets. Most of their financial support comes from the EU.

“Since I started my career, no authority came knocking on my door. They are treating us as normal Palestinian citizens; we don’t get any extra access for being a journalist,” Al-Bazz said.

The day ended with the journalists working on pitching cross-border investigative stories.

The Summer School continues on Thursday with lessons on combining various different sources into a multimedia story.

BIRN Summer School Day 2: Online Self-Protection Training

On the second day of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting, participants were taught how to ensure their own themselves in the digital environment and got tips on how to conduct investigations.

The second day of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting started with sessions on digital security entitled How to Keep Your Work Safe.

BIRN journalist and a digital security trainer Milica Stojanovic explained the importance of cyber-safety to the participants, saying that “digital security is a habit; like a habit to lock your door when you leave the house”.

Stojanovic guided participants through the most secure applications and offered tips on how to set up the best passwords.

“Passwords are your best friend from now until the end of everything. It should have at least 16 characters and it should be changed every six months. For each account you should have another password,” Stojanovic said.

BIRN journalist Claudia Ciobanu talked about the investigation project Polish Forests Full of Fear. Ciobanu has been following the migrant crisis on the Polish-Belarussian border for a year now and the project’s site contains the most complete data on migrants who are stuck at the border.

Ciobanu presented her multimedia investigation to the participants, explaining the obstacles and challenges she came across while reporting.The Q&A session that followed addressed practical and ethical aspects of investigative journalism.

Kai Biermann, an editor at German newspaper Die Zeit, gave examples of data visualisation and talked about the process of gathering data.

“Statistics are fine but often don’t answer your questions. The problem is finding the data. You should also ask: can you generate it yourself?” Biermann said during the last session of the second day.

The Summer School continues on Wednesday with lessons on financial flows and a panel discussion dedicated to war reporting and war reporters who were killed while on assignment.

BIRN’s 12th Annual Summer School Starts in Slovenia

For the 12th time, BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting is bringing together 30 journalists from South-East and Central European countries for a week-long training programme to develop skills, explore new techniques and start cross-border cooperations.

This year’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting started on Monday in the Slovenian town of Portoroz.

During the week-long programme, journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Finland and Ukraine will learn new skills and techniques and work on investigative stories.

The head of Regional Operations at BIRN, Dusica Stilic, welcomed the participants selected from a record-breaking number of applications – 180 this year.

“We are very proud to have this extraordinary group of people eager to learn to become the best version of an investigative journalist they possibly can be,” Stilic said.

Ivana Nikolic, leading the Investigative Reporting Initiative Programme at BIRN, presented the agenda and encouraged the participants to work towards pitching powerful stories.

“This week, you will learn a lot about innovative journalism techniques and skills from award-winning journalists and editors,” Nikolic said, adding that for the first time this year, participants will have the opportunity to learn how to stay safe online while working on their investigations.

Freelance coder and data specialist Friedrich Lindenberg gave an introduction to open data for investigations. Lindenberg has been working with investigative journalists and anti-corruption activists for the past decade and has built data-driven tools that support their work.

Lindenberg gave practical advice on effectively searching and cross-referencing open databases and using various tools to track documents.

“It’s important to remember that a search doesn’t make any document or information reliable and doesn’t take away the journalist’s responsibility,” he told the participants.

The first day ended with the journalists sharing ideas and starting to work on pitching cross-border investigative stories.

Kai Biermann

Kai Biermann is the editor of the investigative department at Die Zeit.

He studied psychology but has long been a journalist, author, blogger and editor in the investigative department in Zeit and Zeit Online.

His work is primarily focused on IT security and surveillance. He also writes about terrorism, the secret services and police work.

Biermann received two Grimme Online Awards in 2011 for his blog and the work on the interactive graphic Verräterisches Handy.

In 2016, with a team from Zeit Online and Zeit, he got the Reporter Prize for investigations into the perpetrators who set refugee homes on fire. As a member of an international team of reporters documenting the worldwide abuse of NSO’s Pegasus spy program, he won several international awards.

Biermann is the author of several non-fiction books. With Thomas Wiegold, he co-authored ‘Drones – Opportunities and Dangers of a New Technology’.

Friedrich Lindenberg

Friedrich Lindenberg is a coder and data journalist working on web technology for new narrative and investigative techniques.

He’s currently building OpenSanctions, a global database of persons of journalistic interest.

Previously, Lindenberg led the data team at OCCRP. He was responsible for the development of OCCRP Aleph and also supported ongoing investigations where data analysis was needed. In 2014/2015, he was a Knight International journalism fellow with the International Center for Journalists, working with the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR), and in 2013 he was a Knight-Mozilla Open News fellow at Spiegel Online in Hamburg. Prior to that, Friedrich Lindenberg was an open data activist, and worked to promote the release of government information about public finance, lobbying, procurement and law making across the world.

Ahmad Al-Bazz

Ahmad Al-Bazz is a Palestine-based independent journalist and documentary filmmaker focusing on Palestinian-Israeli affairs.

His work appears in several media outlets such as +972 Magazine, Mondoweiss, and UltraSawt. Since 2012, he has been a member of the Activestills photography collective, which operates in Palestine/Israel.

In 2020, he was shortlisted for the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. Between 2015-2019, two of his short documentaries received several regional and international awards, such as the Al-Jazeera Documentary Channel Award for Best Arab Short Doc (2015) and the Alexandria Short Film Festival Award (2019).

Ahmad holds a BA degree in Journalism from An-Najah National University in Palestine and an MA in Television Studies from the University of East Anglia in England.

Lina Kushch

Lina Kushch is a journalist, media expert, and media trainer with more than 25 years of experience.

Throughout her career, Lina has contributed to Reuters and the BBC and was also the head of the regional correspondents’ department in the all Ukrainian newspaper Golos Ukrainy till 2018.

She is also an expert in covering armed conflicts and migration issues. Until
2014 she lived and worked in Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, and had to leave her
home after the city had been occupied by pro-Russia forces.

As the First Secretary of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine since 2018, she coordinates the work of 24 regional offices with 18,000 members. From the first days of the Russian invasion in February 2022, the union has launched several Journalists’ Solidarity Centers in Western Ukraine with the support of international partners.

As a member of the Commission on Journalistic Ethics (Ukraine), she is also a co-author of several journalistic ethics and journalistic practice publications.