The CIJ Logan Lecture

The CIJ Logan Lecture

Fri 19 October at 11:00am.
Curzon Goldsmiths.

For the 2018 CIJ Logan Lecture, the Centre for Investigative Journalism was delighted to welcome Eric Olson to London for a very special talk entitled, “Growing up with fake news — consciousness lost and re-gained.

As part of the programme of our 2018 CIJ Logan Symposium, we were proud to present the inaugural CIJ Logan Lecture. A public session that opened out the conference to a wider audience and reflected on abuses of power by those in positions of influence and responsibly. This session ran independently to the conference and was open to the public.


Eric Olson is the principle investigative source and leading narrative voice for the six-part Errol Morris 2018 docudrama miniseries “Wormwood,” now available in 190 countries on Netflix. Eric is the son of Frank Olson, an American biological warfare scientist and Central Intelligence Agency employee, who died in 1953 in what was initially called an “accident,” after “falling or jumping” from a hotel window.



Twenty-two years later, in 1975, the CIA claimed that Olson’s death had in fact been an LSD suicide. In 1976 the Olson family received a financial settlement from Congress, after receiving the only Presidential Oval Office apology ever given to anyone in the whole of American history, bestowed by Gerald Ford, but engineered by his chief aides Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Subsequent investigations by Eric and others have shown that the LSD story was yet another layer of coverup of what was in fact a brazen murder — a secret execution. Sixty-five years after the incident occurred, a process is underway in New York to have the death officially re-classified as a “Homicide.”

This lecture is about the life and work of Eric Olson, centred around three questions that have obsessed him.

Here is the lecture in full:

CIJ Logan 2018: Growing up with fake news — consciousness lost and re-gained



To find out more about Eric and Frank Olson visit the Olson Project.

The CIJ and the Google News Initiative to continue delivering Access to Tools

Laura Garcia training in Newcastle


The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) is delighted to announce that it will be continuing its partnership with the Google News Initiative. Building on the success of last year’s training that was launched in Newcastle in September 2018, the Access to Tools programme will see the CIJ lead 25 workshops between May and December 2019.

The training will take place in newsrooms around the country, bringing skills and techniques available through the Google News Initiative’s suite of applications and other digital tools to local newsrooms, independent media, academics and ordinary citizens around the UK.

The two-hour workshops are free for organisations to host and for participants to attend and will look specifically at tools that can be used for investigations. Thanks to a grant from the Google News Initiative, the CIJ will cover all the costs of the training.

The CIJ’s director, James Harkin said:

“In the last year in a range of cities around the UK and Ireland, Access to Tools has proven a thrilling, demand-led success in helping hundreds of local journalists and citizens discover new digital ways to find things out via advanced search and verification – and in sparking conversations about what these digital tools can do.

“In this new phase we’re going to build on that success by taking the programme to new cities and fresh newsrooms. To meet the growing confidence of our audiences, we’re also going to make our training more customised to particular needs, more story-led and more hands-on.”

Matt Cooke, Head of Partnerships and Training, Google News Lab said:

“We’re renewing our collaboration with the CIJ for a second year, with a commitment to provide journalists right across the country with the tools and training they can use for their investigations. The CIJ trainers offer their expertise and point towards a range of techniques and technologies - and with support from the Google News Initiative they’ll focus on providing workshops for local newsrooms, widening access to digital training opportunities."

If you are interested in booking a workshop for your newsroom, please email: juliet [at]

You can find out more on the CIJ website and further resources are available at the Google News Initiative Training Centre.

About the Google News Initiative

The Google News Initiative signifies a major milestone in Google’s 15-year commitment to the news industry, and brings together everything Google does in collaboration with the industry - across products, partnerships, and programmes - to help build a stronger future for news. You can learn more at

About the CIJ

The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) is a think-tank and experimental laboratory set up refresh the art of investigative journalism, and to train a new generation of reporters in the tools of investigative, in-depth, and long-form journalism across all media. In the 16 years since its foundation, the CIJ has trained over 3000 journalists. #CIJSummer Investigative Journalism Conference, the CIJ's flagship training event, will be taking place on 4-6 July at Goldsmiths, University of London. 



James Risen

James Risen

Jim Risen, a best-selling author and former New York Times reporter, is The Intercept’s senior national security correspondent, based in Washington, D.C. He won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his stories about the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program, and he was a member of the reporting team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for coverage of the September 11 attacks and terrorism. Risen was a target of the U.S. government’s crackdown on journalists and whistleblowers and waged a seven-year legal battle, risking jail, after the Bush administration and later the Obama administration sought to force him to testify and reveal his confidential sources in a leak investigation. He also serves as director of First Look Media’s Press Freedom Defense Fund, which is dedicated to supporting news organizations, journalists, and whistleblowers in legal fights in which a substantial public interest, freedom of the press, or related human or civil right is at stake.

Return to list of speakers.



