Dataharvest postponed until November 5-8, 2020

We have decided to postpone Dataharvest – the European Investigative Journalism Conference because of the restrictions on travelling and gathering introduced by European health authorities. We fully support the purpose of these measures: to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

Instead, the conference will be held in Mechelen from November 5th to 8th, 2020.

“Postponing or cancelling a conference like the Dataharvest with hundreds of guests is a big decision. We know that many are looking forward to catching up with colleagues and to the training and presentations provided. However, in the current situation, we consider this the best solution,” says Nils Hanson, chairman of Arena for Journalism in Europe.

With travel restrictions being prolonged weeks ahead and with insecure estimates about the development of the virus, we do not see any other option than postponing the conference.

“We are very grateful to the Thomas More School, our hosts, that they helped us very swiftly to find a new date for the conference when we can use the school. And we are happy that our hotel partners had available rooms, too,” says Arena’s director, Brigitte Alfter.

In times like this, collaborative, cross-border, investigative and data journalism is more necessary than ever. Do good work now and until November – and see you in Mechelen then!

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FAQ about the postponement of Dataharvest 2020


Dataharvest and the coronavirus

Dear friends and participants of Dataharvest – the European Investigative Journalism Conference,

It is two months and two days until the conference is set to open. Right now, more and more countries in Europe are introducing measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. We are following the situation closely, we have a particular focus on the recent decisions by the Belgian health authorities, but we also follow travel advice and other measures by health authorities in other parts of Europe. We are in close contact with our venue, the Thomas More School in Mechelen, and their corona team.

Postponing or cancelling a conference like the Dataharvest with hundreds of guests is a big decision. We know that many journalists are looking forward to catching up with colleagues and to the training and presentations provided. But we do not under any circumstance want to endanger our participants or the communities, that our participants are part of. Fighting a pandemic entails that each of us shows uttermost care.

During a board meeting yesterday, we decided to wait a few weeks and watch the developments very closely. We have also decided that we will make our final decision before Easter on whether we’ll carry out Dataharvest – the European Investigative Journalism Conference in May 2020 or not.

We will keep you posted as soon as we know more.

Stay safe and healthy!

Warm regards

Brigitte Alfter, Nils Hanson and the Arena board and team.

FOI, News, Speakers

Meet the FOI fighters

The laws on access to information, often called FOI (Freedom of Information) for short, are some of our most important tools as investigative journalists. Following the paper trails is an art in itself, and many important investigations have reached their results through systematic – and creative – use of FOI. We have several sessions that give you tips and tricks during the conference. Among others, you can meet French Stéphane Horel from Le Monde, Swedish freelancer Staffan Dahllöf and Belgian Kristof Clerix from the magazine Knack .

Stéphane, what are you going to talk about at Dataharvest?

– The French FOI Commission denied access to documents on implants as the first implementation of the Trade Secrets directive in France.

What’s the most interesting point of your presentation?

– Le Monde is suing to get a jurisprudence.   

What are you yourself looking forward to bring home from the conference?

– Inspiration, contacts and friends (well, not literally bringing home), local asparagus.

Staffan, what are you going to talk about at Dataharvest?

– Challenges when using the Aarhus convention to get access to environmental information.

What’s the most interesting point of your presentation?

– That my own country Sweden with a constitutional track record of transparency since 1766 does not implement a UN-convention and EU-legislation correctly – and what do to about it.

What are you yourself looking forward to bring home from the conference?

– Contacts! Inspiring talks!

Photo: Wim Denolf

Kristof, which experiences are you bringing to the session?

– I’ll be happy to share my FOI experience with the “International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code”. In October 2019 Knack and Belgian daily Le Soir revealed, that 53 tons of ammunition had been loaded on board of Saudi ships in the port of Antwerp. As Saudi Arabia is involved in the Yemen conflict, this arms export is extremely sensitive. The FOI request to the Port of Antwerp was only successful because we used the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code. A researcher from the Belgian NGO Vredesactie helped us draft the original FOI and answer to the first refusal of the Port of Antwerp. 

What’s the most interesting point of your presentation?

– We found that the port of Antwerp also serves as a hub for transhipment of Saudi ammunition. Without the authorities being aware of it! So this story created a lot of debate in the Flemish parliament (in Belgium the regions are responsible for export and transshipment licenses for arms). Impact? The export license body is now drafting a new guideline to help prevent illegal arms transshipment. 

What are you yourself looking forward to bring home from the conference?

