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August 11 2012

16:27

Sara Ganim: When covering big stories, ‘it matters who you work for’

Poynter :: Pulitzer Prize winner Sara Ganim says “it matters who you work for” when reporting on big investigative stories. While working as a courts and crime reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa., Ganim got a tip that former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky had been accused of molesting a local child.

A report by Mallary Jean Tenore, www.poynter.org

August 06 2012

18:29

Investing in the investigative in an age of alternative media

Polis LSE :: What happens to investigative journalism when traditional trade craft is disrupted by a diverse range of new platforms with different principles and practices? Polis Summer School student Rahul Radhakrishnan reports.

Rahul Radhakrishnan on Twitter

A report by Rahul Radhakrishnan (guest blog), blogs.lse.ac.uk

August 02 2012

13:50

'The I Files' on YouTube: The best investigative videos from around the world

CIR on YouTube :: Programmed by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), The I Files selects and showcases the best investigative videos from around the world. Major contributors include The New York Times, ABC, BBC, Al-Jazeera and Investigative News Network.

Visit the site here www.youtube.com/user/theifilestv

July 26 2012

04:53

Reporter-to-source communications: At risk of prosecution

Washhingtonian :: “We’re out for scalps.” That’s what a senior Justice Department official told me when I asked what was behind the Obama administration’s unprecedented number of leak prosecutions. The “we” referred to federal prosecutors, but the official said the desire to see leakers punished extended to the White House, as well. The official, who also made it clear that reporters who talked to sources about classified information were putting themselves at risk of prosecution, asked not to be quoted by name.

[Shane Harris:] Based on the deep reporting on and documents from leak cases, it’s clear the government has made the electronic reporter-to-source communications the evidentiary centerpiece of its cases.

A report by Shane Harris, www.washingtonian.com

April 23 2012

11:40

Guide: How to start in a data journalist role

Online Journalism Blog :: Following my previous posts on the network journalist and community manager roles as part of an investigation team, this post expands on the first steps a student journalist can take in filling the data journalist role.

Step by step guide - Continue to read Paul Bradshaw, onlinejournalismblog.com

April 20 2012

19:09

Leonie Industries allegedly ran a smear campaign against two USA Today reporters

Gawker :: Last night USA Today reported that two of its staffers, Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, were the targets of a smear campaign (via fake accounts on Twitter/Facebook). The USA Today story on the mischief names only "Pentagon contractors" as likely culprits. But a source familiar with the story confirms that the contractor responsible is Leonie Industries, an information operations company with more than $90 million in Army contracts in Afghanistan. Leonie was the primary target of the investigation that apparently sparked the sculduggery:

[Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, USA Today, 2/29/2012:] ... Contractors like Leonie plant unattributed broadcasts, plaster the countryside in war zones with billboards, stage concerts and drop leaflets with the intent of bending the will of civilians and combatants to U.S. aims. ...

Continue to read John Cook, gawker.com

April 19 2012

05:16

Who watches the watchmen? Or: put your own house in order first

Niemanlab :: As Guardian journalists were preparing to launch their new investigative project on cookies and other online tools that track you around the web, they realized they had to figure out just what kind of trackers exist on their own website. Turns out this isn’t an easy task. “There are so many legacy ones from us that we forgot about — we had to do some research,” said Ian Katz, deputy editor of the Guardian.

Continue to read Justin Ellis, www.niemanlab.org

April 12 2012

20:20

Bay Citizen ends publishing relationship with The New York Times

Media Decoder | New York Times :: The Bay Citizen, an online news organization that has provided reporting from San Francisco and the surrounding area for The New York Times since 2010, has ended its relationship with the paper. The news follows the merger of The Bay Citizen, which publishes on its own Web site, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization in Berkeley, Calif., that distributes its work widely.

Continue to read Tanzina Vega, mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com

06:13

Center for Investigative Reporting to launch a curated YouTube channel

Niemanlab :: The Center for Investigative Reporting announced today that it’s launching a YouTube channel to showcase investigative reporting — from longstanding institutions like NPR and The New York Times, from nonprofit outlets like the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and even from independent filmmakers from around the globe — all in one common home.