What is the evidence that the Russian Government colluded with the Trump campaign and pro-Brexit campaigners to win the 2016 Presidential Election and the UK Referendum in the same year? Is there a real and growing body of evidence of Russian disinformation, collusion and assassination, or are we witnessing a new Cold War mentality in which the country is blamed for all of our woes?

Glenn Greenwald, James Risen, Jane Bradley, Mary Dejevsky. Chair: Vanessa Gezari



Please click on the timetable for an enlarged view.


*Timings and sessions are subject to change.


Panels and Talks


Friday 19th October

09:30 -- 10:30



Duncan Campbell talks about the landscape of contemporary surveillance and official secrecy in the UK, the US and beyond, with Ian Cobain and John Goetz. Chair: Betsy Reed.


10:30 -- 10.45


Muhammad Rabbani


11.00 -- 11.15


Stefania Maurizi.


11.15 -- 12.15


The American authorities are increasingly resorting to The Espionage Act 1917 to prosecute journalists, and the British Government prepares its own Espionage Act which conflates journalists, whistleblowers and spies. As TV channels and NGO’s are asked to register as a “foreign agents” and Wikileaks is identified as a “hostile intelligence service”, we ask questions about the relationship between journalism and espionage. Are journalists still being used as spies and informants by intelligence agencies? How best can we best protect ourselves and those we work with against the allegation of spying?

Speakers: Anna Belkina, Stefania Maurizi, Gill Phillips, Paul Lashmar. Chair: Betsy Reed.


13:15 -- 13:30


Thomas Hargrove


13:30 -- 14:30


Data is often described as the new oil. Technology companies are the gatekeepers of this wealth of information; many also own the algorithms and artificial intelligence required to extract and refine it. In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, is “surveillance capitalism” simply the business model of the internet? What is its effect on journalism and democracy, and our understanding of truth itself?

Yasha Levine, Sarah Kember, Andy Müller-Maguhn, Andrew Orlowski. Chair: William Davies


14:30 - 14:45


Saska Cvetkovska


14:45 - 15:45


What is the evidence that the Russian Government colluded with the Trump campaign and pro-Brexit campaigners to win the 2016 Presidential Election and the UK Referendum in the same year? Is there a real and growing body of evidence of Russian disinformation, collusion and assassination, or are we witnessing a new Cold War mentality in which the country is blamed for all of our woes?  

Glenn Greenwald, James Risen, Jane Bradley, Mary Dejevsky. Chair: Vanessa Gezari


16:00 - 16:15


Stephanie McCrummen


16:15 -- 17:15


From the rise of an internet-fuelled alt-right to the therapeutic language of trigger warnings and safe spaces on the left, the new online culture wars are rapidly advancing into what remains of the mainstream media. In this viciously partisan new environment thick with wild conspiracies, anonymous accusations, and the weaponised investigation of one’s political opponents, how should journalism, with its traditional concern for the truth, respond?

Angela Nagle, Stephanie McCrummen, Anastasia Denisova, Marc D Tuters. Chair: James Harkin


17:30 - 17:45


Molly Crabapple


17:45 -- 18:00


Eyal Weizman


18.00 -- 19.00


From art to architecture, investigative journalism is increasingly borrowing from other disciplines and sources of professional expertise for its presentation and, sometimes, its research. Aesthetic journalism opens up fruitful new avenues for investigation and storytelling, but what are the issues that it raises?

Eyal Weizman, Renzo Martens, Molly Crabapple, Charlotte Cook. Chair: Alfredo Cramerotti.


Saturday 20th October

10.15am -- 10.30am

The Gavin MacFadyen Memorial Award

Presented by Compassion in Care and The Whistler.

10.30 -- 10.45


Frederik Obermaier


10.45 -- 11.45am


A thicket of legislation in the UK and US aims to frustrate whistleblowers, and the digital era throws up whole new threats to their interests. What is the best way to protect whistleblowers, both before they make the decision to speak to a journalist and once the story is published?

Frederik Obermaier, Stéphanie Gibaud, Jesselyn Radack. Delphine Halgand. Chair: Julie Posetti.  


12.00 -- 12:15


Gabriella Coleman


12:15 -- 13:15



While the United States is well-known for its draconian punishments for hackers, the United Kingdom is quietly following suit. Using examples from their own work, hackers, activists, and journalists discuss the legal framework which governs cyber crime on both sides of the Atlantic, and why we should all be worried.  

Mustafa Al-Bassam, Jake Davis, Lauri Love, and Barrett Brown. Chair: Naomi Colvin


14:15 -- 14:30


Ed Moloney


14:30 -- 15:30


From official British censorship during the Troubles to the “chilling effect” involved in navigating the peace, getting to the truth about the conflict in Northern Ireland has never been easy, and may even be growing more difficult. In a climate thick with political sensitivities and legal intimidation, a writer, a reporter and a documentary-maker talk about how best to get to the truth in Northern Ireland, and what stands in the way.