Ideas for new research projects, tools and skills to access and analyze information, and… energy. Somehow conferences like Dataharvest always give me energy to continue doing what I’m doing. It’s nice to hang out a couple of days with colleagues who have the same mindset, experience the same struggles and are driven by the same indignation and quest for the truth. Dataharvest is a kind of muckraking family meeting. So apart from the “learning” aspect, I’m very much looking forward to meeting colleagues/friends of previous and current investigations and networks (ICIJ, OCCRP, Lost In Europe, the Chlorpyrifos project, etc). 


data skills, News, Speakers

Adriana juggles with Python and Pandas

At Dataharvest 2020 there will be 3 full tracks of data skills training – from the basics to the super nerdy. One of the trainers is Adriana Homolova, Slovak living in the Netherlands and working freelance and for the OCCRP. Here is what she told us:

What are you going to teach at Dataharvest?

Data analysis with python and pandas🐍 🐼🐼🐼

How can that be used?

A programming language such as Python can be used to do nearly anything – data analysis, building websites or even software. This year at Dataharvest we will be focusing on the data analysis library ‘Pandas’. What to do when you acquire a dataset, how to get to know it, explore and question it? Come and learn!

What are you yourself looking forward to hear at the conference?

I’ve been coming to Dataharvest for many years now. It’s a place to meet old friends and make new old frieds. I am especially looking forward to Geek Speak this year: a session to exchange tools with my fellow nerds.

data skills, News, Speakers

Brush up your data skills with Jonathan Stoneman

At Dataharvest we have three full tracks of data skills training with great trainers from all over Europe. Meet one of them – Jonathan Stoneman, freelance data and journalism trainer, “based in the UK, but a European at heart”:

What are you going to teach at Dataharvest?

This year I am teaching R with my good friend Luuk Sengers. Together we have come up with a method of teaching people how to get to grips with R’s “Tidyverse” suite of packages and leaves them with the capacity to go on learning after they leave the classroom.

How can that be used?

R and R Studio are free software packages which work together to enable you to handle huge datasets and find the facts and figures you need. Originally developed by statisticians for statisticians, it has become a key skill for datajournalists, with thousands of packages which help users do all kinds of things including mapping and visualisation, scrape websites, analyse networks. You name it, R can do it.  I am also working on a game – an experience where people can try out the skills they’ve learned in Mechelen against the clock, and in teams. We call it an “Escape Room” because it draws on that model: one hour, many puzzles to solve, one big solution at the end. …if your team works together!

What are you yourself looking forward to hearing at the conference?

I am always surprised in Mechelen – I learn things I didn’t expect to learn. One session I definitely want to catch is Rob Gebeloff’s intro to Regular Expressions – for too long I have put off learning this vital extra language, which will help me pick my way through messy data in an elegant and efficient way. Rob’s a great trainer from one of the greatest newspapers in the world: who’d want to miss that?!



Dataharvest on a shoestring

Do you want to go to Dataharvest, but you are really low on money? Here are a few tips to keep costs down without missing out on the good stuff!

  • Get an Early Bird ticket this week. The deadline for Early Bird tickets is February 15, and until then the price is €190. After that tickets go up to €225 and €260.
  • If you are too late for the Early Bird discount: Get together with 4 others and register together – that gives a group discount, so you pay only €200 per person.
  • Save on sleeping – there is a cheap youth hostel in Mechelen with rooms for 2-5 people, so share! You can search for roommates in the Dataharvest Facebook group. There is also the possibility of couchsurfing – staying for free at a host’s home. Our good friends at Hostwriter have a special couchsurfing for journalists. There are also a number of Couchsurfer hosts in Mechelen – and don’t forget that Brussels with thousands of couchsurfer hosts is only a short train ride away. (more after the picture)
  • If you travel by train from Brussels – or just from and to the airport – there is a weekend discount from Friday at 7 pm until Sunday, and the tickets are half-price.
  • You probably don’t want to survive on cup noodles for 3 days, and Mechelen has quite a number of cheap restaurants. Search Google for “goedkope restaurants Mechelen” and you will find a good selection.
  • Cheap drinks? We can’t really advice on that – but you will find it. And the atmosphere at the Vismarkt during conference evenings is worth the investment.

Dataharvest will not be live-streamed

Some colleagues ask if the Dataharvest sessions can be live-streamed, so one can follow the conference from afar – or maybe later listen to some of the sessions that one missed out on. We have asked Arena director Brigitte Alfter about the possibilities:

Will the Dataharvest conference or parts of it be live-streamed in the future?

No, I am afraid not.

Why not?

We want people to be able to speak freely at the conference – and know who they are speaking to. We want to share methods with each other as journalists and coders, and obviously this is professional development and nothing secret. However, we believe that the personal contact and trust building is a crucial element of method sharing, training and indeed cross-border collaboration. And personal contact is easier if you only have to relate to those in the room, not someone unknown on the other end of a streaming camera.

