Sunday, September 21, 2014

Building an Alliance Between Journalists and Hackers

The ability to access and manipulate data is increasingly becoming one of the most important new frontiers for investigative journalism.
While a great deal of information is currently available online, not everyone is adept at locating it or putting it into a format that will yield a useful result. Journalism schools are now turning their attention to training new journalists in the techniques that will make this possible.
There is a group of people who are exceptionally good at finding data online right now -- hackers.
Now comes word of a conference that will bring journalists and hackers together.
The Centre for Investigative Journalism is organizing the Logan Symposium for Journalists and Hackers, to be held in London Dec. 5-7.  The event is designed to allow both groups to discuss common concerns and to learn from each other.
"Journalists will offer hackers a social and political context and expertise in evidence based story telling," according to the CIJ's website. "Hackers will offer an insight into digital tools to protect journalists and their sources and ways of accessing and exposing evidentially based material about truth in our time."

While some people identify hacking with illegal online entry and criminal activity, the symposium is clearly suggesting that ethical hackers will be the ones in attendance. It identifies a hacker as "someone who identifies and explores the strengths and weaknesses of computer systems and networks. Usually supports free and open source software, and whose beliefs include sharing, openness, decentralisation and world improvement."

Some major names will be participating, including Seymour Hersh, John Pilger, Julian Assange (via Skype) and others.

It's a novel concept, but recent events have clearly shown that journalists and hackers can assist each other. Just how exactly that process will work in the future is one of the things the conference will help clarify.

Audio and Video from Winnipeg Investigative Conference

If you couldn't attend Holding Power to Account, the investigative journalism conference in Winnipeg in June, check out the website for recordings of some sessions.

We captured video versions of speeches by Carl Bernstein and Peter Mansbridge. We also made audio recordings of many other sessions.

Please visit Go to the schedule page, and at the far right of each session is a button. While we were not able to record every single session, there are many audio recordings to choose from.

Thanks to everyone who helped create the recordings, and of course to all the speakers for participating.

Monday, June 9, 2014

More Than 300 to Attend Winnipeg Investigative Journalism Conference

More than 300 journalists, academics and journalism advocates are descending on Winnipeg this weekend to attend a unique conference organized jointly by the CBC and the University of Winnipeg.
CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge will deliver the opening address, and the opening keynote luncheon speaker is Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. The timing is perfect – it is exactly 40 years since Bernstein and Bob Woodward released All the President’s Men, their account of the Watergate break-in and cover-up that ultimately led to Richard Nixon’s resignation.
The conference is called Holding Power to Account: Investigative Journalism, Democracy and Human Rights. It’s a unique collaboration between a broadcaster and an educational institution, but one that makes sense. Both organizations are dedicated to informing and enlightening people, and bringing information and knowledge to the forefront.
Many of CBC’s most influential investigative journalists will be there, from Linden MacIntyre and Bob McKeown of the fifth estate to senior network correspondents Diana Swain and Adrienne Arsenault. We also have Radio-Canada’s top investigators on board, with Alain Gravel and Marie-Maude Denis of Enquete. They were responsible for uncovering and first reporting on the construction and political scandal in Quebec that now forms the basis of the Charbonneau inquiry.
Other speakers and delegates include journalists from CTV, Global, Sun Media, the Toronto Star, the Hamilton Spectator, Winnipeg Free Press and others. More than 70 speakers will be in attendance from all over the world, including Canada, the U.S., South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Austria, Tunisia, India, Bosnia, Kenya, Germany, Australia and other countries. A number of young journalists are coming from different countries to share their experiences working in difficult conditions.
CBC editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire and University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy will be on hand to kick off the proceedings Friday morning.
Journalism professors from across the country and the U.S. will also be in attendance, with representatives from UBC, Regina, Concordia, Ryerson, Carleton, Western, King’s College and several U.S. states.
We have also invited some speakers who interact with investigative journalists. One session will feature David Milgaard, who spent 23 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Other sessions feature ethics professors and advocates for whistleblowers and non-governmental organizations.
You can see the full schedule at Conference sessions will be recorded and posted to the website, and J-Source will be live-blogging the event. The conference hashtag is #wpginvestigates
In all, it’s going to be an exciting weekend. As our conference program says, holding powerful interests to account is one of journalism’s most important missions. It’s critical to democracy and the preservation of human rights. We hope this conference makes a modest contribution to ensuring that the work continues.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Registration now open for Holding Power to Account: International Conference on Investigative Journalism, Democracy and Human Rights

Dozens of speakers from around the world have confirmed their attendance at an international conference on investigative journalism in Winnipeg, and more are expected in the coming weeks.

