Looking for inspiring investigations related to climate? Maybe you have heard that wood pellets are an environment-friendly and CO2-neutral source of clean or green energy? Ah, well. Join us at Dataharvest 2021 for Fridays for Climate program to hear about Money to Burn, a cross-border investigation into biomass from journalists Hazel Sheffield, Piret Reiljan and Ties Gijzel who will present their investigation and findings.

Ties Gijzel

Register for the conference here

Save the date: May 21, 10:00 am CET

In 2009, the Renewable Energy Directive came into force across the EU, mandating that member states must start to transition their energy supply to renewable sources. Ever since, biomass, specifically wood pellets, has become the main source of renewable energy in the EU. The industry developed around the biomass often receive subsidies from the member states, while they operate without scrutiny or transparency.

Piret Reiljan

For three months, a cross-border team led by Argos, the award-winning investigative journalism platform of Dutch public broadcasters VPRO and Human, tracked the path of pellets from forest to furnace.

“We have combined many different methodologies in our work, at different stages of the investigation. We used open source geospatial tools through which we obtained valuable

Hazel Sheffield

data, but we also collaborated with scientists, university researchers, that helped us analyse and interpret the open source data that ended up being more complicated than estimated,” explains Ties Gijzel.

Join us to learn how the team combined an array of different methods to track deforestation, the extent of clear cutting and biodiversity loss!

Check out the “Money to Burn” investigation here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screendump from project video, made by Alexia Barakou and produced by Reporters United.

Are rents constantly rising in your city? Has it been increasingly difficult to find adequate and affordable place? Has home ownership become only wishful thinking?

High demand for flats across European cities has made housing a very attractive investment. While many people can’t find an affordable flat to live in, reports of a huge increase in investment flows into housing across Europe go hand in hand with stories of abusive practices by ‘corporate landlords’, companies that buy and rent out housing for profit.

Where is all that money coming from? Who are the companies and investors buying so much housing across Europe? How does this phenomenon affect people’s lives and homes in European cities?

During a period of more than seven months, a team of over 25 investigative and data journalists and visualisations experts from 16 European countries, have been working on the cross-border collaborative project Cities for Rent: Investigating Corporate Landlords Across Europe. The project was coordinated by the Arena for Journalism in Europe.

Join us for a pop-up session  with Adriana Homolova, Hendrik Lehmann and Jose Miguel Calatayud on May 5 (10:00 AM CET).

Register here

In 2013, Madrid authorities sold more than 4,800 homes, originally intended as affordable housing, to companies controlled by American investment funds. One of the new landlords, American giant Blackstone, soon increased the rents – in some cases by doubling them over a period of three years. Many tenants ended up being evicted. 

In Lisbon, in 2017, two companies bought a building for 2.7 million euros and shortly after put it up for sale for 7 million as an “unoccupied” building, when in reality there were 12 families living there.

In ParisLondonCopenhagen and Berlin, tenants in homes owned by Swedish company Akelius have been complaining for years of abusive practices by their ‘corporate landlord’. In 2020, even the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing said that Akelius was abusing its tenants’ human rights.

Similar stories tend to repeat across Europe. Total investment into residential real estate in Europe has increased more than 700% between 2009 and 2020, from 7.9 to 66.9 billion euros, according to data by Real Capital Analytics. Corporate landlords’ are increasing their presence in different European cities, while the authorities rarely know how many homes those kinds of companies have acquired. (continued under the video)

Cross-border collaborative project Cities for Rent: Investigating Corporate Landlords Across Europe is envisaged as the first step towards more cross-border collaborative research into the crisis of housing affordability and how it affects people’s lives. Join us to learn how the journalists involved went ahead and started building the databases of the corporate landlords in different European countries; who these big players are, and how they’re impacting our lives.

Read the stories

The investigation received support through IJ4EU fund for cross-border investigative journalism

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

We are adding a new element to Dataharvest! We are happy to announce that this year we will be featuring lots of sessions with great investigations on climate, hands-on climate-data and OSINT training. The sessions will take place on Fridays during the main three-week program of Dataharvest, May 18-June 4.

