Participants on BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting

Here is what participants of the first BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting have said about the school:

Frederique Petit, The Netherlands

The lectures have taught us a lot on how you can do your job better. I find the classes a great motivator that has already given me a lot of tools. Now, I am constantly thinking of new stories that I can get into in the Netherlands.

Sebastjan Pikl, Slovenia

Even though I am not a journalist by profession (I run a political foundation), I find tools which are used, or taught here, really useful in my work. All these in depth analysis and examples which were given here will definitively make my job, or make my days easier and I’ll definitively come back next time.

Andrea Caprescu, Romania

It was a little bit hard for me as I am not an investigative reporter, so when I came here I said “God, I’m gonna have trouble because I know nothing about this. What am I gonna do?”. But, when I met so many great people and when I saw how things are working I was very relieved and very glad that I have the opportunity to learn so many things about journalism.

Vladimir Locev, Macedonia

I saw it as a great opportunity to meet the colleagues from other countries, who are doing things I am doing in my country and this is what investigative journalism is. I have been also taking the Computer Assisted Reporting class, and was very surprised that we, journalists, basically, know very little about Internet and ways how to inquire information through internet. So, the class about the hidden web yesterday, was really great… I didn’t have no idea that those things exist on the web.

Vlad Ursulean, Romania

I really did not know what to expect [from the school], but it’s been really great because you don’t really learn these things in regular schools. So, it was very useful!

Vacusta Bogdan, Romania

I am very interested in developing my skills in order to do what Paul Radu said – to follow the money. There are a lot of companies dealing with very strange transactions, the connections with politicians, and so on, and it is quite difficult sometimes to get the right point and to discover the right information between companies, between different individuals, between different persons and extract the final report and analyse or finalise your report.

Serb-Montenegrin Crime Gangs ‘the Most Powerful in Europe’

Serbian-Montenegrin criminal organisations have become the most powerful in Europe after years of associating with the Italian mafia, according to an Italian magazine crime editor.

Manuela Mareso told the Summer School of Investigative Reporting in the Serbian town of Novi Sad: “In recent months, there have been police investigations showing that these groups are doing business with the Italian mafia.”

Drug trafficking from Montenegro to Italy has been going on for the past years, according to the police, she said.
But Mareso added the Balkan criminal groups are now smuggling weapons and drugs along the same channels they use for moving contraband cigarettes.

She said: “According to the police, Serbian-Montenegrin criminal gangs are the most powerful in Europe.
Italian police uncovered five cells of the Montenegrin mafia network in Udine, Milan, Florence, Perugia and Bari earlier this year.

Italian police have previously charged Milo Djukanovic, the current, suspected of heading an organized criminal group of smuggling tons of cigarettes, drugs and weapons.

The trial was dropped after Montenegro became independent in 2006 and he received immunity as a head of government.

The Italian government has recently invested €5 billion in energy and infrastructure projects.

Nick Thorpe’s Art of Interview at BIRN Summer School

Addressing participants of the BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting, BBC journalist Nick Thorpe has explained the techniques for making people talk and how to work with anonymous sources.

Under the name The Art of the Interview, Thorpe has played a TV documentary he had done entitled Kosovo Civilians Abuses Revealed and then discussed it with the participants.

“We talked how I went investigation and evidence I was able to get for that as well as about the two follow-ups I made afterwards,” Nick explains.

“The more emphasis on good quality reporting and the more emphasis on good investigative journalism, the better, as far as I can tell,” he pointed out.

Screening of the documentary has raised various questions among participants with some claiming that the story did not bring anything that wasn’t already known in public. Thorpe on the other side has insisted on saying that sometimes stories are much bigger than a journalist can tell and that some things cannot be proved. The journalist can only get to the stadium to believe that it was true, he added.

Final version of his story has been reviewed and confirmed by BBC’s lawyer team.

Media Experts Discuss Attacks on Journalists in Balkans

Journalists in the Balkans are coming under increasing pressure from politicians and business people, media experts have told participants of the BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting.

Speaking at a panel discussion named Journalists Under Attack that was organised as part of the BIRN summer school, Dragana Nikolic Solomon, OSCE Head of Media Department, said that according to the research of the OSCE for 2009, the number of physical attacks on journalists has dropped down but what is also worrying is the increasing influence which comes from the fields of politics and business.