Hat tip: Paul Bradshaw

Continue to read Adrienne LaFrance, www.niemanlab.org

March 30 2012

09:16

BBC undercover: Panorama hospital abuse documentary wins broadcasting award

journalism.co.uk :: An undercover BBC investigation exposing "aggressive bullying and frequent abuse" at a Bristol residential hospital has been named the best documentary of 2011 by the Broadcasting Press Guild - a group of more than 120 journalists covering the media industry. The Panorama episode, Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed, was broadcast last May and saw reporter Joe Casey film undercover for five weeks after getting a job as a support worker at Winterbourne View hospital, which treats people with mental disabilities.

Continue to read Paul McNally, www.journalism.co.uk

February 03 2012

08:15

Video: Heather Brooke’s tips on investigating, and using the FOI and Data Protection Acts

The following 3 videos first appeared on the Help Me Investigate blog, Help Me Investigate: Health and Help Me Investigate: Welfare. I thought I’d collect them together here too. As always, these are published under a Creative Commons licence, so you are welcome to re-use, edit and combine with other video, with attribution (and a link!).

First, Heather Brooke’s tips for starting to investigate public bodies:

Her advice on investigating health, welfare and crime:

And on using the Data Protection Act:

February 02 2012

17:33

Moving away from ‘the story’: 5 roles of an online investigations team

In almost a decade of teaching online journalism I repeatedly come up against the same two problems:

  • people who are so wedded to the idea of the self-contained ‘story’ that they struggle to create journalism outside of that (e.g. the journalism of linking, liveblogging, updating, explaining, or saying what they don’t know);
  • and people stuck in the habit of churning out easy-win articles rather than investing a longer-term effort in something of depth.

Until now I’ve addressed these problems largely through teaching and individual feedback. But for the next 3 months I’ll be trying a new way of organising students that hopes to address those two problems. As always, I thought I’d share it here to see what you think.

Roles in a team: moving from churnalism to depth

Here’s what I’m trying (for context: this is on an undergraduate module at Birmingham City University):

Students are allocated one of 5 roles within a group, investigating a particular public interest question. They investigate that for 6 weeks, at which point they are rotated to a different role and a new investigation (I’m weighing up whether to have some sort of job interview at that point).

The group format allows – I hope – for something interesting to happen: students are not under pressure to deliver ‘stories’, but instead blog about their investigation, as explained below. They are still learning newsgathering techniques, and production techniques, but the team structure makes these explicitly different to those that they would learn elsewhere.

The hope is that it will be much more difficult for them to just transfer print-style stories online, or to reach for he-said/she-said sources to fill the space between ads. With only one story to focus on, students should be forced to engage more, to do deeper and deeper into an issue, and to be more creative in how they communicate what they find out.

(It’s interesting to note that at least one news organisation is attempting something similar with a restructuring late last year)

Only one member of the team is primarily concerned with the story, and that is the editor:

The Editor (ED)

It is the editor’s role to identify what exactly the story is that the team is pursuing, and plan how the resources of the team should be best employed in pursuing that. It will help if they form the story as a hypothesis to be tested by the team gathering evidence – following Mark Lee Hunter’s story based inquiry method (PDF).

Qualities needed and developed by the editor include:

  • A nose for a story
  • Project management skills
  • Newswriting – the ability to communicate a story effectively
This post on Poynter is a good introduction to the personal skills needed for the role.

The Community Manager (CM)

The community manager’s focus is on the communities affected by the story being pursued. They should be engaging regularly with those communities – contributing to forums, having conversations with members on Twitter; following updates on Facebook; attending real world events; commenting on blogs or photo/video sharing sites, and so on.

They are the two-way channel between that community and the news team: feeding leads from the community to the editor, and taking a lead from the editor in finding contacts from the community (experts, case studies, witnesses).

Qualities needed and developed by the community manager include:

  • Interpersonal skills – the ability to listen to and communicate with different people
  • A nose for a story
  • Contacts in the community
  • Social network research skills – the ability to find sources and communities online

6 steps to get started in community management can be found in this follow-up post.

