Working with data and doing transborder investigations: tips and trends

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How journalists from different parts of Europe and the world can connect online and work together on large-scale investigations with impact far beyond their countries’ borders? Is it possible for big leaks of complicated technical documents to be transformed into powerful stories? Why is it so important to carefully check the content, generated from the users of the social networks and make a difference between news and viral rumors?
Those are part of the questions, answered by international and Bulgarian journalists and experts at the conference Innovative Journalism: Working with Data, Implementing innovative instruments and verification of user-generated content, which took place in Betahaus Sofia on 30th June. The event, organized by the Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria in partnership with Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and America for Bulgaria Foundation, was attended by more than 70 Bulgarian journalists, activists and students. It marks the beginning of series of workshops, aimed at introducing the Bulgarian journalism into working with data and innovative digital journalists, which will come as a result of the partnership between AEJ-Bulgaria and FNF Foundation.
Below you can see the accents as well as full recordings of the lectures and trainings held by Kristof Clerix (Mo*, Belgium), Paul Radu (OCCP, Romania), Jacopo Ottaviani (Internazionale, Italy), Atanas Chobanov (Bivol), Dimitar Dimitrov and Marta Radeva ( and Konstantina Vassileva (media analyst).
Kristof Clerix shared his experience from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, where he has worked on the international investigations LuxLeaks, Swissleaks and Evicted and Abandoned (dedicated to the World Bank). He focused on the details and methods of work on Luxleaks, which shed light on the tax heaven, provided by Luxembourg to big international companies in a moment when the European citizens are struggling to pay their own taxes. In order to track those operation, more than 80 journalists from 36 countries processed together 28 000 leaked documents.
“When you work on large-scale investigations, it is very important to forget about your ego and to learn to work together, in cooperation with other journalists”, shared Clerix and advised his Bulgarian colleagues to be team players, to share and cooperate with the other journalists on national and international level.

According to Paul Radu, Executive Director of Organized Crime and Corruption Project and co-founder of Investigative Dashboard, there is no other way to fight an organized criminal network but having a network of journalists. He demonstrated different approaches to investigating international money laundering schemes in countries such as Russia, Moldova, Romania, USA, Bulgaria and various off-shore zones.
Regardless of the growing importance of data journalism, Radu pointed out that usually processing and analyzing data takes only around 20% of an investigation, whereas the other 80% still mean doing traditional journalism.

Jacopo Ottaviani presented two different approaches to gathering and processing data for journalism stories. He is specializing in data journalism, digital cartography and trans-European data projects. Jacopo is part of the team of the international data investigation The Migrant Files, which won the European Press Award in 2015. The project is a result of the common efforts of 12 journalist and developers, who gathered and analyzed data for the deaths of migrants at the borders of Europe. They found out that at least 30 000 people have lost their lives for 15 years, trying to reach Europe. Neither the EU, nor any of the Member States maintain such data.
Presented also was the international data project Generation E, which tracks the routes and motivation of young Southern Europeans to migrant and look for better opportunities in the North of Europe. It used another approach to gathering data – crowd-sourcing of stories, which were later processed and retold by the journalists. More than 2000 stories were sourced for just 4 months.

Atanas Chobanov, Editor-in-Chief of the investigative website Bivol and spokesperson of Balkan Leaks introduced the audience with ways to protect and encrypt their communications. He demonstrated a list of free encryption tools – True Cript & Rubber Hose Deniable File System, LaCie Private-Public: free True Crypt lite, and others.

Marta Radeva and Dimiter Dimitrov from foundation showed the journalists where they can find open public data for Bulgaria and presented a list of free instruments, by which those information can be processed, visualized and turned into a story.

Finally, Konstantina Vassileva, media analyst, suggested the journalists how they can turn into detectives in the digital world by fact-checking the information, generated through the social networks and the Internet. Her main advice is that the journalists should always review such information critically in order to be confident in the media product they are offering to their audiences. She presented practical approaches for identifying fake pictures, Facebook and Twitter accounts as well online trolls and other tools for distorting the online environment.

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