Tag Archives: investigative journalism

ProPublica: How we got the government’s secret dialysis data

Today, US non-profit ProPublica begins publishing the findings of a long-term investigation into the provision of dialysis in the US, which will also be published by the Atlantic magazine. In an editors note on the site, Paul Steiger and Stephen Engelberg explain how reporter Robin Fields spent two years pressing officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to release a huge dataset detailing the performance of various dialysis facilities.

Initially, she was told by the agency that the data was not in its “possession, custody and control.” After state officials denied similar requests for the data, saying it belonged to CMS, the agency agreed to reconsider. For more than a year after that, officials neither provided the data nor indicated whether they would.

ProPublica finally got its hands on the data, after the Atlantic story had gone to print, but plans “to make it available on our website as soon as possible in a form that will allow patients to compare local dialysis centers.”

Full story at this link.

Follow tonight’s Paul Foot Award ceremony

Journalism.co.uk will be at the Paul Foot Award 2010 tonight, and will endeavour to cover the result on @journalism_live and @journalismnews.

This year’s shortlist for the investigative journalism award is:

  • Jonathan Calvert and Clare Newell (Sunday Times) – on MPs and peers seeking cash for influence
  • David Cohen (Evening Standard) – on the plight of the poor in London
  • Nick Davies (Guardian) – on phone-hacking at the News of the World
  • Linda Geddes (New Scientist) – on evidence that DNA tests are not always accurately interpreted
  • Eamonn McCann (Irish Times, Belfast Newsletter, Guardian) – on the cover-up of the British army’s actions on Bloody Sunday
  • Clare Sambrook (numerous publications) – on the detention of asylum seekers’ children

Six pre-request FOI questions for journalists

David Higgerson, head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals, regularly blogs about Freedom of Information requests, from best practice advice to what he’s learned thanks to FOI requests each week.

In his latest post he warns that there is a danger that journalists may “default to FOI” too often, which can have an impact on the quality of the results they get. In order to get the best responses he suggests posing a series of questions to yourself before requesting the information. In summary they are:

  1. Is this information available elsewhere?
  2. Will they release the information to me without going through FOI?
  3. Is there another way of getting this information?
  4. Do I need to think about jargon in my FOI request?
  5. Are there examples of the information being released elsewhere?
  6. What reasons for refusal could a public body come up with?

Read his post in full for detailed advice…

WikiLeaks revelations show a mainstream media “too cosy with power”

Black Star News, an investigative newspaper in New York, has published a post by reporter Colin Benjamin who claims the leak of classified documents by WikiLeaks shows the mainstream media were “too cosy with power”.

According to Benjamin, the leaked documents paint a “starkly different picture” than that portrayed by US authorities. The material also puts the spotlight on media failures to hold those in power to account, he adds.

It contradicts the rosy assessments of officials that the war was being won with limited civilian casualties and illustrates the Taliban insurgency is much more resilient, with the fighters better equipped, than reported (…) Truth is the leaking of these classified files is also an indictment of American media’s failure.

See his full post here…

News organisations should get ready for data, says Martin Moore

While the individual newspapers involved in WikiLeak’s latest military document release may be considering lessons for next time, Martin Moore from the Media Standards Trust says all news organisations should be preparing for future waves of data from such sources.

Writing on the PBS Mediashift Idea Lab he says the ‘data dump’ process is likely to to become an increasingly common method of information release as reporters and sources become more experienced in handling such material.

Soon every news organization will have its own “bunker” — a darkened room where a hand-picked group of reporters hole up with a disk/memory stick/laptop of freshly opened data, some stale pizza and lots of coffee.

He proposes five questions for news outlets to consider in preparation for processing leaked material in the best way for the reader, including how to use public intelligence to generate the most stories from material, how to personalise data for their own specific audiences and how to ensure transparency and trust in the publication of documents.

The expenses files, the Afghan logs, the COINs database (a massive database of U.K. government spending released last month) are all original documents that can be tagged, referenced and linked to. They enable journalists not only to refer back to the original source material, but to show an unbroken narrative flow from original source to final article. This cements the credibility of the journalism and gives the reader the opportunity to explore the context within the original source material. Plus, if published in linked data, the published article can be directly linked to the original data reference.

He adds that preparation will be key to securing future scoops, as “organizations that become known for handling big data sets will have more whistleblowers coming to them”.

See his full post here…

Investigative Voice director defends the online-only watchdog

Stephen Janis, journalist and content director of Investigative Voice, gives a behind the scenes look at digital investigative journalism in relation to a recent story he broke on a local government employee who had been on the Baltimore city payroll and collecting sick pay while in prison.

Writing on Nieman Journalism Lab, Janis looks at the opportunities and challenges of investigating and breaking such a story on a digital platform, following a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) which he claims concluded that Investigative Voice “was all but irrelevant to the city’s news flow”.

