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?!


News, Speakers

Decades’ work for cross-border collaboration rewarded

Brigitte Alfter received the Carsten Nielsen Prize from the chairman of the Danish Union of Journalists, Lars Werge. The prize consists of a small statue and an sum of money. Photo: Jonas Ahlstrøm

Sunday April 28 was our director Brigitte Alfter’s birthday. But that was not the only reason for her being happy. She had been told to go in secret to the congress of the Danish Union of Journalists to receive the prestigious Carsten Nielsen prize.

After the congress dinner, the union chairman, Lars Werge, went on stage to announce the surprise to the 400 delegates to the assembly. They welcomed Brigitte onto the stage with the birthday song.

Here is Lars Werge’s speech to Brigitte Alfter:

Dear Brigitte,
Congratulations on the award. And thank you for your contribution to the professional strengthening of Danish journalism and for your consistent work to promote journalistic cooperation.

You were nominated to receive the prize by a group of colleagues who among other things write:

“Brigitte Alfter is a freelancer, she is an award-winning cross-border and data journalist, and she is the epitome of collaboration and journalistic community.

She works in the area of European politics, which others may be reluctant to enter because it is such a complicated issue.

Brigitte has been central to many European journalists working together across borders today. For example, she has been:

  • Committed to SCOOP since 2005 – SCOOP supports, through the Danish Association for Investigative Journalism (FUJ), investigative journalists in Eastern Europe
  • co-founder of the annual European Conference on Data and Investigative Journalists – EIJC & Dataharvest. Brigitte developed it, and in eight years it has grown from 30 to 500 participants from about 50 countries
  • co-founder of, which provides funding for research for groups of investigative crossborder journalists. For this, in 2013 she got the Leipzig Prize for the Freedom and the Future of the Media
  • co-founder of Wobbing Europe, a network of journalists working for public access to EU and national administrations

This year’s Cavling prize (the annual Danish Press Prize) went to the money laundering case in Danske Bank – a work that would not be possible without collaborating across borders, the kind of collaboration that Brigitte is helping to develop.

That’s why we recommend that this year’s Carsten Nielsen scholarship goes to Brigitte Alfter.”

The award is named after Carsten Nielsen, who was the first chairman of the Danish Union of Journalists.