Investigative Journalism School

I’ll be presenting a module on Freedom of Information at the Investigative Journalism Summer School that runs 21-23 July. This is an excellent 3-day seminar that covers a wide variety of topics of interst of interest to investigative reporters.

I’m particularly keen to get British journalists involved in computer-assisted reporting and there will be a number of sessions at the school to help British reporters get up to speed on this type of journalism. CAR is very well established in America with entire courses devoted specificially to this type of work. To date, it’s been almost impossible to do this type of reporting in the UK, becuase the UK government does not give out its raw databases of information.

There are two main reasons for the lack of raw official data. Firstly, the records systems in most departments are woefully inefficient, disorganised and chaotic. This is directly attributable to the secrecy within which they have been kept. In the more transparent American system, any inefficiencies or poor practices in records management are quickly highlighted and fixed. Secondly, there is a an attitude among British public servants that data created and maintained at public expense does not belong to the public and that to access it, the public must pay substantial fees. I’ll be talking about ways to counter these obstacles and get the raw data so we can have journalism based on facts and not speculation.

Other topics covered at the school include understanding business reports, covering the CIA and a session with Stephen Grey, the reporter who broke the story about the CIA’s extraordinary renditions. Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaia and Chuck Lewis, former producer for 60 Minutes and founder of the Center for Public Integrity will also speak.

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