Ed Moloney, Eoin McNamee, and Sinead O’Shea. Chair: James Harkin


15:30 -- 15:45


Iona Craig


15:45 - 16.00


Anand Gopal


16.15 -- 17.00


On April 4 2017 the release of toxic chemicals killed scores of people in the Northern Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun: the OPCW attributed the deaths to the Syrian Air Force. Two investigator experts bring very different tools try to shed light on what happened that day, followed by a conversation between them.

Theodore Postol and Eliot Higgins.


17:00 - 18:00


With the Syrian conflict in its 8th year, the propaganda on all sides grows ever more intense, never more so than in the barrage of conflicting narratives about the role of The White Helmets. Are they a volunteer organisation working to rescue Syrians on all sides, a propaganda front for Western governments or allies of Al-Qaeda? More generally, can we believe all we read on the mainstream media on Syria - and how do we get to the truth about Syria?

Patrick Cockburn, Anand Gopal, Nour Samaha, and Mowaffaq Safadi. Chair: James Harkin


18.00 -- 19:00


Many serious reporters now make their living as freelancers, with even less support than they enjoyed before. With mafia states, organised crime, and international jihadism circling the profession, what are the contemporary occupational hazards for independent journalists, and what can be done to protect them?

Pavla Holcova, May Jeong, Laurent Richard, and Michael Scott Moore. Chair: Colin Pereira



Building alliances against surveillance, official secrecy and censorship.

In the last decade data leaks have vastly improved our understanding of everything from the war in Iraq to the machinery of domestic surveillance. But the authorities are striking back. In the UK and US, a wave of surveillance legislation threatens the very existence of investigative journalism, chilling sources and whistle-blowers and making journalists indistinguishable from spies. Internationally the weaponisation of journalism and leaks, together with a thick new fog of electronic propaganda, makes a confrontation between superpowers look increasingly likely. As we inch our way into electronic totalitarianism, we ask where the conspiracies really lie - and who’s conspiring against who.

Curated by the Centre for Investigative Journalism, the third international Logan Symposium brings together a unique global community of engaged investigative journalists, hackers, whistleblowers, artists and experts to London to illuminate the prospects for truth, freedom and democracy - and where we should go from here. Taking issue with sloganeering about “fake news” and “post-truth”, we tackle the conspiracies which thrive on fact-free fringe media and why in our new media age people are prone to joining up the dots in irrational ways. But in an era of dwindling print and TV budgets for real investigation, we’re also asking tough questions about the propaganda which finds its way into our mainstream media diet too. Is the blunt instrument of law and armies of “independent fact-checkers” now being hired by big tech companies going to help? Or is the increasing overpopulation of factoids, and think tanks and activist groups fact-checking their enemies part of the problem? Have we become slaves to the algorithms of information monopolies whose databases are working to predict our every move? Conspiracy theories are more widespread than ever, but is the allegation of conspiracy also being used to silence legitimate arguments, often coupled with the rise of a new McCarthyism which sees the hand of Russia everywhere?

Conspiracy is about the growing machinery of surveillance and censorship and what might be our response to it. New anti-terror laws gift governments with unprecedented powers to spy on the electronic data of their citizens. Should we put our faith in radical transparency and sophisticated electronic techniques with which to evade surveillance, or instead resort to being more careful about what we say? Then there’s official propaganda and subterfuge. Since World War I, the drumbeat to global war has been stoked by modern media. From paid Russian Trolls toiling to Western-funded “media activists” in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, what are the chances for real freedom and democracy when the new media machinery becomes a powerful new weapon of war? The proposed new Espionage Act in the UK, and the renewed threat of prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act in the US, deliberately blurs the distinction between information-seeking investigative journalists and spies from a hostile state. Investigative journalists could be prosecuted for “conspiring” with a source to publish classified information. Are some journalists really spies, and how do we best defend ourselves against the allegation that we are?

Confronted with the growing machinery of state power, Conspiracy presents the tools, tactics and strategies which are reinventing investigative journalism. Faced with the conspiracies on all sides, a unique global network of investigators and doers, rich in practical advice and personal stories, tries to steer a more enlightened path through the confusion and contradictions of our time.


Previous Events

#LOGANCIJ Lawrence Wright: Reporting as craft.

Pulitzer-prize winner Lawrence Wright’s career as a staff writer for The New Yorker has taken him from in-depth, narrative reporting of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to developments within America’s neglected heartlands. To coincide with the 15th anniversary of the Centre of Investigative Journalism, he comes to talk about reporting as craft, his career as a writer and his new book...

Wednesday 16 May 2018 LG01, PSH Building.

Disaster Capitalism: Screening and Q&A

6:00pm start  This years OXFAM scandal brought to light some serious questions for the international aid community. In addition to seemingly widespread sexual abuse and impropriety, best-selling author and journalist Antony Loewenstein's new film Disaster Capitalism investigates whether the aid industry is exploiting development and aid funds to profiteer from growing...