The Data Journalist (DJ)

While the community manager is focused on people, the data journalist is focused on documentation: datasets, reports, documents, regulations, and anything that frames the story being pursued.

It is their role to find that documentation – and to make sense of it. This is a key role because stories often come from signs being ignored (data) or regulations being ignored (documents).

Qualities needed and developed by the data journalist include:

  • Research skills – advanced online search and use of libraries
  • Analysis skills – such as using spreadsheets
  • Ability to decipher jargon – often by accessing experts (the CM can help)

Here’s a step by step on how to get started as a data journalist.

The Multimedia Journalist (MMJ)

The multimedia journalist is focused on the sights, sounds and people that bring a story to life. In an investigation, these will typically be the ‘victims’ and the ‘targets’.

They will film interviews with case studies; organise podcasts where various parties play the story out; collect galleries of images to illustrate the reality behind the words.

They will work closely with the CM as their roles can overlap, especially when accessing sources. The difference is that the CM is concerned with a larger quantity of interactions and information; the MM is concerned with quality: much fewer interactions and richer detail.

Qualities needed and developed by the MMJ include:

  • Ability to find sources: experts, witnesses, case studies
  • Technical skills: composition; filming or recording; editing
  • Planning: pre-interviewing, research, booking kit

The Curation Journalist (CJ)

(This was called Network Aggregator in an earlier version of this post) The CJ is the person who keeps the site ticking over while the rest of the team is working on the bigger story.

They publish regular links to related stories around the country. They are also the person who provides the wider context of that story: what else is happening in that field or around that issue; are similar issues arising in other places around the country. Typical content includes backgrounders, explainers, and updates from around the world.

This is the least demanding of the roles, so they should also be available to support other members of the team when required, following up minor leads on related stories. They should not be ‘just linking’, but getting original stories too, particularly by ‘joining the dots’ on information coming in.

Qualities needed and developed by the CJ include:

  • Information management – following as many feeds, newsletters and other relevant soures of information
  • Wide range of contacts – speaking to the usual suspects regularly to get a feel for the pulse of the issue/sector
  • Ability to turn around copy quickly

There’s a post on 7 ways to follow a field as a network aggregator (or any other journalist) on Help Me Investigate.

And here’s a post on ‘How to be a network journalist‘.

Examples of network aggregation in action:

  • Blogs like Created In Birmingham regularly round up the latest links to events and other reports in their field. See also The Guardian’s PDA Newsbucket.
  • John Grayson’s post on G4S uses a topical issue as the angle into a detailed backgrounder on the company with copious links to charity reports, politicians’ statements, articles in the media, research projects, and more.
  • This post by Diary of a Benefit Scrounger is the most creative and powerful example I’ve yet seen. It combines dozens of links to stories of treatment of benefit claimants and protestors, and to detail on various welfare schemes, to compile a first-person ‘story’.

Publish regular pieces that come together in a larger story

If this works, I’m hoping students will produce different types of content on their way to that ‘big story’, as follows:

  • Linkblogging – simple posts that link to related articles elsewhere with a key quote (rather than wasting resources rewriting them)
  • Profiles of key community members
  • Backgrounders and explainers on key issues
  • Interviews with experts, case studies and witnesses, published individually first, then edited together later
  • Aggregation and curation – pulling together a gallery of images, for example; or key tweets on an issue; or key facts on a particular area (who, what, where, when, how); or rounding up an event or discussion
  • Datablogging – finding and publishing key datasets and documents and translating them/pulling out key points for a wider audience.
  • The story so far – taking users on a journey of what facts have been discovered, and what remains to be done.

You can read more on the expectations of each role in this document. And there’s a diagram indicating how group members might interact below:

Investigations team flowchart
Investigations team flowchart

What will make the difference is how disciplined the editor is in ensuring that their team keeps moving towards the ultimate aim, and that they can combine the different parts into a significant whole.