The study entitled ‘A Study of the News Ecosystem of One American City’ reports that “the expanding universe of new media, including blogs, Twitter and local websites—at least in Baltimore—played only a limited role: mainly an alert system and a way to disseminate stories from other places”.

But Janis says the impact of the case study shows a greater role than that.

These discoveries and quite a bit more—for example, DPW supervisors had threatened to fire an employee who discovered that McLaughlin was on the state’s Sex Offender Registry—were published in a series of stories on Investigative Voice, the website where I work as a senior reporter and content director. Baltimore’s inspector general opened a department-wide probe, and the city solicitor ordered a citywide review of personnel policies related to criminal convictions and the employment of sex offenders in jobs that bring them into contact with the public. Because of the governmental watchdog reporting we do at Investigative Voice, I was distressed by the implied assumption in the study that the purpose of a website like ours is to replicate what our print brethren is doing.

Yet folks at Investigative Voice and other websites like ours are rethinking how to keep a watchful eye on city government agencies, personnel, policies and practices in a ways that will have impact. The old assumption is not our starting point.Our impulse as digital journalists is to innovate—and this means finding stories that aren’t being covered by other news media in Baltimore and doing what we can to illuminate them in ways that propel people to act. While we take full advantage of our digital platform, we adamantly uphold the basic tenets of investigative journalism.

He adds that unlike some online news media, Investigative Voice’s focus is not on page impressions or clicks – but making the most of strong images, information rich material and “eye-catching” headlines.

What set us apart, however, are our homepage’s outsized graphics and our investigative mission; in both, we aim for a different model of social influence within the community.Our consistent focus on this scandal, coupled with bold, eye-catching two-word headlines (white words set against a black background), provocative subheads, and information-laden captions reinforced our emphasis on watchdog reporting and lent authority to the investigation as it unfolded on our Web site. In some ways, our digital approach harkens back to the heyday of newspapers in the early 1900’s when boys hawking papers shouted out headlines designed to catch the attention of passers-by. Economically, this translates into an ability to market our influence with readers and advertisers in a qualitative rather than a quantitative way; impact and influence triumph over eyeballs and clicks.

See the full post here…

Bevins Prize now open for entries

Investigative journalism award the Bevins Prize is now open for entries.

According to its organisers, the award, which is named after political journalist Anthony Bevins, “aims to encourage and promote that relentless pursuit of truth”.

Bevins was born in Liverpool in 1942 and went on to work as a political correspondent and political editor for the Times, the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Observer, the Express and the Independent. He died in 2001.

Last year’s winner was awarded to Paul Lewis for his stories on the death of Ian Tomlinson at the hands of the police in the G20 riots in 2009.

The Prize is a bronze statue of a rat up a drainpipe.

For more details see the Bevins Prize site.

Inside Story: Behind the Age’s Australian banknote investigation

Investigative journalists Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie talk to broadcaster Peter Clarke about their work on an investigation for Melbourne’s The Age into allegations of international bribery involving Securency, the banknote company half-owned by the country’s Reserve Bank. If you get a chance to listen to the podcast in full it’s a great behind-the-scenes account of how an investigation can develop from the first hint of information to the final story – and why this can sometimes be a slow-burning thing.

Podcast at this link…

Ghanaian investigative reporter wins health journalism award for undercover work

Ghanaian investigative reporter Anas Aremeyaw Anas has been awarded the 2010 Excellence in Journalism award by the Global Health Council, in recognition of his undercover work in a psychiatric hospital.

Disguised as a mentally-ill patient at the Accra Psychiatric hospital, Anas exposed the neglect and abuse of other patients by nurses.

Global Health Council President and CEO Jeffrey L Sturchio said Anas repeatedly risked his own life to help others.

“In selecting Mr Anas for this award, we were awed by his courage and persistence ― often at great personal risk ― in exposing the most vile and degrading treatment of human beings.” he said. “We celebrate everything Mr Anas has done to rescue and care for the most vulnerable among us.”

Last year, Journalism.co.uk reported that US President Barack Obama had praised Anas in his speech to the Ghanaian Parliament.

Read more about Anas’s work here….

Columbia Journalism Review: Can the new non-profits last?

Columbia Journalism Review has an insightful feature up on the United States’ burgeoning non-profit journalism industry. Writer Jill Drew looks at the unusual practices that separate organisations like California Watch from traditional newsrooms, and whether the philanthropic donations and other smaller revenue streams on which they rely can sustain the groundbreaking work being done.

The editors agreed; this was big. But then the conversation veered in a direction unfamiliar to traditional newsrooms. Instead of planning how to get the story published before word of it leaked, the excited editors started throwing out ideas for how they could share Johnson’s reporting with a large array of competitive news outlets across the state and around the country. No one would get a scoop; rather, every outlet would run the story at around the same time, customized to resonate with its audience, be they newspaper subscribers, Web readers, television viewers, or radio listeners.

Full story at this link…