Thursday 12 April 2018 LG01, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London

#LOGANCIJ Marty Baron on investigative journalism in the age of Trump

Marty Baron on investigative journalism in the age of Trump Since taking over as executive editor of The Washington Post since 2013, Martin “Marty” Baron has led something of a resurgence at the paper. Before that he was editor of The Boston Globe for a decade, during which time he led its investigation into the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse in the city which became the...

Thursday 22 March 2018 Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre

#LOGANCIJ Åsne Seierstad: Into the Syrian Jihad

Based on her experience of writing Two Sisters, her new book about two Norwegian sisters who leave their home near Oslo for jihad Syria, Åsne Seierstad comes to the CIJ to talk about how to report the conflict in Syria, domestic Islamic extremism and the rise of the Islamic State group. Åsne Seierstad is an acclaimed Norwegian writer and investigative journalist and...

Wednesday 21 March 2018 LG01 PSH Building Goldsmiths

#LOGANCIJ Alexis Okeowo: Women resisting religious extremism.

18:00-20:00 To coincide with International Women’s Day, Alexis Okeowo comes to the CIJ to talk about the untold, incredible stories of how ordinary women in Africa are resisting fundamentalism and extremism, from the Lord’s Resistance Army to Boko Haram.   Alexis Okeowo is a staff writer for the New Yorker and the author of A Moonless, Starless Sky. Between 2012 and 2015 she was...

Thursday 8 March 2018 Room LG02, Professor Stuart Hahh Building, Goldsmith, University of London

#LOGANCIJ. Zelda Perkins: We need to talk about NDAs

Nearly twenty years ago, Zelda Perkins reluctantly signed a non-disclosure agreement with Miramax which prevented her from speaking out about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged harassment and sexual assault of her and a colleague. At the end of last year, she publicly broke that agreement to talk about her experience and shine a light on the improper use of NDAs. Now she comes exclusively to the...

Tuesday 6 March 2018 Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Goldsmith, University of London

#LOGANCIJ Alex Perry on how to turn investigative journalism into narrative fiction.

In the second of our series of talks looking at how investigative journalism can be turned in story, veteran foreign correspondent Alex Perry comes to the CIJ to talk about how he and journalists like him are increasingly working with film and production companies to fund their investigations, and about the writing and selling of his latest book The Good Mothers, the true story about of a...

Monday 12 February 2018 5PM LG01 PSH Building Goldsmiths

#LOGANCIJ Screening: The Post. Followed by conversation with Ted Gup

To coincide with the release of The Post, a thriller about The Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers about the war in Vietnam, the CIJ, in collaboration with Curzon Goldsmiths cinema, presents a showing of the film and a critical discussion of its themes with veteran national security journalist and Washington Post reporter Ted Gup.Chair: CIJ Director James Harkin. Film...

Friday 26 January 2018 Curzon Goldsmiths Cinema, New Cross.

#LOGANCIJ: Misha Glenny on how to turn investigative journalism into television story

Misha Glenny’s critically acclaimed book McMafia told the story of how a brutal network of Chechen criminals morphed into a powerful international crime syndicate. As the book is adapted for a major BBC1 series, he comes to the CIJ to talk about investigative journalism can be turned into story and box-set, serial television.Chair: Director of the CIJ James Harkin. All #LOGANCIJ...

Tuesday 23 January 2018 LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London

#LOGANCIJ: Richard Brooks on how accountants got away with murder

Often perceived as dull, the secretive world of international accountancy has grown, cockroach-like, in stature even as the financial world crashed in 2008. Safe from real censure, the world’s biggest accountancy firms have evolved into behemoths – there to encourage tax avoidance, to prop up anti-democratic movements, to push sometimes damaging deregulation, even to...

Tuesday 16 January 2018 LG01, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London

#LOGANCIJ: Theo Padnos on reporting Islamism and Syria, and how to survive torture

at 18:30.  An American freelance journalist who’s lived for many years in Syria and the Middle East, Theo Padnos’s unorthodox style of undercover reporting from Yemeni Madrassas had already made him enemies before he was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in Northern Syria in Autumn 2012. After two years of horrific torture at the hands of his captors, and five days after the execution of...

Wednesday 6 December 2017Room LG02, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London

#LOGANCIJ: Jimmy Wales on fake news and how to beat it

Is our news diet making us ill? As the mainstream print media retrenches and new kinds of partisan, “activist”, corporate and fact-free “alternative” media fill the vacuum, the media we consume is full of more hidden additives than ever. What can be done about it? Is it enough to check facts, or is the increasing overpopulation of factoids, and think tanks and activist...

Thursday 2 November 2017Room LG01, Professor Stuart Hall Building, Goldsmiths, University of London - 5:00pm

#LOGANCIJ: Lowell Bergman On Russia Versus US And The Role Of Investigative Journalism

18:30 - 20:00 In the second of our #LOGANCIJ Talks In the wake of President Trump, there’s been a welcome resurgence of interest in investigative journalism in the United States. But what should its role be? Lowell Bergman, one of the world’s most famous and respected investigative journalists alive whose investigation into the tobacco industry inspired the film The Insider,...

