BIRN’s Investigative Summer School 2021 Opens in Croatia

For the 11th time, BIRN’s flagship Summer School of Investigative Reporting is bringing together journalists and award-winning trainers for a week-long programme intended to develop skills and explore new techniques.

This year’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting started on Monday in the Croatian coastal village of Mlini with lectures about how to use open-source investigative techniques and to trace the documents behind policy decisions.

During the week-long programme, 32 journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Moldova, Greece and Croatia will be acquiring new investigative skills and techniques but also working on real investigative reports.

For the first time this summer, the applicants had the chance to choose one of four course themes: Arms, Surveillance, Agriculture and Waste. During the week, they will be divided into four teams, led by trainers from BIRN and Lighthouse Reports, to investigate leads and produce cross-border stories.

Marija Ristic, the regional director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and also one of the lead trainers, welcomed the participants and trainers on Monday, saying that the Summer School is a unique opportunity for journalists across the region to gain skills from top trainers in investigative journalism.

“We will also have a bit of a different programme than usual, consisting of both training sessions and working on stories covering pressing issues like surveillance, the arms trade and environmental topics. The work on the investigations will continue after the School but we aim to finish as much as we can during this week,” Ristic said.

Ludo Hekman, another lead trainer and editor and founder of the Lighthouse Reports, said that the concept of the School enables journalists to immediately apply what they have learned in working on actual investigative stories.

“This is an efficient and inspiring way to work. It is also important if you can apply what you learn immediately; another objective is to learn from one another and go home with the report, with some compelling information,” Hekman said.

After the opening remarks, Leone Hadavi, a freelance open source investigator and a contributor to the Lighthouse EUArms project, held a session entitled ‘Open-Source Investigative Techniques: Basics for Investigative Journalism’.

Hadavi introduced the participants to open-source investigative techniques and talked about their importance in conducting investigations. He offered various useful tips and tools on how to do an image reverse search and how to geo-locate videos and images found on social media.

“It happens sometimes that you receive images or videos from people arguing that something happened yesterday or two years ago. We cannot trust anyone and we need to verify every single piece of information we get,” Hadavi explained.

The first day ended with Lise Witteman, an independent reporter on the EU who specialises in following the paper trails of European decision-making processes. Witteman explained to the participants how to trace the documents that lie behind policy decisions.

She said that following European Union politics is tough and was particularly so when she first began covering it: “It was a challenge to decide what could be a story as there were so many files, so many documents, you could drown in all this information,” she said.

She also talked about the toolbox she has developed over the years, which helps her search through documents, names and procurements to narrow down the huge amounts of information.

In the coming days, there will be sessions focusing on data journalism and investigating the management of borders. The vast majority of the time, however, will be dedicated to working in groups and investigating specific leads that relate to the four chosen topics.

Maud Jullien

Maud Jullien is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker. She is currently an instructor and investigator with the Lighthouse EUarms project and editor-in-chief of the Africa News bulletin on TV5 Monde.

Maud Jullien worked for the BBC as a correspondent for 7 years based in Dakar, Senegal, and Kinshasa, DR Congo, producing short and long-form radio and TV reports on West and Central Africa. She has produced reports for the BBC’s investigative programmes Africa Eye, Newsnight and crossing continents.

In 2018 she moved to France to study documentary cinema and has since been working as a freelance investigative journalist, editor-in-chief and filmmaker collaborating with the BBC and French channels Arte, France 24 and TV5 Monde. She began working as an open source investigator on the EUarms project with Lighthouse in 2019, and has since taken part in workshops on arms exports in France and in Spain.

Ludo Hekman

Ludo Hekman is a journalist and editor. He has worked in print and online media as well as in TV, reporting from countries including Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He has pioneered many new collaborative investigations with Europe’s leading media. He has won the Citigroup Excellence in Journalism award and has been nominated for several Prix Europa awards.