UPDATE: A commenter has asked about the end result. Here’s how it’s explained to students:

“At an identified point, the Editor will need to organise his or her team to bring those ingredients into that bigger story – and it may be told in different ways, for example:

  • A longform text narrative with links to the source material and embedded multimedia
  • An edited multimedia package with links to source material in the accompanying description
  • A map made with Google Maps, Fusion Tables or another tool, where pins include images or video, and links to each story”

If you’ve any suggestions or experiences on how this might work better, I’d very much welcome them.

17:33

Moving away from ‘the story’: 5 roles of an online investigations team

In almost a decade of teaching online journalism I repeatedly come up against the same two problems:

  • people who are so wedded to the idea of the self-contained ‘story’ that they struggle to create journalism outside of that (e.g. the journalism of linking, liveblogging, updating, explaining, or saying what they don’t know);
  • and people stuck in the habit of churning out easy-win articles rather than investing a longer-term effort in something of depth.

Until now I’ve addressed these problems largely through teaching and individual feedback. But for the next 3 months I’ll be trying a new way of organising students that hopes to address those two problems. As always, I thought I’d share it here to see what you think.

Roles in a team: moving from churnalism to depth

Here’s what I’m trying (for context: this is on an undergraduate module at Birmingham City University):

Students are allocated one of 5 roles within a group, investigating a particular public interest question. They investigate that for 6 weeks, at which point they are rotated to a different role and a new investigation (I’m weighing up whether to have some sort of job interview at that point).

The group format allows – I hope – for something interesting to happen: students are not under pressure to deliver ‘stories’, but instead blog about their investigation, as explained below. They are still learning newsgathering techniques, and production techniques, but the team structure makes these explicitly different to those that they would learn elsewhere.

The hope is that it will be much more difficult for them to just transfer print-style stories online, or to reach for he-said/she-said sources to fill the space between ads. With only one story to focus on, students should be forced to engage more, to do deeper and deeper into an issue, and to be more creative in how they communicate what they find out.

(It’s interesting to note that at least one news organisation is attempting something similar with a restructuring late last year)

Only one member of the team is primarily concerned with the story, and that is the editor:

The Editor (ED)

It is the editor’s role to identify what exactly the story is that the team is pursuing, and plan how the resources of the team should be best employed in pursuing that. It will help if they form the story as a hypothesis to be tested by the team gathering evidence – following Mark Lee Hunter’s story based inquiry method (PDF).

Qualities needed and developed by the editor include:

  • A nose for a story
  • Project management skills
  • Newswriting – the ability to communicate a story effectively
This post on Poynter is a good introduction to the personal skills needed for the role.

The Community Manager (CM)

The community manager’s focus is on the communities affected by the story being pursued. They should be engaging regularly with those communities – contributing to forums, having conversations with members on Twitter; following updates on Facebook; attending real world events; commenting on blogs or photo/video sharing sites, and so on.

They are the two-way channel between that community and the news team: feeding leads from the community to the editor, and taking a lead from the editor in finding contacts from the community (experts, case studies, witnesses).

Qualities needed and developed by the community manager include:

  • Interpersonal skills – the ability to listen to and communicate with different people
  • A nose for a story
  • Contacts in the community
  • Social network research skills – the ability to find sources and communities online

6 steps to get started in community management can be found in this follow-up post.

The Data Journalist (DJ)

While the community manager is focused on people, the data journalist is focused on documentation: datasets, reports, documents, regulations, and anything that frames the story being pursued.

It is their role to find that documentation – and to make sense of it. This is a key role because stories often come from signs being ignored (data) or regulations being ignored (documents).

Qualities needed and developed by the data journalist include:

  • Research skills – advanced online search and use of libraries
  • Analysis skills – such as using spreadsheets
  • Ability to decipher jargon – often by accessing experts (the CM can help)

Here’s a step by step on how to get started as a data journalist.

The Multimedia Journalist (MMJ)

The multimedia journalist is focused on the sights, sounds and people that bring a story to life. In an investigation, these will typically be the ‘victims’ and the ‘targets’.

They will film interviews with case studies; organise podcasts where various parties play the story out; collect galleries of images to illustrate the reality behind the words.

They will work closely with the CM as their roles can overlap, especially when accessing sources. The difference is that the CM is concerned with a larger quantity of interactions and information; the MM is concerned with quality: much fewer interactions and richer detail.