Tuesday 10 October 2017Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre, Whitehead Building, Goldsmiths, 8 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6NW

#LOGANCIJ: Pussy Riot - Russia’s Official Media And How To Subvert It

Maria Alyokhina, a political activist, artist and founding member of the punk collective Pussy Riot, was convicted in 2012 of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in prison. Upon her release she helped found Media Zona, an independent media outlet which aims to hold Russia’s justice system to account. In the first of our daring new #...

Wednesday 13 September 20171pm-3:30pm - LG02 PSH Building, Goldsmiths University, 8 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6NW

Class Information

Class information 2019

This page will be updated continuously, as talks and hands-on workshops get confirmed.

You can book for individual days as well as for all three days. On Thursday 4 July and Friday 5 July we will focus on practical skills, while Saturday 6 July will feature keynote talks, networking, discussions and #CIJSummer drinks reception.

Please note that some classes form mini-courses and are best attended as a whole.

The sessions marked [R] on the timetable will be recorded. Videos will be published on the CIJ YouTube channel a few weeks after the conference.

Some data journalism workshops take place in computer labs where computers will be provided, but most will require you to bring your own laptops. Please see Technical Requirements page for all the info. The Data Concierge service will be run every day to help you with installing software if you have difficulty doing it at home. Please make sure you have all the software installed before coming to the classes!

All data journalism workshops are practical, hands-on classes designed to teach participants the software and data analysis techniques used by journalists in the newsroom.

Data Concierge
Help with installing data software for #CIJSummer 2019. Bring your laptop and tell us the data journalism sessions you plan to attend, and one of our ‘concierges’ will help you to install the necessary software before you arrive at your chosen sessions.

You will need to have admin privileges on the laptop you are working with.


Refreshments are served several times a day (but not all the time) throughout the course, with a speakers and delegates lunch and drinks party held on Saturday.

Keynote/Networking Day Saturday 6 July 

Tickets are available for individual days, including Saturday keynote talks only. See the Book Now page for more information.

09:30 - Welcome from James Harkin, Director of the CIJ
09:50- 10:50 - Gavin MacFadyen Memorial Lecture - Maria Ressa

A Filipino-American journalist and author and co-founder of Rappler, will deliver our annual Gavin MacFadyen Memorial Lecture. 


11:10- 12:10 - Clare Rewcastle Brown. The Inside Story of the 1MDB Scandal.

Award winning investigative journalist and author of The Sarawak Report, Clare Rewcastle Brown talks about her three-year long investigation, which exposed the theft of $8billion from a Malaysian development fund by corrupt officials accused of working for the country’s then prime minister Najib Razak.

12:10 - 13:10 - Lunch


13:10- 14:10  - Fiona Hamilton. Moderated by Duncan Campbell. A Life in Crime.

How has crime reporting changed, and what are the new challenges of the beat? In a rare and wide-ranging conversation Fiona Hamilton, Crime and Security Editor of The Times, will talk to Duncan Campbell, veteran crime reporter at The Guardian, and author of the new book Underworld: The Inside Story of Britain’s Professional and Organised Crime.

14:30- 15:30 - Breakout talks.

Breakout 1 Robert Hunter. Cross-examination, Interrogation, Political Interviewing: What's going on beneath the surface?

Robert Hunter is a solicitor advocate, who made interviewing techniques his lifelong interest. Having done many a cross-examination himself, he also analysed political interviewing and even attended the US police interrogation course. Robert is profoundly deaf and is a founder of City Disability charity.

Breakout 2 Geoffrey Livolsi, Aliaume Leroy and Tom Flannery. Yemen: The price of disclosure

In April, using open-source intelligence and secret government documents, a team of journalists at the new French investigative outlet Disclose published a scoop on French arm sales to Yemen – as a result of which they faced harassment by French military intelligence and now a possible jail sentence. The team behind the story will discuss their investigation and its consequences.

15:50- 16:50 - Shiv Malik in conversation with Jane Bradley. Let’s talk about sources.

Sources play a vital role in alerting journalists to wrong-doing, but how should investigative journalists go about cultivating them? And how should you work with them once you’ve got your story? How can journalists protect their sources? And what happens if the source betrays the journalist? This talk will discuss the sensitive, often complex, and sometimes fraught relationships between journalists and those who tell them their stories.

16:50 - 17:00 - Closing remarks
17:00 - Drinks reception

Information Security Advice Clinic

Thu 4 -Sat 6 July: Getting Hands-on, Installing the Tools for Digital Self-Defence

Visit the security zone in the atrium with your laptop and learn how to set up tools to browse anonymously, chat and mail with encryption and prevent data-loss from theft/confiscation of laptops and storage media. This will include the TOR-browser, PGP mailcrypto and OTR-chat.