Ludo Hekman is an investigative journalist, editor and founder of Lighthouse Reports. He started his career as a freelance foreign correspondent working for print and online media as well as TV covering countries like Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. His current focus is on collaborative newsrooms, with investigations on arms tracking, surveillance technology and industrial farming.

He is one of the founders of Lighthouse Reports, a non-profit based in the Netherlands that leads complex transnational investigations blending traditional journalistic methods such as freedom of information requests with emerging techniques like open source intelligence and specialisms like data science.

Lighthouse’s collaborative newsrooms pioneer new formats and pay particular attention to fresh ways of framing complex issues that will capture public attention and challenge misconceptions.

One of his projects – the arms tracking newsroom – challenges the status quo of EU arms exports. A European wide investigation covered over a 100 arms deals and documented a long list of EU and international violations. Most of the evidence was gathered with OSINT methods and while working in short sprints with temporary teams. These investigations triggered response in the EU parliament, campaigns by NGOs across Europe and legal cases against governments and companies.

Hekman won the Citigroup Excellence in Journalism award and has been nominated for several Prix Europa awards.

Lise Witteman

Lise Witteman is an independent EU-correspondent who specialises in following paper trails of the European decision making processes, from the interests of (national) politicians and lobbyists and their influence on EU policy to the way EU taxpayers’ money is being spent. 

Lise Witteman is an independent EU-correspondent who specialises in following paper trails of the European decision making processes from the interests of (national) politicians and lobbyists and their influence on EU policy to the ways EU taxpayers’ money is being spent.

After having worked as a political reporter for about eight years in The Hague, Lise quit her job and moved to Brussels in 2018 as an independent correspondent to investigate EU-policy and write in-depth stories on EU-matters. She mostly writes for the Dutch investigative platform Follow the Money and the weekly magazine De Groene Amsterdammer. She also cooperates with international journalism projects such as those of Lighthouse Reports.

In september 2021, her book ‘Sluiproute Brussel’, Shortcut Brussels, on the hidden EU-agenda of the Dutch government will be published. At the same time, she launched the EU-media desk, Follow the Money. With two other EU-specialised journalists, its purpose is to continuously set up and coordinate investigative projects on EU-matters.

Leone Hadavi

Leone Hadavi is an open source investigator, analyst and trainer. He has a background in security studies and international law.

Leone Hadavi is an open source investigator and analyst. He has an MA in War and Security Studies and an LLM in International Humanitarian Law, International Criminal Law of Armed Conflict. He worked as an intern analyst at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, ECCC, and at the International Criminal Court, ICC. At the ICC, he first started applying OSINT techniques to investigate the use of technicals by the Seleka armed group.

He is best known for his contribution to the Lighthouse EUArms project, where he has led the tracking of arms and services provided by European companies and states to dictatorships, conflict zones and controversial actors. He is a Bellingcat contributor, and among his most notable collaborations are Libya’s ‘Game of Drones’ with the BBC and The Killing of Muhammad Gulzar with Forensic Architecture. He is also a race bike rider and cinema enthusiast.



Maximilian Popp

Maximilian Popp is the Deputy Head of the Foreign Desk of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

Maximilian Popp was born in Passau Maximilian Popp in 1986. He graduated from the Henri Nannen School of Journalism in Hamburg and studied political science in Istanbul. He has been working for Der Spiegel since 2010, initially as an editor in the Germany department in Dresden, Hamburg and Berlin, and, since 2016, as a correspondent in Istanbul. He has also been the Deputy Head of Foreign Affairs since April 2019.

For his reporting on Turkey, he was awarded the South East European Society’s Journalism Prize.

Myrto Boutsi

Myrto Boutsi is a reporter and an international news editor based in Athens. 

