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NOTW’s reporting on Max Mosley was out of context and unethical, says undercover reporter

October 27th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Newspapers

Undercover journalism has no role in reporting on meetings – in private or public places – between people in power and celebrities or individuals known to have vast wealth or power, investigative journalist Tessa Mayes told journalism students at Coventry University at last week.

Probably best known for ‘Sleepers: undercover in the sex trade‘ broadcast on Channel 4 in 2001 (when she worked as a receptionist to investigate the conditions endured by many illegal sex workers in the UK), Mayes told students at the ‘Coventry Conversations’ session that ‘investigative journalism has in recent times been branded “dead” by many in the world’s media, but that was far from the truth’.

The News of the World’s Nazi sex expose of FIA president, Max Mosley, was unethical and in bad taste, Mayes said. That type of exposure was ‘just the beginning of the investigative process’, she said.

“These are people caught up in a private moment, caught during free speech. You have to approach investigative journalism in context because it is an intrusive form of gathering information.

“I think you have to look long and hard if you want to do this at the way we present the evidence. We have to get answers for the right reasons, even though objectivity has been heavily criticised in recent years,” she added.

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Investigative vocalists: the musical talents of world-renowned journalists

September 22nd, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

Our woman on the ground at GIJC Lillehammer (well, she was on duty for Journalisten.no, but we managed to nab a little bit of her spare time) has sent these rather insightful pictures back. It turns out that there might be a correlation between investigative skills and musical talent.

Introducing…on harmonica, David Kaplan, the director of the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Playing with him is Mark Hunter on guitar, founding member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network.

Kaplan/Hunter GIJC

And, Ana Simonovska, a Macedonian journalist with an exceptional voice, accompanied by David Kaplan.

Musical talents aside, here’s Sonali Samarasinghe, being caught on a mobile phone camera as she’s awarded the Global Shining Light Award, for her articles covering corruption and abuse of power in Sri Lanka.

It seems that the musical talent wasn’t shared by the British journalists – where was Robert Fisk while these pictures were taken?

All photos courtesy of Kristine Lowe, for Journalisten. The full set can be seen over at Flickr. Kristine Lowe completes her reportage over on her blog.

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Online Journalism Scandinavia: Waiting for the CAR to arrive

September 17th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Online Journalism

Earlier in the week we blogged that the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Lillehammer (GIJC) had received a little criticism for being a bit 1.0 in its coverage.  But if its partcipants made limited use of the social web to report live from the event, the Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) contingent was out in force and here’s what they had to say.

Paul Myers, a BBC specialist in internet research, and web trainer, told Journalism.co.uk how slow CAR is in the UK.  “People pick up on the flashy stuff like Google maps, but not CAR,” Myers said.

“This is quite typical in my experience – lots of resistance when I started training journalists in using the internet at BBC in the early 90s. It has been uphill struggle to convince people to use the web,” he told us.

In an opening session, the director of computer-assisted reporting at ProPublica, Jennifer LaFleur, urged people not to be deterred by how complicated it sounds.  “Computer assisted reporting (CAR) is doing stories based on data analysis, but it’s really just working with public records,” she said.

“Don’t get intimidated by the statistics, maths or excel and access focus: these are just the tools we use to report with.”

Along with database editor Helena Bengtsson, from Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT, LaFleur highlighted several recent successful news stories that had been unearthed by using CAR.

One, an investigation into the voting patterns of Swedish EU-parliamentarians, showed that several of the most high-profile parlimentarians abstained in 50 per cent or more of cases, causing political outcry.

But, maybe journalists should leave the more high powered CAR to the IT people? No, was the blunt answer to that audience question. CAR should be par for the course, said LaFleur. “90 per cent of stories we presented here were done with Access and Excel. I am a journalist doing journalism,” she said.

“You have to interview the data as you interview a person,’ added Helena Bengtsson. “When I do a query on data… I’m asking the data as a journalist.

“There is a lot of information in the data that IT-people wouldn’t have discovered. We’re journos first, data-specialists second,” Bengtsson said.

GCIJ Lillehammer also ran classes on RSS, scraping the web, being an online ‘bloodhound’ and effective web searching.

“There are two reasons for that: we have the training expertise and see major need for training in web research and computer assisted reporting”,  Haakon Hagsbö, from SKUP (a Norwegian foundation for investigative journalism) and one of the organisers of GIJC  Lillehammer, told Journalism.co.uk.

“It has certainly been very popular at earlier conferences. People don’t know what they don’t know until they attend the training. It’s a real eyeopener, but they soon find that it’s not rocket science, as these are simple yet powerful tools. We see more and more examples of colleagues from all over the world who meet online and use the web for research.

In reponse to Isaac Mao’s comment that there had been a low take-up of live social media reporting from the conference, Haugsbö said: “We have streamed everything live online, but other than that I don’t have a good answer to this.”

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Editors Weblog: Interview with Nick Davies on the future of investigative journalism

August 26th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

The author of Flat Earth News discusses the future of investigative journalism, and the benefits and restrictions of the specialism in a multimedia world.

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After 250 job cuts, LA Times leading reporters head to ProPublica

Last week LA Times, one of the biggest employers of journalists in the US, announced that it would be dispensing with the services of 150 of them as part of a total 250 job losses at the paper.

Yesterday afternoon it emerged that two more journalists would likely be leaving the LA Times, but not as a direct result of the editorial cuts.