The security software we will be using are all free of cost and will work on Windows, Mac and Linux laptops. They will not work on iPads or Android tablets. Please bring a laptop that you are able/allowed to install software on and contact us with any specific questions beforehand.

Talks and Mini-Courses

Thursday 4 July - Friday 5 July

Hands-on Workshops: (B) signifies beginner, (I) intermediate and (A) advanced levels
You do need to have your own laptop for most of the hands-on classes. You do not need laptops for Excel 1-3 and Google Sheets (but please set up a Google account if you do not have one already).
Courses with numbers (eg Excel 1, Excel 2, Excel 3...) are best taken in sequence.
The number of places in hands-on classes is limited and allocated on a first come, first served basis. 

All sessions are listed in alphabetical order.

Accessing Information Under FOIA 1
Jenna Corderoy 
This session will outline the basics of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and how you can apply it to your research, campaigns and investigations. We’ll go through the types of information that can be accessed from government bodies and how you can draft effective requests to get the most out of the Act. We will also look at how to make requests for information under the lesser-known Environmental Information Regulations. Towards the end of the session, we will demonstrate WhatDoTheyKnowPro, an online FOIA toolkit for journalists developed by MySociety.

Accessing Information Under FOIA 2
Jenna Corderoy 
This session will go through the FOIA appeals process, and teach you how to argue your case when government bodies are doing whatever they can to prevent a disclosure. At the end of the session, we will look at how to send freedom of information requests around the world. To finish, we’ll discuss and work through some of the FOIA challenges that you have encountered.


Best European Examples of Data Journalism
Winny de Jong
For her Data Journalism Newsletter, Winny collects the best of the Data Journalism Web. In this presentation, she shares her favourites from all over Europe, carefully explaining why she loves these publications so much. Can’t wait for the presentation? Subscribe at to get a small Data Journalism Party in your inbox every Sunday.


Build a Better News Mousetrap: A crash-course in design thinking 1 & 2, Hands-on
Aron Pilhofer
Design thinking is a methodology for building better news products. It is used by some of the largest, most innovative news sites in the world to rapidly develop and test new products and features. In these hands-on workshops, we will learn the basics of design thinking, and how this approach has revolutionised the process. Together we will learn the basics of design thinking and apply what we've learned to a real-world problem.


Building Your Own Searchable Document Archive
MC McGrath and Brennan Novak
This session teaches you how to make searchable document archives. Transparency Toolkit recently built a hosted archive service to help journalists compile, explore, filter, and publish large sets of documents. You will learn how to use this software to create a searchable database by uploading files in your browser, analyse the data with text mining tools, and publish the documents.

No technical background is required.


The Cornerman. A True Crime Investigation
Alon Aviram
This session will reveal the rise and fall of one of Britain’s most elusive organised crime bosses whose whispered name terrified communities from London’s glitzy West End to the leafy West Country. Firmly on the police’s radar ever since his name was linked to two notorious and still unsolved gangland murders twenty years ago in London, the Cornerman used his connection with one of the capital’s most successful crime families to build a network extending along the M4 corridor to Bristol. He walked free from prosecutions for kidnapping, murder and extortion of a championship football club owner. At least ten men, women and children, have been taken into witness protection on the police’s insistence. Meanwhile, the Cornerman continued to cash in by running protection rackets, cosying up to big players in the world of sport, and providing security for the men behind high society nightclubs loved by the young royals and A-list celebrities. This talk will give a behind-the-scenes account of that long-term shoe-leather investigation.


Covert Filming
Paul Samrai
Not so much a masterclass than a highly informative overview of every aspect of covert filming by Paul who has been doing it for last 25 years.
He has worked for every single major channel in the UK and major international broadcasters. Learn about role playing, bonding with the subject, coping and exit strategies, the latest equipment and how to escape when rumbled. There’s never been a better time to get involved with covert filming. Learn from the best in the business.


Creating Data Visualisations and Interactives with Flourish, Hands-on
Katie Riley

Flourish was built on the principle that everyone in a newsroom – not just developers – should be able to quickly and easily make beautiful interactive graphics and data visualisations. In this session, you'll learn how to do just that. The trainer will introduce the tool and lead participants through the process of creating, editing and publishing data-driven stories using Flourish. No previous experience with data visualisation or any coding knowledge is required.
Own laptop required. Flourish is a completely browser-based tool, so all participants need to do is show up with a computer that can connect to the internet. Please sign up for a free Flourish account (via, so the class can get started right away.


Cross-Border Journalism Case Studies
Brigitte Alfter, Nikolas Leontopoulos, Simon Bowers and Daphné Dupont-Nivet
Cross-border collaborative journalism has proven to be a powerful method: Panama Papers, Football Leaks or Implant Files have set the political agenda and lead to significant societal change. Our panel have worked extensively on cross-border stories and will share their experiences with you using examples of stories they’ve recently worked on.