Climate change is the story of our time, and also a cross-border story par excellence: emissions don’t stop at borders, energy companies operate across the globe, and  the main climate regulations and policies are discussed at the international level.

During out first climate Friday, on May 21, we will focus on the methodology of some of the great investigations looking into specific aspects of climate change, energy efficiency or environmental wrongdoing. Friday of May 28 will be reserved or the data stories and OSINT methods and training. You will also be able to get the guidance and mentoring support from data and OSINT mentors in the two-week period after the session during so-called “office hours” sessions. The closing day, June 4, will be dedicated to European stories. We will get a better understanding of how one can efficiently investigate climate and energy stories of European relevance, and where and how to find our next big research topics.

Last year, the focus of Dataharvest Digital was climate and energy. In 19 sessions (featuring 30 different speakers), spread over two “climate weeks” in September and November 2020, we zoomed into fossil fuel subsidies, discussed how big businesses sometimes benefit from green energy boost, learnt from experts who investigate shipping and aviation industry, looked into lobbying mechanisms and their impact on the European and the UK climate policies, tracked climate deniers across European borders and much more (you can check out last year’s climate program HERE).

We will be publishing more information on specific sessions in the next days – stay tuned! Climate sessions are supported by the European Climate Foundation.

Have you worked on an important investigation related to climate/energy sector that you’d like to present at Dataharvest 2021 Fridays for Climate? Let us know! You can get in touch with the Arena Climate Network project coordinator at jelena@journalismarena.eu

Are you interested in exploring ‘investigative journalism 2.0’? 

Join us for a Dataharvest session with investigative journalist Ben Heubl on May 19 (11-12:30 CET) to learn about basic and advanced techniques and tools for gathering and analysing open sources intelligence.

Register for the conference

Register for the session: Open source intelligence skills for investigative reporters

During the session we will discuss how these new approaches fit into the toolbox of modern European journalists and explore several subjects specific to Europe. Ben Heubl will give you some basic OSINT tools and tips that you can use in your everyday work – such as how to geolocate a video or a photo,. 

We will also learn how to examine right-wing groups on the continent, and explore some social-media themes unique to Europe. “We will learn how reght-wing groups use Telegram channels and how one can do search across Telegram channels; how to find these people’s profiles and link their user names to their real identities across social-media platforms,” says Heubl.

Ben will also demonstrate specific examples of how OSINT can assist your reporting such as vessel tracking. “We have a thriving maritime sector, in the Mediterranean, in the Atlantic, and one can do many stories – for example look into overfishing – if they know how to track ships,” explains Heubl.

Read Ben Heubl’s investigation: How Europe’s dark fishing fleets threaten West Africa

If you want to learn more about satellite imagery, refer to pieces: How new satellite data sources enhance investigative journalism and How to investigate Europe’s biomass industry with open-source data

Are you interested using OSINT while doing fast-pace news journalism work? Check out Ben Heubl’s tips on How to tell open-source intelligence tales for the news

The EU border agency Frontex has the largest budget of any EU agency. “We don’t meet with lobbyists,” they claim – an investigative team proved them wrong. Hear how to find your own story in their data.

If a public institution is reluctant to share information with the public, how can we use our right to file freedom of information (FOI) requests to obtain documents from them – and push them towards more transparency? Luisa Izuzquiza, researcher and campaigner with FragDenStaat, and Vera Deleja-Hotko, investigative journalist, will share with us how they used FOIs to build the first lobbying transparency register of Frontex.

This happens on the very first day of Dataharvest 2021, Tuesday, May 18, at 11am.

See the full Dataharvest program and buy your ticket

“Frontex is the golden standard of opacity,” says Luisa Izuzquiza.

Among journalists and researchers, Frontex has the reputation of being a secretive institution, from which it is difficult to get information and documents.

“EU institutions are not FOI user friendly, but Frontex is the golden standard of opacity. It is remarkable how difficult they make it to request information,” explains Luisa Izuzquiza.