Qualities needed and developed by the MMJ include:

  • Ability to find sources: experts, witnesses, case studies
  • Technical skills: composition; filming or recording; editing
  • Planning: pre-interviewing, research, booking kit

The Curation Journalist (CJ)

(This was called Network Aggregator in an earlier version of this post) The CJ is the person who keeps the site ticking over while the rest of the team is working on the bigger story.

They publish regular links to related stories around the country. They are also the person who provides the wider context of that story: what else is happening in that field or around that issue; are similar issues arising in other places around the country. Typical content includes backgrounders, explainers, and updates from around the world.

This is the least demanding of the roles, so they should also be available to support other members of the team when required, following up minor leads on related stories. They should not be ‘just linking’, but getting original stories too, particularly by ‘joining the dots’ on information coming in.

Qualities needed and developed by the CJ include:

  • Information management – following as many feeds, newsletters and other relevant soures of information
  • Wide range of contacts – speaking to the usual suspects regularly to get a feel for the pulse of the issue/sector
  • Ability to turn around copy quickly

There’s a post on 7 ways to follow a field as a network aggregator (or any other journalist) on Help Me Investigate.

And here’s a post on ‘How to be a network journalist‘.

Examples of network aggregation in action:

  • Blogs like Created In Birmingham regularly round up the latest links to events and other reports in their field. See also The Guardian’s PDA Newsbucket.
  • John Grayson’s post on G4S uses a topical issue as the angle into a detailed backgrounder on the company with copious links to charity reports, politicians’ statements, articles in the media, research projects, and more.
  • This post by Diary of a Benefit Scrounger is the most creative and powerful example I’ve yet seen. It combines dozens of links to stories of treatment of benefit claimants and protestors, and to detail on various welfare schemes, to compile a first-person ‘story’.

Publish regular pieces that come together in a larger story

If this works, I’m hoping students will produce different types of content on their way to that ‘big story’, as follows:

  • Linkblogging – simple posts that link to related articles elsewhere with a key quote (rather than wasting resources rewriting them)
  • Profiles of key community members
  • Backgrounders and explainers on key issues
  • Interviews with experts, case studies and witnesses, published individually first, then edited together later
  • Aggregation and curation – pulling together a gallery of images, for example; or key tweets on an issue; or key facts on a particular area (who, what, where, when, how); or rounding up an event or discussion
  • Datablogging – finding and publishing key datasets and documents and translating them/pulling out key points for a wider audience.
  • The story so far – taking users on a journey of what facts have been discovered, and what remains to be done.

You can read more on the expectations of each role in this document. And there’s a diagram indicating how group members might interact below:

Investigations team flowchart
Investigations team flowchart

What will make the difference is how disciplined the editor is in ensuring that their team keeps moving towards the ultimate aim, and that they can combine the different parts into a significant whole.

UPDATE: A commenter has asked about the end result. Here’s how it’s explained to students:

“At an identified point, the Editor will need to organise his or her team to bring those ingredients into that bigger story – and it may be told in different ways, for example:

  • A longform text narrative with links to the source material and embedded multimedia
  • An edited multimedia package with links to source material in the accompanying description
  • A map made with Google Maps, Fusion Tables or another tool, where pins include images or video, and links to each story”

If you’ve any suggestions or experiences on how this might work better, I’d very much welcome them.

January 13 2012

07:07

10 years later cleared of defamation - French landmark case: A new dawn for investigative journalism?

journalism.co.uk :: At the end of last year the French courts finally ended a long running legal battle which saw Denis Robert, an investigative journalist cleared of defamation 10 years after he first reported on Clearstream, a financial institution based in Luxembourg. The landmark ruling stated that although the work of journalist Robert contained inaccuracies, the thoroughness of his investigation and the public interest in the story outweighed the defamatory claims. The case has already been used as a legal precedent.

[Court ruling:] When dealing with a debate in the public interest, press freedom allows the possible use of a degree of exaggeration, or even of provocation, in remarks.