Cross-Border Journalism – Everybody Can Learn It
Brigitte Alfter
If you’re impressed by large cross-border stories like CumEx Files, Panama Papers or Malta Files, but are daunted by the prospect of working on cross-border stories - don’t be. It is a method everybody can learn. In this workshop, Brigitte Alfter will give an introduction to the basic considerations of cross-border collaborative journalism, the levels of intensity and the process from idea to publication and beyond. Brigitte is the author of Cross-Border Collaborative Journalism: A Step-By-Step-Guide. 


Data Escape Room, Hands-on
Jonathan Stoneman and other data trainers

The Data Escape Room is a 60 minute data-driven challenge designed to test and develop your data skills with additional 60 minutes allowed for questions and individual help. Working in a small team you will be given a selection of real data and tasked with working out what the story is. Using all your team’s collective skills and your preferred software (eg Excel, googlesheets, R - all taught at the conference) you will sift through data and other material under extreme time pressure. It’s a great opportunity to try what you have learned and work out what other skills you might need to acquire. Bring your laptop, and come prepared to have some fun along the way.
Own laptop required.


Data Journalism in the Newsroom: How Data Enriches Stories
Helena Bengtsson, Caelainn Barr, Leila Haddou
This panel of experienced data journalists will explain how data can give greater depth to your stories and discuss best-practice for integrating data analysis into newsroom workflows. If you’re new to data journalism and want to find out what the techniques can do for you, or if you work with data journalists and want a greater understanding of their role to inform your expectations then this talk is for you.


Developing Cross-Border Ideas
Brigitte Alfter, Nikolas Leontopoulos and Daphné Dupont-Nivet

Cross-border stories – wow… but how do you get started? In this workshop we discuss the quality of cross-border journalism ideas: How to systematically develop a cross-border story, how to deal with cross-border aspects of a local story, and how to find potential team members to further develop the story idea with.


Don't be Numbed by Numbers
Jonathan Stoneman
What do you do when faced with a really big dataset for the first time? Using examples, Jonathan Stoneman will discuss approaches that help reduce a daunting mountain of data to a manageable mass.
Although this is not a hands-on session it will be possible to download the demo data and follow along if you bring your own laptop.


Excel 1: The Power of Data Analysis for Stories (B), Hands-on
Helena Bengtsson and Jonathan Stoneman

Data is everywhere and spreadsheets can help reporters to find story ideas in the data. This course introduces data analysis using Microsoft Excel. Participants will learn basic calculations to find examples, outliers, trends and spikes in data and explains how sorting and filtering can help you generate story ideas.
The class takes place in a Goldsmiths computer lab. No laptops required, but you can use your own if you like. See technical requirements. 

Excel 2: Finding Patterns in the Data (B), Hands-on
Helena Bengtsson and Jonathan Stoneman

The second spreadsheet course covers more advanced formulas for Excel - how to clean data and use functions to help reporters quickly find great stories within data. We will also take a look at simple charts for finding trends or ideas for stories.
The class takes place in a Goldsmiths computer lab. No laptops required, but you can use your own if you like. See technical requirements. 

Excel 3: Summarising Your Data for the Big Picture (I), Hands-on
Helena Bengtsson and Jonathan Stoneman
To complete your spreadsheet toolkit, learn how to make pivot tables and other functions that will summarise trends in your data and enable you to cross-match data from different sources.
The class takes place in a Goldsmiths computer lab. No laptops required, but you can use your own if you like. See technical requirements. 


Finding the Human Face in a Data-Driven Investigation
Leila Haddou and Paul Bradshaw
We use data in our investigations to find out about the the scale of a problem that is affecting people, systems that aren't helping them, or to shine a light on particular individuals. This workshop focuses on techniques for finding the human stories that help bring that data to life, from scoping the characters and settings that can help inject movement into your story, to tips on finding and interviewing key sources.


Follow the Money: Financial Investigations
Cynthia O'Murchu
The session will teach you ways to investigate an individual or company's finances. It will take you on a virtual trip around the world to show how to access public records in offshore jurisdictions and the stories they can yield.


Forensic Journalism: Image and Spatial Analysis in Investigative Reporting
Nick Masterton and Robert Trafford
Forensic Architecture work on human rights violation investigations with a range of different partners, from international prosecutors to media organisations. This session will provide an insight on this work from the mindset of both an architect and a journalist, with examples and workshop exercises in image analysis, geo-locating, and interpreting video. You'll learn how that material goes out into the world and is received, the forums in which the organisation operates, and a consideration of the advantages and weaknesses of Forensic Architecture's work in new media/social media spaces.
Own laptop required.


Forensic Journalism: How Open Source Investigations and Field Reporting are Uncovering the Tragedy of Yemen
Christiaan Triebert and Iona Craig. Moderated by Chris Woods
More than 10,000 civilians have died since the Saudi-led war against Yemen's Houthis began in 2015. While traditional field investigations are still critical to covering the crisis, open source monitoring and investigations are increasingly playing a role in holding power to account.