Holding Power to Account: Investigative Journalism, Democracy and Human Rights will be held June 13-15 this year. It is being jointly organized by the University of Winnipeg and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Several Pulitzer Prize winners will be in attendance, including Carl Bernstein. He will deliver a keynote speech on the lessons of Watergate, the seminal story more than 40 years ago that brought investigative journalism into the modern era.

The conference will feature a unique blend of working journalists and academics. Professors of journalism will be coming from coast to coast, along with teachers from the U.S. Everything from whistleblowing to hacking to reporting in disaster zones to the ethics of investigative work will be discussed.

Michael Hudson, senior editor at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and former Wall Street Journal reporter, will be on hand to discuss international journalistic collaborations.

Linden MacIntyre, Bob McKeown and Diana Swain of the CBC will describe the evolution of investigative work over the years. Rob Cribb of the Toronto Star will talk about projects that cross borders, and Steve Buist of the Hamilton Spectator will discuss health journalism that touches on human rights. Adrienne Arsenault discusses the dangers inherent in international reporting.

Speakers include journalists from Italy, Austria, Romania, Uganda, Nepal, Malaysia, Australia and many other places. There will a number of journalists from Africa in attendance.

There will be special sessions on coverage of Aboriginal and Indigenous peoples in Canada and the U.S. Advocacy journalism will also be on the agenda. In a special session, the team from Enquete will describe how they initiated the current massive investigation into corruption in the Quebec construction industry.

To register for the conference, and to see a preliminary list of speakers and sessions, visit the conference website.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Getting at the Truth: Organic Answers or Misleading Information?

In the delicate dialogue which media conduct daily with various levels of government, reporters sometimes come away with a feeling they are being misled.
It's not every day that proof of this suspicion surfaces. But that's exactly what happened in a recent story CBC reported on the testing of organic fruits and vegetables.
It began several weeks ago when our investigative unit in Winnipeg requested results from tests conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency into the presence of pesticide residue on organic produce. The Access to Information request was granted, and data between September 2011 and September 2013 was released.
Even though CFIA stated that the results showed about 20 per cent of organic produce contained pesticide residues, CBC's own analysis revealed the number to be 46 per cent. The CFIA eventually agreed with our findings.
What was even more alarming was that eight per cent of all organic samples had so much residue that it was a good indication there may have been deliberate application of synthetic pesticides.
That's disturbing news to anyone who pays a hefty premium to ensure their food is grown in an environment as free as possible of pesticides.
Faced with the prospect of CBC reporting on this matter, the CFIA sought to re-assure the public by telling us that it took deliberate measures whenever it discovered pesticides on organic produce. Even though it didn't consider this to be a health risk, the CFIA said it sent those test results to organic food certification bodies for follow-up.
To be clear, this wasn't just a casual comment offered by the agency. It was explicitly stated in emails, documents and a telephone interview with the CBC.
"If there is non-permitted substances found in organic products, we would notify the CFIA-accredited certification body who would request the organic operator to take corrective action," a CFIA spokesperson told us. "So we have the system in place, and we have the confidence in our system, and we have the mechanism to address any non-compliances if they arise."
We included that explanation in our original report, published Jan. 8. That's when the story took an interesting twist.
We received a tip from an insider - someone in a position to know the truth about this situation. The tip was that the CFIA was not submitting test results to the certification bodies, because it was still figuring out a protocol for how to do so.
Confronted with this information, the CFIA then conceded that the data was still being analyzed and no results had yet been sent to certification bodies, despite telling us otherwise for the last few weeks.
"We apologize for misleading you, but that wasn't our intent," said Ron Milito, director of the CFIA's issues, communications and media relations unit.
Sometimes the line between being coy with the truth or outright lying can come down to the specific words asked in questions, and the precise words that are offered in response. Remember former president Bill Clinton's famous stern pronouncement that: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." Or Rob Ford's explanation to reporters for why he hadn't lied in the past about using crack cocaine: "You didn't ask the correct questions.... You ask the question properly, I'll answer it."
The organic testing story showcases the need for media to ask the right questions, and to keep asking them until they are satisfied the answers are responsive to the public's need for getting as close to the truth as possible on important issues.