According to LA Observed, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporters Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber will be leaving the paper later in the summer to join the not-for-profit investigative start up ProPublica.

“It’s another big morale blow in the newsroom, which used to be a place where journalists aspired to reach and stay to do their best work. With new deep cutbacks coming and [LA Times owner] Sam Zell’s outbursts making many of the best journalists feel the Times’ commitment to serious news is precarious, it’s no longer surprising to see stars like Ornstein and Weber flee,” wrote Kevin Roderick.

Last week’s editorial staff cuts, which amounts to roughly 17 per cent of the employees, will be spread between the print newsroom and The Times’ web operations.

Those cuts led to this fascinating quote from Times editor Russ Stanton:

“You all know the paradox we find ourselves in,” he wrote said in a memo to the staff. “Thanks to the Internet, we have more readers for our great journalism than at any time in our history. But also thanks to the Internet, our advertisers have more choices, and we have less money.”

One hundred and fifty losses job losses against two hires doesn’t really make a great case for the internet as a growth medium for the employment of journalists, but nonetheless the growth of ProPublica and its journalistic modus operandi online marks a neat stab at Stanton’s paradox.

The ProPublica site will be fully operational later this year and plans to have almost 30 investigative reporters working on in-depth stories (it helps that self-made billionaire Herb Sandler has set up the site with a donation of $10m a year from his foundation and that it’s under the watchful eye of former WSJ editor Paul Steiger).

ProPublica will conduct investigations, largely online, in areas of significant public interest. It will also use TV documentaries to reveal on that large canvas issues that will be followed up extensively online.

It’s first major project, an investigation into US-backed Arabic language TV network Alhurra, ran on 60 Minutes two weeks ago.

Zell say that newspapers have to slim down and become more economically viable. Newspaper’s are about money, not news, that’s fairly self-evident. Little wonder then that Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber decided to walk and pursue their investigations elsewhere.

What awaits them at ProPublica?

A philanthropic backer claiming no editorial interference. No desire for profits. No ads on the site. Where almost all resources will be poured into journalism (what no free CD give away?).

The journalistic equivalent to Willy Wonka’s ‘golden ticket’, it seems.

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Wired: The secrets behind Wikileaks.org and its plans to save journalism

July 7th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

Wikileaks – the website that publishes leaked reports and documents from government, military and other authority sources – is as secretive a setup as the work it carries out.

No one knows where the site’s servers are and the domain owner, who lives in Kenya, doesn’t control the site’s activities.

But the site thrives on this secrecy and is flying the flag for freedom of information and investigative journalism.

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Non-profit news site ProPublica goes live

June 11th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Uncategorized

ProPublica, the not-for-profit news website focusing on investigative journalism, has gone live.

Editor-in-chief Paul Steiger and managing editor Steve Engelberg welcomed readers to the site yesterday in an introductory post, saying the site would be committed to covering news that had slipped under the radar and to probing further into existing stories.

“Today, we take our first concrete step in building an investigative publishing platform that will produce original stories focusing on betrayal of the public trust and abuse of power.”

The site will feature original content, including long-term investigations working with other media partners, alongside analysis of current campaigns and news and an aggregation of investigative journalism online.

The launch follows the latest phase in ProPublica’s recruitment with seven new additions to its staff bringing the total to 20 out of a planned 27.

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Online Journalism Scandinavia: VG online awarded investigative prize for biggest ever multimedia project

Image of Kristine LoweKristine Lowe’s (left) Online Journalism Scandinavia this week looks at a groundbreaking multimedia project run by VG newspaper that led to awards recognition.

image of vg newspaper’s online project into domestic murders

Journalists from Norway’s VG online were last week awarded an investigative prize for developing the newspaper’s biggest ever multimedia project.

VG journalists Anne Stine Saether and Anders Sooth Knutsen were presented with the Skup-diploma for investigative journalism for their online project on domestic killings.

“In contrast to other countries, we did not know how many women were killed by their husbands, partners and boyfriends in Norway,” said the jury who awarded the prize.

“VG’s project required extensive research, meticulous accuracy and careful ethical considerations. Wounds had to be ripped open, next of kin contacted and identification approved for 72 murders committed over a period of seven years.”

image of vg newspaper

On 12 November 2007, the print edition of VG dedicated its front page (above) to portraits of women killed by their men.

The story was planned and executed across all platforms simultaneously, the paper’s front page splash was accompanied by a dedicated website with articles, blogs, chats and a series of video interviews with some of the murderers, next of kin, psychologists and academics on VGTV.

“The idea for the project came as a result of my own anger and feeling of impotence half a year ago. Yet another woman had been murdered and the story was buried far back in the newspaper, I thought, dammit, this happens all the time, which lead to the idea to spray the front page with the faces of women who’d suffered such a fate,” said Kjersti Sortland, the managing editor of the award-winning journalists.

She explained that it was a very simple journalistic idea, but it required massive research. VG started with anonymous homicide statistics and large blank Excel sheets, and used all the archives and registers they could access to produce the multi-media project.

It eventually took half-a-year to complete to project. But it was worth it, VG’s coverage of the issue was groundbreaking and eventually led to a change in how murders are reported in Norway.

The government has pledged to map domestic murders, and from 2007 on, Norwegian police began registering the relationship between the murderer and the victim when reporting crimes of this nature.

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