Continue to read Marianne Bouchart, www.journalism.co.uk

January 11 2012

21:03

PBS ‘Frontline’ planning News Corp. exposé? How far will a friend be willing to go?

TVNewser :: Fox News Channel’s Geraldo Rivera was out to dinner with his old friend and colleague from ABC News, Lowell Bergman, when things turned quite sour. Bergman is an esteemed journalist, having produced the now-infamous exposé of the tobacco companies for “60 Minutes.” According to a Facebook post from Rivera, Bergman’s latest target is News Corp. and Fox News.

Continue to read Alex Weprin, www.mediabistro.com

January 01 2012

14:17

Palestinian Preventative Security Service tries to silence journalist Majduleen Hasuna

DOHA Centre for Media Freedom :: Journalist Majduleen Hasuna received a phone call from Palestinian Preventative Security Service requesting to summon her for interrogation following her coverage, along with other journalists, of a sit-in held by families of political prisoners in Nablus. Majduleen refused to go, saying that it falls within the powers of the general prosecutor alone to summon her after notifying Journalists Union. Majduleen, who turned 20, didn't know that she would easily join the dangerous world of investigative journalism and would be labeled "trouble-maker journalist" that annoys security authorities in the West Bank.

Continue to read www.dc4mf.org

December 30 2011

20:33

thedetail.tv, investigative journalism in Northern Ireland finding its feet @Ruth_TheDetail

The Detail | About :: The technological revolution of the past 10 years and recession have produced a widely-identified lack of funding for local investigative journalism – in Britain, Ireland and America where local newspapers, TV and other forms of media have faced challenges to their business models. Investigative journalists have come to lack a fundamental resource: time to follow the story. 

There are also some specific circumstances here in Northern Ireland. The new political dispensation realised in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought with it a new dynamic. Some felt that “the story” in Northern Ireland was over; the world had moved on and so, perhaps, should local journalists.

[The Detail:] ... investigative journalism has yet to find its feet in this new order.

One view which emerged was that enquiring journalism would damage the political institutions formed in the peace process years; that public-spirited probing would even unravel the peace itself. Since 1998, politicians governing Northern Ireland have stated their desire to create a stable society. To their credit, they’ve largely succeeded.

 

 

Visit www.thedetail.tv

December 29 2011

10:22

On the rise of fact checking, the landscape of a movement

Ethan Zuckerman :: Is fact checking a specialized genre of news practice? Or should every reporter fact check? Brooke Gladstone has argued that the only way to check the spread of lies in the media is to fact check incessantly, in each paragraph they publish. Is it plausible to produce journalism in this way? Should we accept a system in which one article tells us what politicians said in a debate, and another, separate article that tells us which of those statements were true? How big is the fact checking space?

The current state of a movement.

Continue to read Ethan Zuckerman, www.ethanzuckerman.com

Highly recommended overview - continue to read Craig Silverman, www.poynter.org

December 27 2011

16:20

Pentagon finds no fault in its ties to TV Analysts

New York Times :: A Pentagon public relations program that sought to transform high-profile military analysts into “surrogates” and “message force multipliers” for the Bush administration complied with Defense Department regulations and directives, the Pentagon’s inspector general has concluded after a two-year investigation.

The inquiry was prompted by articles published in The New York Times in 2008 that described how the Pentagon, in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, cultivated close ties with retired officers who worked as military analysts for television and radio networks.

Continue to read David Barstow, www.nytimes.com

December 21 2011

07:55

VIDEO from the Global Investigative Journalism Conference

Global Investigative Journalism Conference logo

At the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Kiev earlier this year I interviewed four individuals whose work I admire: Stephen Grey (talking about internet security for journalists), Luuk Sengers and Mark Lee Hunter (on organising your investigation), and Bo Elkjaer (on investigating networks).

I’ve been publishing these videos individually on the Help Me Investigate blog, but thought I would cross-publish them as a group here.

Here’s Mark Lee Hunter with his tips on gathering information before speaking to sources:

Stephen Grey on internet security considerations for journalists:

Luuk Sengers on organising your investigation:

And Bo Elkjaer on how he used computer technology to follow the money through network analysis:

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