My highlights from the Global Investigative Journalism Conference at Lillehammer

I’m back in Brussels after some hectic days at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Lillehammer, Norway. A superb conference with people from more than 80 different nations. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the whole conference, but European Journalism Centre has very thorough notes, a recommended read!

It was amazing to hear the story of the Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj who was released from Guantanamo in May, after six years as a detainee. I also went to hear Asra Nomani’s presentation about the Pearl Project (they are trying to find out who killed Daniel Pearl, the journalist from Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and beheaded in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002), which I have written about here previously, and I also have an article about the project in the last edition of Journalisten.
To learn more about CAR (computer assisted reporting) was one of the main reason why I went to this conference, and I’ll give you a little summary of the best tips and tricks I picked up from the conference (if you are disappointed I didn’t pick up more, it is because I met so many interesting people and got myself distracted in plenty of great conversations):

Helena Bengtsson, database editor at SVT and Jennifer LaFleur, director of Computer Assisted Reporting, ProPublica, on building databases:

  • -Learn and use Excel! When you master that, continue with Access (both Microsoft programs. I’m sure there are other alternative out there – any suggestions?). Incredible with all the great stories Excel can help you uncover. (if you think it is hard to get used to/understand Excel, try out some of the tutorials at youtube – I just love youtube tutorials!)
  • I didn’t know Excel very well before this, but now, I’ve promised myself to start using it more often. We learned for example an easy way to import data from web sites into Excel (In Excel, click on data, then import external data and new web query, past and copy the name of the website, click on the arrow where the numbers start, and voila, all the numbers from the website is neatly organized in your Excel workbook).
  • -use Excel as an agenda/to-do-list/diary. Fill in your phone calls, interviews, promises, meetings, ordering public documents, problems, ideas.
  • -Especially for larger investigative projects, Excel is a very useful to handle all the information, your sources
  • -Remember to save several versions of your work, in case you mess up your data!
  • -Easy ways to make your own questionnaries which you can send to your sources, for free online questionnaires, here are some.
  • -Require to get data electronically, instead of on paper, there is so much more you can do with the information.
  • -“You need to interview the data”, Sarah Cohen, database editor in Washington Post, via Helena Bengtsson,

Luuk Sengers had some nice efficiency tips:

  • -To find info on your own computer fast, use desktop search (ex Google Desktop)
  • Google Notebook for an efficient way of storing/sharing your notes.
  • -Use Skype recorder on interviews.
  • -For backup, Sugarsync Mobile Me (Apple), Data Deposit Box (only pc) are recommended.
    -For social networking analysis, try Analyst’s Notebook (expensive, but very advanced, used by the Pearl Project and to uncover the story about the CIA Ghost Planes.
  • Check also out his downloads.
  • Update: Henrik Pryser Libell, a Norwegian freelancer I met at the conference, sent me a note and corrected me, which I appreciate. Libell says that Sengers was sceptic to Analyst’s Notebook because of the incredible pricetag (apparently 8000 euro for a license).

I also went to some meetings about scraping the web (with robots) and social networking tools, but I haven’t had time to go through those notes. I will also return with notes from Nils Hansson’s ABC of investigative journalism.

In the meantime, for more reading on CAR/investigative journalism, take a look at these links:

5 thoughts on “My highlights from the Global Investigative Journalism Conference at Lillehammer

  1. Pingback: GIJC continues - ABC of investigative journalism « Bente Kalsnes’ blog

  2. Instead of using Excel, I’d use Google Spreadsheets. They’re web based, runs in your browser and supports versions.

    No need to save different versions – it’ s alle done for you. And as easy to use as excel. Or actually easier.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Pål! My Excel version is from 2004 (Excel for Mac), and I clearly miss some of the updates, so I will also test out Google’s Spreadsheets. I like Google Document. Have you encountered any problems while using Spreadsheets? Do you also use Spreadsheets for work related stuff?

  4. Pingback: Why I love Twitter and the readers of this blog « Bente Kalsnes’ blog

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