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.

Applications Open for BIRN Summer School 2022 in Slovenia

Portoroz and its stunning coastline will be the setting for the BIRN’s Summer School for Investigative Reporting this August.

The 12th edition of the BIRN summer school will take place from August 22 to 28 in Portoroz and will gather top journalists and editors from Southeast and Central Europe and across the world to train reporters.

As part of the school, you will learn how to conduct open-source research, dig for big data, read complicated financial reports, convince difficult sources to talk and conduct cross-border investigations.

The training will provide a wealth of knowledge for both inexperienced and experienced investigative journalists. After training in the morning for all participants, break-out sessions in the afternoon will give you the choice to focus on more niche subjects – from illicit finance tracking to far-right groups and digital rights, among others.

Journalists will also receive training on digital security.

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, through our Investigative Initiative Story Fund, BIRN will provide participants with money to support story development and production.

Scholarships are offered to journalists from the following countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Turkey.

Limited spots are also available for international participants who need to cover a fee of 700 euros. This includes the training curriculum and full board at the Boutique Hotel Portorose, where the summer school is taking place.

Portoroz belongs to the municipality of Piran in Slovenia, located in the southwest of the Gulf of Trieste between the boundaries of Italy to the north and Croatia to the south.

Applications close on July 31.

Click here to apply!

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.

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.