According to her, after attack on a journalist of the Serbian weekly newspaper Teofil Pancic, police stance towards journalists has changed in the country.

“It’s certainly a good sign, but what is worrying is that the attackers on Pancic were young, 18-20 year old guys,” she added.

Teofil Pancic of the weekly magazine Vreme, was attacked while travelling on a public bus in the Zemun district of Belgrade July 24.

As for Montenegro, Ivanovic said that there is a strong government’s influence on the media and that solidarity exists only among non-regime media houses in the country.

According to Jeta Xharra from BIRN Kosovo, solidarity in Kosovo exists while drinking in cafe but in public… there is very little.

“The government goes so far as to exercise influence on journalists’ organisations so that they are politicised,” Jeta explained.

“They [journalists’ organisations] react only when it comes to a journalist they like while some do not react at all or turn them to a lot of time, as was the case with us [BIRN Kosovo], continues Jeta.

According to Jeta, there are no attacks on journalists in Kosovo so the biggest problem of Kosovo journalists is the fact that the ccountry’s government is discrediting journalists in every possible way by publishing lies about them and so on.

Case of Ivo Pukanic, who was publisher of the Croatian weekly Nacional that was murdered in 2008, has also been at the table of the discussion.
Hrvoje Appelt said that the Croatian police had reacted but it was necessary for Pukanic to be killed in order for that to happen.

“I have to say that, not only in Croatia but also throughout the region… for which I’ve been working on statistics of attacks on journalists…three years ago attacks on journalists on daily basis were happening. In 99 per cent of these cases, the attackers have not been found yet,” Appelt said.

Cvorovic from the Serbian media outlet B92 has been talking about the case of Brankica Stankovic, who is author of the show Insider that had received death threats posted on Internet websites after airing of the show on the Serbian hooligans last December.

Since then, Stankovic is under 24/7 police protection. However, according to Cvorovic, B92 has found a solution and a new concept so that the airing of the programmes could continue.

Gavin Rees: How to Interview Victims of Trauma

Gavin Rees from Dart Center Europe has held a session named Dealing with Victims of Trauma explaining how to ask questions and get details without opening new wounds for victims of war, violence and crime.

Rees has pointed at skills journalists need to know in order to interview those affected by trauma.
Four skill areas a journalist has to develop, according to Rees, are:

1. Listening
2. Beginning well and ending well
3. Simple questions, without feelings
4. Journalist need to know their role. Journalists are not therapists and are not there to cure the interviewees

The BIRN school’s participants went out form the session under strong impression.

Frederique Petit form The Netherlands finds the way Gavin had been communicated with victims in the movie he has shown very impressive.

“The way he communicated with the victims and what he told us on how you should lead victims up to a point where they would tell you their horrible stories and also get them back to a normal place, where you can part normally without having upset them too much,” Frederique said.

Vladimir Locev from Macedonia has admitted that he had no such experience but “it was very, very useful to watch his movie about Hiroshima and victims of nuclear bomb. It was amazing,” he said.  

“I think it takes a lot of time, a lot of experience until one journalist reaches that level to be able to retrieve and to get information from people who had those kind of … like rape victims, trafficking victims, the Macedonian journalist added.

Vlad Ursulean from Romania: “It really thought me how to shut up and, in an interview, listen first and try to work out from there. And, not to push people that have been through trauma or traumatic events. Make them comfortable to say things… saying things that they want.”

Bogdan Vacusta from Romania finds the presentation of Gavin as very useful. “His experience in Japan, that he told us about, was very good in terms of understanding that we have to develop the skills to do this kind of interview, because it is not a usual interview. We have to deal with some individuals who dealt with some very uncomfortable situations,” Bogdan said. “It was very surprising for me to see that even his presentation was something like talking to the victims that had difficult experience,” he added.

Paul Radu Explains How to Track Offshore Companies

As part of BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting, Paul Radu has tried to explain, by going through personal experience, how to track organised crime over borders and offshore.

“What we’ve been trying to do these days is to explain that offshore doesn’t necessarily needs to be an island but an offshore type of company can be established in countries like Austria, Delaware in the US or in some other country in the world.

Radu went on to explain that there are still ways of getting information on offshore heavens.

Therefore, he has presented his new project named the Investigative Dashboard as useful tool for getting the information.

“The Investigative Dashboard is service which provides information to journalists but also provides access to experts,” he said.

