Innovative Journalism Techniques Training Held in Moldova

A training course entitled ‘Innovative Techniques for Quality Journalism’, organised by BIRN and the Independent Journalism Center in Moldova (IJC), was held on March 16-17 in Chisinau, Moldova.

Fifteen participants representing national and regional media who are interested in launching partnerships at the international level and in publishing their stories in foreign media with the support of BIRN HUB, took part in the training.

The training was conducted by BIRN editors Timothy Large, Marija Ristic and Marian Chiriac, who shared their experience in the field of narrative journalism.

The trainers offered journalists a number of instruments and techniques for enhancing their reporting skills.

The participants had the opportunity to hone their features, news and analysis writing skills and gain insights into online journalism and into the correct ways of reporting on conflict situations.

The participants said they appreciated the training course, giving feedback responses saying that they learned how to write interesting futures, improved their professional skills and `learned new techniques for writing quality articles.

BIRN Holds Project Management Training in Romania

BIRN Hub, the organisational entity that manages the network’s regional projects and coordinates its work, organized project management training for its members in Bucharest, Romania, on March 2-4.

Project management staff, administrative and financial personnel and some journalists met together to boost their knowledge about project management cycles.

During the training, participants had a chance to improve their knowledge of project management cycles and, through interactive workshops, deepen their knowledge of project management and to learn how to contribute to it.

The training session was also a chance to strengthen relations with BIRN Romania, especially for the newcomers to BIRN.

The training was organized by Dusica Stilic, regional operations manager at BIRN Hub.

Marija Ristic Appointed as New BIRN Network Director

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Regional Network (BIRN Hub) has appointed Marija Ristic to the positon of Regional Network Director, to replace the current director, Gordana Igric.

Marija Ristic has been appointed as BIRN’s Regional Network Director, effective from May 1 this year.

She will lead the BIRN Hub, which coordinates the BIRN network, dealing with editorial, training, operations and development, as well as developing, fundraising for and coordinating core regional projects.

Since its inception, BIRN has attracted exceptional professionals to its team who have helped the organisation over the years to flourish and become a trusted source of information, and Ristic is one of the foremost examples, said Gordana Igric, the current BIRN Regional Network Director.

“I feel confident that she will bring fresh ideas and new energy to the Network, as well as passionately guard the quality of programmes within the Hub,” Igric said.

Ristic started working for BIRN in 2011 as a journalist, contributing to the regional Balkan Transitional Justice programme. Topics related to facing the past, reconciliation and transitional justice have been at the core of her professional development.

In 2015, Ristic produced the award-winning documentary ‘The Unidentified’, which was screened across the Europe and the United States.

She also made BIRN one of the first media organisations in the Western Balkans to initiate regular reporting about violent extremism, populism and propaganda under the regional Resonant Voices Initiative, which also involved training journalists to cover these topics.

“It is a privilege and an honour to lead such an exceptional team of professionals who have been at the forefront of defending media freedoms, human rights and setting the highest journalistic standards across the Western Balkans region,” Ristic said.

Ristic has significant expertise and knowledge related to media, transitional justice, human rights, democratic processes and EU integration.

She has also been actively involved in organisational development, fundraising and expanding the organisation’s influence regionally and abroad over the past several years.

Ristic is a graduate of the Geneva Academy for International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. She has received numerous awards and scholarships from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the OSCE, Zoran Djindjic Foundation and the Research Council of Norway. She is currently a fellow at the Free University in Berlin, Germany enrolled in the European Journalism Fellowship programme, researching universal jurisdiction.

Gordana Igric, the outgoing Regional Network Director, set up BIRN in 2004, and over the past 14 years has overseen its growth from a handful of employees to around 150, with six offices in the Western Balkans, journalistic coverage from 13 countries, and 16 websites in English and local languages.

Eleven Awards Won by BIRN Journalists in 2017

BIRN Network members took home 11 awards in 2017 for reporting within their respective countries as well as for their regional and international investigations.

A multi-country series of investigations about weapons exports into the Middle East, carried by BIRN Hub and BIRN Kosovo won three awards in 2017.

Judges awarding the prestigious Global Shining Light Award honoured the investigation in November with citations of excellence.

“Making a Killing” received special recognition at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference 2017 in Johannesburg with a certificate of excellence. The report was jointly produced with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The story deals with the Pentagon’s $2.2 billion weapons pipeline of Soviet-made arms flooding into Syria.

The report is part of a wider research project by BIRN and the OCCRP on the illegal international arms trade. It was shortlisted in July 2017 for the Global Shining Light Award sponsored by the Global Investigative Journalism Network, an association of 155 non-profit organisations in 68 countries.

“Making a Killing” also won an award for online media in an investigative journalism competition organised by the Independent Journalistic Association of Serbia and was also selected in October by voters in an online poll recognising exemplary reporting.