For instance, the agency will usually ask repeatedly for a request to be narrowed down, will then ask you to pay for the documents, might require multiple clarifications while using “scary bureaucratic language,” and will, basically, stall you for as long as they can.

In June 2020, Izuzquiza, Deleja-Hotko and a couple of their colleagues decided to start researching Frontex.

“When we published, we got 1,8 million hits in the first 5 minutes, and our website crashed,” says Vera Deleja-Hotko.

“We thought it was weird that the EU border was being surveilled with military technology. But we weren’t searching to get the answer we eventually got. We initially didn’t know what we were expecting to find. Everything happened organically,” explains Deleja-Hotko.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, does not meet with lobbyists from the weapons and surveillance industry. Or that is what they repeatedly claimed. On its website, Frontex includes only partial information about invitations to their meetings and does not reveal who was invited or what was presented. The team has revealed that Frontex holds special events for security industry lobbyists who seek to promote “solutions based on techno-fixes, from biometric surveillance to firepower.” The same lobbyists seek to shape Frontex’s approach to border control and benefit from the contracts.

In 2020 Frontex was granted a €5.6 billion budget, the largest of any EU agency. They have an army of 10,000 border guards; they got an extension of its powers and mandate, and the ability to acquire and lease its own equipment (vessels, vehicles, airplanes, drones, radars etc.).

The research team, of which Izuzquiza was part, requested the documents and analysed them; the journalistic team, of which Deleja-Hotko was part, analysed the documents and looked for the story in them.

“We used small bits of information to make people interested. And people were interested! When we published the story, we got 1,8 million hits in the first 5 minutes, and our website crashed…,” Deleja-Hotko says.

Izuzquiza and Deleja-Hotko’s team published the original documents in their entirety. They say that there are more stories to discover and delve into in the data they made available. Join the presentation – and maybe find your next big story!

See Corporate Europe Observatory Lobbying Fortress Europe report

See Frontex Files (ZDF)

 

Photo: Christina Victoria Craft

Doctors on four continents, supported by US Christian right activists, are providing women with “dangerous” and unproven treatments that claim to ‘reverse’ medical abortions. This was proven in late March by reporters from OpenDemocracy.

How did they research such a personal and delicate matter? And how big is this problem in Europe? Find out in the second Dataharvest Pop-Up, taking place on April 21 at 2 pm CET.

Register here!

Undercover reporters contacted a hotline run by US Christian right activists and were connected to local doctors in their own countries who were willing to prescribe so-called ‘abortion pill reversal’ by phone or email.

‘Abortion pill reversal’ (APR) involves taking high doses of progesterone, a hormone, following the first of two pills used for a medical abortion. Health experts say it is unlikely to ‘reverse’ a medical abortion, and there are also concerns about using progesterone (in itself not dangerous) for this ‘treatment’. A US medical trial into APR was halted in 2019 after some participants were sent to hospital with severe haemorrhaging. The trial’s lead researcher said it was stopped because “It wasn’t safe for me to expose women to this treatment.” 

However, the US hotline connected reporters to local doctors who were willing to provide prescriptions in 12 countries, in Europe and beyond. Only in two countries  were local contacts unwilling to help women take this ‘treatment’, calling it unproven and possibly unsafe.

Join us for a session with Claire Provost, Tatev Hovhannisyan and Zeynep Sentek to learn how they followed the lead from the US hotline to specific countries and doctors around the world. They will share tips on how to go undercover while reporting (including how to prepare a good cover story), and how to combine this method with a data-driven investigation approach.

In the past, openDemocracy revealed Heartbeat’s links to anti-abortion projects around the world that use misinformation in their efforts to discourage women from ending pregnancies under any circumstances and established that groups linked to US Christian right groups have poured millions of dollars into activities of conservative groups globally, for example groups fighting LGBTQ rights.

Register here!