The experts hired by the Investigative Dashboard would, according to him, provide information on what journalists can and cannot do when it comes to obtaining information from offshore heavens.

As owners of the companies are usually hidden being replaced by proxies, Radu has suggested some tricks on how to get name of the real owner. One of the ways is to ask a proxie how to spell his/her name correctly in order not to make in mistake since the name would be published in a story. In such situations, the proxie would usually point to real owner of the offshore company.

BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting Kicks Off

Leading journalists and trainers from all over Europe have gathered in the Serbian town of Novi Sad to take part in the first BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting.

The one week programme kicked off on Monday with introductory speech of Gordana Igric, BIRN’s regional director, and guest trainers who are renowned investigative journalists including Don Ray and Drew Sullivan.

“We are pleased with the candidates and very excited to be organising this programme for the first time. I hope this school will become our annual tradition,” Gordana Igric said.

Don Ray, who is a multi-media producer, writer, author, journalist and lecturer has then tried to define investigative reporting – what makes it different from other types of journalism. This has been shown in a case study presented by Besar Likmeta, the editor for the BIRN in Albania, who has been talking about his investigative story named World Bank Demolished Albania Village.

Further insight on the investigative process – from getting a lead, formulating the investigative hypothesis to writing the story, fact and legal check, airing and publishing the report, follow up – has been given by Don Ray with Randall Joyce explaining how to do it for TV.

The OCCRP team has started its four-day programme on organised crime and corruption in order to show what are the schemes and scams that mark organised crime’s plunder of Balkan regions.

Meanwhile, another group of participants have uncovered a new world of Microsoft Excel while being trained in computer-assisted investigative journalism by Luuk Sengers.

With main focus on reporting on organised crime and corruption for print and broadcast media, the BIRN summer school is also aimed at covering the changing face of Balkan media ownership and violence against media professionals.

Summer School Application Close on August 9th, 2010

Places are still available for the BIRN summer school for an all-inclusive course fee of €549, which covers tuition, accommodation, meals and activities. However, the August 9th deadline is approaching fast, so please submit your application without delay.

BIRN’s summer school includes a range of specialist programmes, exercises and round-tables covering the changing face of Balkan media ownership, violence against media professionals, and more.

Internationally famous journalists, trainers and presenters Don Ray, Mark Hunter, Luuk Sengers, Gavin Rees, Milorad Ivanovic, Manuela Mareso and the OCCRP training team with Drew Sullivan, Rosemary Armao and Paul Radu make up the training team along with BIRN’s in-house experts.

The programme is intensive but there will also be some time to tour the beautiful orchards, vineyards, monasteries and forests of the nearby Fruska Gora National Park, with visits scheduled to the Grgeteg, Hopovo and Krusedol monasteries in Fruska Gora, wine tasting in a 300-year-old wine cellar, and honey tasting in the Museum of Honey.

Free Places for Balkan Journalists Still Available

Journalists from South East Europe still have time to apply for full scholarship to attend BIRN’s unique Summer School of Investigative Reporting from August 22 to 28 within the Petrovaradin Fortress, in the stunning Fruska Gora National Park.

The deadline to apply for a full scholarship is July 25, while those paying the full course fee have until August 9 to sign up. The course fee of €549 and is all-inclusive, covering tuition, accommodation, meals and extra-curricular tours.

BIRN is looking for mid-career journalists from the Balkans to apply for the scholarship..

BIRN is gathering leading journalists and trainers, both from the Balkans and internationally to provide informative, insightful and entertaining training focused on investigative, computer-assisted and organised crime and corruption journalism, in print and broadcast media.

Confirmed speakers include renowned trainers and presenters Don Ray, Mark Hunter, Luuk Sengers, Gavin Rees, Milorad Ivanovic, Maunela Mareso and the OCCRP training team with Drew Sullivan, Rosemary Armao and Paul Radu.

The summer school will offer a full programme including exercises and round-tables on the changing face of Balkan media ownership, violence against media professionals, and more.
All applicants selected to attend the Summer School will get BIRN’s newly published textbook “Digging Deeper: A Guide for Investigative Journalists in the Balkans” free of charge.

There will also be time to tour the beautiful orchards, vineyards, monasteries and forests in the Fruska Gora National Park.

Finally, all participants will receive a BIRN Summer School certificate.

BIRN will provide all necessary documentation and assistance for applicants that required visas or travel documents.