Three Kosovo stories given awards

BIRN Kosovo journalist Doruntia Baliu was awarded the “Best Story on Education” prize in November by the Kosovo Journalist Association and German Corporation for International Cooperation. The award was given to the journalist for her investigation into a grade falsification scandal in the municipality of Drenas.

Pristina-based journalist Serbeze Haxhiaj was honoured in October for her story ‘The Enduring Agony of Wartime Rape in Kosovo’, published on BIRN’s flagship website Balkan Insight. The story explores how women who have been raped and tortured during the Kosovo War are not applying for reparation schemes due to the stigma of rape that is still prevalent in Kosovar society nearly 20 years after the war ended.

BIRN Kosovo’s television programme “Jeta ne Kosove” (Life in Kosovo) and the anti-corruption platform KALLXO.com were given the second prize for investigative journalism by the European Union Office in Kosovo in May.

The investigation that caught the five-member jury’s eys was “Organized Tax Fraud,” which revealed that over 300 Kosovo businesses were involved in a tax evasion scheme through the use of shell companies.

Macedonia took home two awards

Aleksandar Dimitrievski, author of a BIRN’s story about a database for agricultural subsidies, was awarded first prize for investigative journalism for 2016, at a ceremony in Skopje, Macedonia in May 2017. Dimitrievski’s story documents the amount of agricultural subsidies granted to individuals and companies over four years, from 2010-2014, worth about 450 million euros.

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia gave its annual investigative reporting award for 2016 to BIRN journalist Vlado Apostolov in February for his series of articles on properties connected to a Macedonian official, Vladimir Zdravev.

Apostolov received the “Yasar Erebara” award for three investigative articles on properties linked to the former chairman of the Council in the Skopje Municipality, published on BIRN Macedonia’s website Prizma.

Journalists in Serbia won two awards

Dragan Gmizic’s “Flatland Without Birds?”, a documentary about illegal bird hunting in Serbia, won the second prize in the EU Investigative Journalism Awards for 2016.

The film, co-produced by BIRN Serbia and Greenfield Productions, examines how the hunting of rare turtle doves and quail in Serbia is organised and asks whether it can be controlled. The documentary was aired on TV N1, TV CG, and Al Jazeera Balkans.

First prize went to Maja Zivanovic for her series of stories for VOICE, the Investigative and Analytic Centre of Vojvodina. Maja is currently working for BIRN’s regional publication Balkan Insight.

BIRN Serbia journalist Jelena Veljkovic’s story “The Secret of Vucic’s Tavern” won an award in the print media category at the annual competition for investigative journalism, organised by the Independent Journalistic Association of Serbia. Her story looked into claim by Serbia’s Property Directorate that it was unaware an exclusive restaurant had opened in a part of the Belgrade Cooperative building, which the directorate had leased to the “Belgrade Waterfront” company. The directorate refused to answer whether it believed the use of public property by a private company was in accordance with the law.

Albania

Elvis Nabolli, a 2016 fellow in the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, in June 2017 won the award for best article by a young investigative journalist, as part of the part of the EU Investigative Awards in Albania. Nabolli won for his article, “An Albanian War on Drugs”, which was produced as part of a fellowship and published by Balkan Insight.

Balkan Insight Holds Digital Media Training Course

Balkan Insight held a four-day digital media training course for its reporters and editors across the region, focusing on writing for the web and shooting video stories on mobile phones.

Around 30 BIRN reporters and editors from across the region participated in the intensive, practical training course in Belgrade from December 3-6, which was aimed at giving them the knowledge and skills to enhance Balkan Insight’s multimedia coverage and improve its ability to report news and communicate with audiences in the digital era.

Murray Dick of Newcastle University led training in writing for the web, focusing on best practices in producing stories for online audiences.

Dick explained the principles and practice of search engine optimisation for news, explored online analytics and search metrics, and looked at techniques to help Balkan Insight increase its online readership and audience engagement.

He also introduced the reporters and editors to online interactive resources and methods of communicating data within stories, such as the use of infographics.

Alen Mlatisuma of Voice of America then led two days of training in video reporting techniques using smartphones.

The training covered the use of software and gadgets for video filming and editing with smartphones, and highlighted best practices for shooting news reports.

This was followed by a hands-on exercise in visual story planning, practical advice for shooting high-quality video reports and editing the finished product.

“In addition to raising the skills of our journalists, we hope that the most important benefit of this training will be a wider audience reach,” said Balkan Insight’s editor-in-chief, Gordana Andric.

“Considering the poor media environment in many of the countries in which we work, and the fact that mainstream media are mainly closed to independent and especially investigative reporting, we must find ways to bypass these obstacles, reach readers and provide information,” Andric added.

“Amidst a cacophony of news, fabricated scandals and propaganda, we need to attract their attention in innovative ways and enhance our methods of communicating important stories,” she said.

BIRN Romania Reporters Share Experiences at Media Festival

BIRN Romania journalists and alumni spoke about international reporting standards and freelancing, drawing on their own experiences of being involved in a number of BIRN regional projects, at Zilele Superscrieri [Superscrieri Days], an event that forms part of Romania’s main media festival.

