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.


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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.

Pulitzer Winner and Finalists are Leading Trainers for 10th BIRN Summer School

Award winning journalists and editors will train more than 30 journalists in conducting open source investigations, verifying data and visualising stories at the 2019 BIRN Summer School, taking place in Montenegro.

Blake Morrison, investigative projects editor at Reuters and three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, is the lead trainer for the 10th annual Birn Summer School. The School will be hosted in the heart of Boka Bay at Herceg Novi and will run from August 18th to August 25th, with participants from across the Western Balkans and Europe.

In addition to Morison’s lectures, the more than 30 participants will have an opportunity to learn from some of the world’s leading editors and journalists, such as Frederick Obermaier (Süddeutsche Zeitung), Benjamin Strick (BBC Africa Eye and Bellingcat) and many more.

Since joining Reuters, Morrison has overseen and edited a variety of projects that includes two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize: The Child Exchange, an investigation of America’s underground market for adopted children, and The Echo Chamber, a special report that revealed how a handful of lawyers came to have an outsize influence at the U.S. Supreme Court. At BIRN Summer School he will reveal the secrets of interviewing to attendees, teach them how to conceive and organize an investigative project, and help them learn to imagine a story.

Frederick Obermaier, an investigative journalist for Süddeutsche Zeitung and one of the initiators and coordinators of the ICIJ’s Panama Papers investigation, will teach participants how to investigate large data sets and verify leaks.

As part of the Panama Papers team he won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting; the George Polk award; the Perfil award; and the Nannen Preis, a prestigious German journalism prize. He was voted, together with his colleagues Bastian Obermayer and Vanessa Wormer, “German Journalist of the Year 2016”.

In addition to the Panama Papers, Obermaier was a part of the team that uncovered Germany’s role in the United States’s drone war. Obermaier has received numerous awards for his other work, including the CNN-Award in 2011 and the Wächterpreis der Tagespresse and Helmut Schmidt Prize in 2013.

Participants in the BIRN Summer School will also have the opportunity to study open source investigations from one of the leading researchers in the field—Benjamin Strick, an open-source investigator for BBC Africa Eye and Bellingcat. Strick, with a background in law and the military, was part of the BBC Africa Eye team that developed Anatomy of a Killing, a reconstruction of the killing of civilians in Cameroon in 2015. Anatomy of a Killing won a Peabody Award and a Webby award in the Documentary: Longform category.

BIRN’s own Ivan Angelovski and Ivana Jeremic will teach attendees how to fact check their stories and how to track ships and planes online.

Participants will also have the opportunity to learn from journalist Andrew Baker, who will show them how to visualize investigation, including using smartphones to do so. Award winning German journalist Olaf Sundermeyer will talk about investigative documentaries focused on organized crime and political extremism.

Beyond lectures, participants will enjoy screenings and discussions of award-winning documentaries, including “Bellingcat – Truth in a Post-Truth World.”

BIRN’s Summer School is organised in cooperation with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s Media Program South East Europe.

BIRN’s Summer School Closes with Investigation Proposals

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network’s Summer School ended on Friday with the participants presenting story ideas that could be funded by the Summer School’s Investigative Story Fund.

The Summer School’s 29 participants divided into nine groups and presented ideas for investigations on which they would like to work.

The participants proposed investigations into female reproductive rights, air quality, the road industry, Balkan countries’ relations with Turkey and Hungary, illegal trading, smear campaigns and police dealings with private companies.

Each group gave a presentation of the outline of their proposed investigation and answered questions about the scale of their story, why it is important and what impact they expect.

The best three story ideas are being chosen by a jury composed of Reuters investigative editor and Summer School lead trainer Blake Morrison, BIRN’s Regional Director Marija Ristic and Investigative Editor Lawrence Marzouk, and the Executive Producer Podcasting for E.W Scripps national bureau, Susanne Reber, who was also a trainer at the Summer School.

The three ideas that are chosen will then receive funding from the Investigative Story Fund.

The ninth BIRN Summer School brought together young journalists from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Britain and the United States. For the first time, the Summer School also welcomed journalists from Moldova and Ukraine.

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

Investigators Must Wise up to Threats – BIRN Debate

Investigative reporters have become regular targets in Europe, as populism rises and politicians create an environment that makes violence easier, BIRN’s Summer School heard in Brasov, Romania.

Politicians in various European countries have insulted and discredited journalists, populism is on the rise, the press is vilified – and it has led to the creation of an environment in which two journalists were killed in just four months in two European Union states, Malta and Slovakia.

Czech investigative journalist Pavla Holcova and Maltese media freedom advocate Matthew Caruana Galizia spoke about this context to participants in BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting on Thursday, advising them on how to cope with security threats as investigative journalists.

“We’ve pushed the boundaries of our profession and are holding people accountable in ways that were not possible before. This brings new dangers,” Caruana Galizia explained. “As a journalist, if you’re good, you’re at greater risk,” he added.

Caruana Galizia, a former investigative journalist, witnessed his own mother’s murder in October 2017. Daphne Caruana Galizia, 50, a Maltese journalist well known for her graft investigations died after a bomb was placed under the seat in her car.

Holcova, a journalist with the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism, spent a month under police protection and had to cut communications with family and friends, after her co-worker, Slovak reporter Jan Kuciak was shot together with his fiancée at their home on February 21, 2018.

Holcova and Kuciak worked together in collaboration with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, OCCRP, on an investigation into links between the Slovak government and Italian organized crime.

Slovak police also interrogated Holcova for eight hours and confiscated her cellphone. However, she said, the investigation hasn’t made much progress, despite pressure from the public in Slovakia.

“There is no information coming from the Slovak police. The only info we get is that the investigators are making mistakes,” she said.

She believes that investigative journalists risk their safety when pursuing a story and that they need to spot the signs of threats, such as being followed.

Galizia explained that both he and his mother were followed for months by her assassins.

“I had this feeling that my mother was being followed,” he said. “I woke up every day and told myself to check the bottom of the car. I did not check that morning,” he added.

After his mother’s murder, Galizia quit working as a journalist and focused on advocacy. He is now working on ways to protect journalists from violent attacks and on legal ways to pressurize government into respecting the freedom of the press.

“Violence against journalists right now is cheap,” he explained. “We need to raise the costs of violence against journalists.”

Holcova also said that regaining the public’s trust and support is also important for journalism.

“That’s what we should rely on. We need to explain to society that they need us, that they need the information we provide and that they need to trust the media.

“We can’t rely on international bodies, but we need to regain the trust of the public, because without us the people in power would not be accountable for their actions,” Holcova said.