Myrto is a member of Reporters United and has cooperated with European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) for the production of the documentary Black Trail. She is also an international news editor in She studied theatre at the National Kapodistrian University of Athens and sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Since 2002, she has worked mostly in newspapers and has been head of the international desk at the newspaper, Eleftheria tou Typou. In 2008, she co-founded the Non Stop Media Production Company. She has collaborated with ARD, the documentary series Exandas and Tribes of Athens (Fyles tis Athinas), which were both aired by Greek Public Television NET, Metro Magazine, online media Inside Story and Solomon.

Max Harlow

Max Harlow is part of the Financial Times’ visual and data journalism team in London, and focuses on investigative, data-driven stories.

His work at the FT typically takes an analytical, data-driven approach to public documents, websites, and other non-traditional data sources to reveal truths hidden in plain sight, as well as more typical data journalism, covering elections and the coronavirus pandemic with numbers and graphics.

Max has taught data journalism skills for various groups, including Investigative Reporters and Editors in the US, the Centre for Investigative Journalism in the UK, and at the European Investigative Journalism Conference. He also co-runs Journocoders, a community of London-based journalists and other people working in the media interested in developing technical skills for use in their reporting.

Previously he worked at the Guardian, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and Ordnance Survey, the UK’s national mapping agency.

BIRN Summer School Offers Investigative Reporting Training on Croatia Coast

BIRN’s flagship Summer School of Investigative Reporting returns for the 11th time in August, offering journalists a unique opportunity to learn investigative skills from award-winning trainers and journalists.

The Summer School of Investigative Reporting, which will be held this year in Croatia’s picturesque coastal village of Mlini from August 23-30, will again put together top journalists and editors for a week-long training programme.

Due to the global pandemic, BIRN has changed its usual programme in order to ensure that health and safety measures are respected. This year’s hybrid programme will include both online and offline sessions.

This year, BIRN is teaming up with journalists and trainers from Lighthouse Reports, an award-winning non-profit organisation based in the Netherlands which leads complex transnational investigations blending traditional journalistic methods with emerging techniques like open source intelligence and specialisms like data science.

For the first time this summer, applicants will have the chance to choose one of four course themes: Arms, Surveillance, Agriculture and Waste. Part of the training programme will be focused on the three themes that attract most interest from the participants.

In the mornings, participants will have joint sessions in hands-on investigative journalism skills, such as open source techniques, financial forensics and data journalism.

In the afternoon sessions, participants will be divided into three groups, depending on the theme they are following. Each group will have its lead trainers and will work with them on specific investigations, covering their group’s topic, applying the skills and techniques acquired during the morning sessions. Specific ideas and story angles, as well as the materials needed, will be prepared prior to the Summer School and participants will receive them during a briefing on the first day.

Work on the investigations is expected to be finalised during the Summer School, with only minor final work to be left for afterwards. Journalists from other media outlets are encouraged to co-publish the investigations originate at the Summer School.

The agenda and a detailed list of trainers will be published in the coming weeks.

We are providing 30 full scholarships for selected participants. This will cover accommodation, meals, as well as transportation expenses of up to 150 euros. Apart from the training, editorial support and mentorship, BIRN will, through our Investigative Initiative Fund, provide participants with fees.

Eligible participants include journalists who have experience in investigative reporting and who have covered the course theme they have chosen. Journalists from the following countries are eligible to apply: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Turkey.

Journalists who had previously participated in our Summer Schools are again eligible to apply.

Since the first Summer School in 2010, BIRN has trained more than 300 journalists from the Balkans and beyond, providing them with financial, editorial, mentorship and publication support. The participants, who are usually a mixture of experienced investigative journalists and those who have only a few years of experience in the field, are also provided with excellent opportunities for networking.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, there is a possibility that some trainers will not be able to come to Croatia, so they will join us online via Zoom. BIRN also aims to undertake all the necessary preventive and protection measures and will inform the participants of COVID-19 related rules and procedures. In case the offline setting is not possible, school will most likely take place online.

The application procedure includes sending a completed application form and CV as well as a sample of your work.

Applications close on July 7.

Click here to apply.


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.