But many more would benefit from the sessions if you live-streamed. Couldn’t that make you reconsider?

Of course, it is a point to make as many as possible benefit – but value of the conference is really the combination of the sessions and the networking. We arrange the conference so people can get together and start collaborating. We take big pride in all the investigations that have been hatched in the coffee breaks at Dataharvest during the years – and that wouldn’t have happened with live streaming.


From pitch to conference session

Would you like to pitch a session at the Dataharvest conference – but hesitate, because you don’t really know what happens to it? Here is what constitutes a good pitch, and how we decide what to put on the program.

First of all, Dataharvest is all about sharing – of experiences, methods, successes and failures. Do you know software, that others can benefit from? Have you used innovative methods in your investigations? Did you make a mistake that others could avoid? Tell us about it!

Other keywords for a good pitch are: European – crossborder – collaboration – data – digital. Think about the format – is your idea fit for a presentation, a workshop, a panel debate or maybe a networking session?

You send your pitch by using this form. Keep it short – but do remember to include enough background for outsiders to understand your idea. Deadline for pitches is February 1!

So what happens next?

We are already far into planning the program, but have a constant eye on new ideas coming in. We will be in touch with you as soon as we can – maybe to say ‘yes and thank you’ to your idea as it is, maybe to discuss how to combine it with a similar idea from another country. And of course there are ideas we must decline – maybe because they are not within the conference scope, maybe because there simply is a limit to the number of sessions at the conference.

We plan the conference program track by track. For each we collect all the ideas that we have gathered and received. That may be a list of 30 ideas, but we may only have 12 time slots for the track. Then the discussion begins on how to balance sessions on concrete stories with session on collaboration methods, experiences from East and West, big projects with smaller etcetera. We also have an eye on speakers to make sure that a multitude of countries are represented, that we have a reasonable gender balance etc.

Who makes the selection? Many good people help us, so do the investigative networks in Europe. Data journalism trainers from many different countries have planned 3 full tracks of data skills. But the final responsibility is on the shoulders of Brigitte Alfter and Trine Smistrup – complaints should go to us!

Do I get invited if my pitch is accepted? Dataharvest is a low-budget conference, so we will ask if your newsroom will pay for your travel and hotel. We can waive the conference fee, and we do have a small travel budget for speakers that need it. But register, if you want to be sure to participate – there are only 500 conference tickets!



The Arena Housing List shows its potential

Since we launched it on 4 September, the Arena Housing List has kept growing and now has 130+ members. Most of them are journalists but there are also academic researchers, advocates and other practitioners and activists. Almost everyone is based in Europe while a few others based in North America.

During these weeks, list members have sent over 40 emails in which they have shared media stories, academic reports and data sources. They have also told the list about their ongoing projects, made professional connections and even written stories based on or inspired by information received by the list.

This enthusiasm has kept the momentum going and given us a first view of what we are able to achieve if we work together. And we at Arena are working already on the next steps to continue developing the Arena Housing Project as an open collaborative network.

Like other European cross-border collaborative projects, the idea for the Arena Housing Project was born at Dataharvest, the European Investigative Journalism Conference.

During the conference last May, which was focused on local reporting and on housing, more than two dozen journalists and other professionals came together to brainstorm ways to collaborate across borders so that our work gets more visible and impactful.

Do you want to subscribe to the Housing List? Send an email with the word “subscribe” without quoting marks in the subject or body to, or go and subscribe on the list page.


Toepfer Stiftung and Arena team up for new cross-border initiative

20 journalists from all over Europe will get a chance to build cross-border networks in the new “European Collaborative Journalism programme” offered by German Toepfer Stiftung.

The program is aimed at journalists from local and regional media and will consist of two steps: First a 3-day seminar to network and develop ideas, then participation in the 2020 Dataharvest – The European Investigative Journalism Conference, arranged by Arena for Journalism in Europe.

Toepfer Stiftung initiates this program to support quality journalism and to connect journalists from all over Europe. Journalism and media freedom are under pressure, and financial constraint affect the possibilities for investigative researches and the work of local and regional journalists. At the same time, the number cross-border topics is constantly increasing, as in the fields of environment, traffic, migration or organised crime. Cross-border collaboration of journalists enable to continue investigative journalism and to hold power structures accountable despite declining resources.

The program will build up a network of the 20 participants from all over Europe, and they will be able to develop ideas for collaborations. The two meetings will be respectively Feb 27 – March 1 in Germany and May 14-17 at Dataharvest in Mechelen, Belgium.