INSTANT INSPIRATION is a new concept at Dataharvest 2021 – an investigation that you can use for inspiration or just plainly copy in your own country. First, we follow the journeys that our clothes make – both the used clothes donated to charity and the clothes bought online and then returned to the vendors. Finnish reporters Minna Knus-Galán and Jessica Stolzmann followed the clothes with hidden gps trackers, and their findings were not pretty.

Minna Knus-Galán checking used clothed that go into a secretive global business. Photo: Jouni Soikkeli

Minna Knus-Galán tracked 6 pieces of used clothes, given to charity organisations, presumably with the expectation of helping the poor or recycling textile to new material. Most of the clothes were worn out, even ragged. All 6 pieces went abroad from Finland, and as the trackers beeped away, the reporters proved that we outsource a waste problem to Africa and Asia, and that used clothes are a secretive, global business.

The final destination of our used clothes is not known to experts or even the charity organisations themselves. 

“Oops! That didn’t go according to our script”, the director of Fida, one of the biggest charity organisation in Finland commented. “Our clothes are supposed to stay in Europe. I’m really sorry the sweater went all the way to Nigeria.” 

After the publication, Fida terminated its agreement with some of its partners in Europe in order to secure that the clothes don’t travel outside Europe.   

Too big, too small, wrong colour – Jessica Stolzmann checked where returned clothes from online stores end up.

Jessica Stolzmann followed what happens to the clothes that we buy online and send back. Online shopping has increased during the pandemic and so has serial returners, people who buy items and then return them. The reporters used trackers to find out that many of our returned clothes travel many extra miles to countries like Estonia where a large industry has been built up to handle and repack returned clothes.

Sometimes the clothes cannot be sold again, and the reporters could follow the returned clothes to Iraq where they were sold or ended up in a garbage dump – again exporting the European waste problem to other parts of the world.

What did the reporters learn? Which conclusions could they draw, and what happened afterwards? And how can you use their ideas and experiences for your own investigations? This is what Instant Inspiration is all about! Come and meet Minna Knus-Galán and Jessica Stolzmann in the very first on Wednesday May 19 at 17 pm CET.

See Jessica Stolzmann’s web story (in Swedish, but easy to understand by following the pictures)

See Minna Knus-Galán’s tv program (English subtitles can be activated)

Buy your ticket for Dataharvest – the European Investigative Journalism conference

The program for Dataharvest 2021 has just been published!

The 2021 conference will be an online event again – and we will meet for 3 weeks of conference and data skills training, followed by a number of masterclasses during the autumn months.

The conference weeks have overall themes: 1) Investigative methods, 2) Data journalism and 3) Crossborder journalism. These themes of course overlap, but they still define a focus for the discussions. Come and join in!

Every conference day has the same structure (except the last):

  • At 10 am we start out with a “Morning booster” – a short session, introducing a specific tool or area of knowledge. These session will last from 30-50 minutes.
  • At 11, we have the main session of the day, sharing experiences and working methods from recent investigations.
  • At 2 pm, a data skills-oriented session begins, typically a demonstration rather than hands-on. You will learn tools and get inspiration to your work on data sets.
  • At 5 pm, you are invited to an interactive session, where you are invited to participate with your thoughts and experiences. A “data sprint“ continues from week to week, and there are sessions called “Instant inspiration” where you can hear about an investigation and learn how you can make something similar in your own country.

And the very last day, on Wednesday June 3, we are proud to present a partnership with the European Press Prize, that will announce the winners of the annual prize at the Dataharvest Conference. The award ceremony will be in the late morning, after which the winners will present their projects. Save the date!

And the “grande finale” of Dataharvest 2021 is laid in the able hands of Quiztime, the international research group that posts an OSINT conundrum every day on Twitter. Can you find the answers to their questions? Find other Dataharvest participants from your city or country, get together physically or online and test yourselves against other groups!

After the summer holiday, we meet again for at least 5 masterclasses (more may be planned as we move along). Here you can go into more depth with different tools and areas. They will be:

We look forward to seeing you at Dataharvest 2021! Your ticket covers both conference and master classes – buy it here!