Ana Maria Luca, BIRN correspondent in Bucharest, shared her thoughts on reporting on a daily basis for Balkan Insight, stressing how tough but rewarding it is for a journalist to follow Western-style reporting standards while facing several challenges at home, such as the long delays and refusals of public institutions to deliver requested information, the reluctance of some analysts and officials to speak with a foreign correspondent, and more.

Lina Vdovii spoke about her investigations into migration and its effect on Romanian families, and into Romanian international adoptees who try to find their biological families via social media. Both reports were published in 2014-2015 as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence. Vdovii underlined the importance of having enough time and money to investigate such sensitive topics in depth.

Finally, Matei Barbulescu recalled how attending BIRN’s Summer School of Investigative Reporting this year had helped enhance his reporting skills and also increase his network of contacts across the region.

The debate held on 18 November in Bucharest was moderated by BIRN Romania’s executive director, Marian Chiriac.

Pressure Rises on Journalists in the Balkans

Weakening EU and US influence in the Balkans and increased Russian influence, as well as growing political and economic pressures on journalists, have created a harsher environment for Balkan media, BIRN’s biennial meeting heard.

At the biennial meeting of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network on Saturday, Ana Petruseva, director of BIRN Macedonia, said the situation facing the media in the Balkans “seems to be going from bad to worse”.

In addition to the usual political and financial pressures, she said, the media is seeing new types of pressure – the labelling of reporters and media outlets as spies and foreign mercenaries, as well as the opening of a large number of fake news websites.

Petruseva said the flood of fake news was “creating a media noise” in which it is becoming difficult for the public to distinguish between real and fake information, as a result of which confidence in the media in general is declining.

“People are losing trust in the media, and start to see everything as propaganda and promotion,” Petruseva said at the BIRN meeting on Saturday in Kopaonik, Serbia, referring to the new challenges facing the Balkan media.

Wolfgang Petritsch, a BIRN Board member and the president of the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation, warned the Balkan countries not to always count on EU support, as many in Brussels saw “stability as the priority” over reforms.

“The EU position has weakened owing to its internal problems. As long as it does not finish the process of internal reforms, there will be no strong EU role in the region,” he said, noting that while the promise of EU enlargement is fading, authoritarian regimes in the region are strengthening.

“Since no system has been established of how to handle enlargement, the situation will remain in the ‘twilight zone’,” Petritsch said.

Political analyst for The Economist and Balkan expert Tim Judah said the policy of “stabilitocracy”, whereby the EU and the US appear to tolerate authoritarian Balkan leaders who deliver stability, is essentially a pragmatic response.

“It means dealing with the leaders that we have, and dealing with the Balkans in the way that they are,” he said.

Judah said that while Western influence had decreased, Russian influence had grown, but that Moscow saw setbacks in recent months – giving the example of Macedonia, where Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has been ousted, and Montenegro, which joined NATO on June 5 despite Russian opposition.

“What is Russia’s interest? It is simple, they want to create within the region pro-Russian or neutral territories,” Judah said.

BIRN Board member and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe Stefan Lehne said the Balkan countries could move closer towards EU membership in different ways.

“Parallel to the very, very slow and very boring and complicated enlargement process there could be some process of horizontal enlargement. The Balkans countries should not join only country by country, but policy by policy,” Lehne said, listing Balkan countries’ participation in the Energy Community as an example of this.

BIRN board member and media expert Robert Bierman spoke of the recent experience of the media in the United States, where the administration of President Donald Trump has been targeting the press.

“Any weakness in the media will be pointed at. It doesn’t matter if two things are wrong and 98 are right, those two things become the most important in the world. It doesn’t matter that the administration is doing 98 things wrong and two things right,” Bierman said.

However, he added more optimistically that Americans appear more ready now to pay for editorial content, adding that the media are also continuing to do their job.

Before the panel, BIRN Regional Director Gordana Igric presented the results of the BIRN network’s projects in the last year, noting that the network had directly reached over five million people.

“In the past year, this number increased by over half a million people,” Igric said, adding that milestone stories had tackled such major issues as corruption, problems with public procurements and concessions. As a result of these investigations, officials have been removed and criminal charges filed.

Igric said that BIRN currently operates 16 websites in various languages, and has produced over 100 TV reports and films and held 50 training courses during the past year.

According to Igric, BIRN’s articles have been republished or cited in many respected foreign media, including The Guardian, the BBC, and Bloomberg. BIRN has also been very active in advocating the prosecution of war crimes and in participative budgeting activities.

The biennial BIRN network meeting continues until June 10 on Mount Kopaonik in Serbia.

Marian Chiriac

Marian Chiriac has worked as a journalist since 1990, mainly covering politics and human rights issues.

He has reported extensively on most major events in Romania and the Balkans. He became a regular contributor to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in 1999, and in 2005 established BIRN Romania.