Googlesheets 1 (B) Hands-on
Pamela Duncan and Luuk Sengers
Data journalism introduction: overview of the seven building blocks behind data stories. The basics: use Googlesheets to carry out basic calculations and percentage increases.
The class takes place in a Goldsmiths computer lab. Please create a Google Drive account, if you do not have one already. No laptops required, but you can use your own if you like.

Googlesheets 2 (B) Hands-on
Pamela Duncan and Luuk Sengers
Finding your top line: sorting and filtering in Googlesheets/Excel. With handy/fun tools such as split, concatenate, currency conversion, translate.
The class takes place at a Goldsmiths computer lab. Please create a Google Drive account, if you do not have one already. No laptops required, but you can use your own if you like.

Googlesheets 3  (B) Hands-on
Pamela Duncan and Luuk Sengers
Quick-smart data summary/analysis using pivot tables, merging datasets (VLookUps) and basic scraping using Google's Import tools.
The class takes place at a Goldsmiths computer lab. Please create a Google Drive account, if you do not have one already. No laptops required, but you can use your own if you like.


Graph Databases 1 (I) Hands-on
Leila Haddou and Max Harlow
In data journalism, we tend to use relational databases – data in table form – such as Excel or SQL to do our analysis and find stories. Graph databases are different, but are incredibly useful to find connections or patterns within our data that would be difficult, if not impossible, to spot using a relational database. This session will provide a hands-on introduction to graph database software Neo4j, showing examples of its use for investigative stories including the Panama Papers, and demonstrate how to build a graph database of political donations and match them with corporate data to see at a glance the networks involved.
Own laptop required. For graph databases 1 and 2: Install Neo4j ( See technical requirements. 

Graph Databases 2 (I) Hands-on
Leila Haddou and Max Harlow
In part two, you will learn to analyse your newly built graph database using Cypher, Neo4j's query language. It is advisable to have completed part one to get the most out of this session.
Own laptop required. For graph databases 1 and 2: Install Neo4j ( See technical requirements. 


Heineken in Africa
Olivier van Beemen. Moderated by David Dunkley Gyimah
From hiring sex workers to sell their products to buttressing murderous regimes, what are Western multinationals really up to in Africa and how might we go about researching it?


The Human Cost of the Housing Crisis
Lois Kapila, Maeve McClenaghan and Tom Bristow
Council estates are being knocked down to build luxury developments and ‘affordable’ housing is out of reach of those that most need it. Meanwhile the number of homeless on the streets and people in temporary accommodation is growing. Our three panelists have independently researched the social cost of this and the impact on people’s lives and will be discussing their methods of translating investigations into impact.


If you are planning to take any of the data journalism sessions, we recommend you attend the introductory session that will help you decide how many, and which of the data sessions you should attend for your particular needs:

Introduction to Data Journalism: How to get the most out of the #CIJSummer Data Strand.
Data trainers
This session will provide a chance to find out what data journalism classes are on offer and which tools are best for which tasks. Our data trainers will advise you on the best data pathway and explain how you can improve your journalism with data analysis.


An introduction to statistics through Benford’s Law for Fraud Detection
Andrew Garthwaite
If you’re wondering if there’s something a bit fishy about a dataset, but you don’t know where to start looking, you might get some relief from a weird quirk of numbers called Benford’s Law that’s ready to help in your search. Largely forgotten about for 80 years, it’s become a handy part of a fraud investigators toolkit in the last decade. Learn how to use it in your investigations, and pick up a brief introduction to using statistics at the same time.


Investigating the National Health Service
Shaun Lintern

A walk through of some of the Health Service Journal’s most high-profile investigations, including tips and pitfalls to avoid when working with bereaved families and whistleblowers, plus how best to get to grips with complex policy to find that story.
Some of the stories included will be exposing the cover-up of a murder on a hospital ward; body parts being stockpiled; uncovering one of the biggest NHS maternity scandals; and a year long investigation of a cover-up involving child deaths by the NHS.


Investigating Offshore Finances and Money-Laundering
Mollie Hanley and Graham Barrow
How do you investigate ‘dark money? Knowing how ‘dark money’ enters the financial system is crucial to covering money laundering, corruption, bribery and tax evasion. In this session you will be provided with the tips, tools and resources for shining a light on a murky world.


Investigative Interview Techniques
Fiona Gabbert
This talk will provide an overview of investigative interviewing tools and techniques used within a forensic context. The focus here is to elicit detailed and reliable information from witnesses and suspects as this can play a central role in legal decision-making and, ultimately, the delivery of justice. Throughout the talk psychological factors known to underpin successful investigative interviews will be introduced, including building and maintaining rapport, establishing the role of the interviewer and interviewee, providing retrieval support, and asking the right questions at the right time.


Libel and Privacy Laws
Justin Walford
In this session you will learn about libel and privacy and hear how recent cases have affected the law. This class is for anyone who wants to update their legal knowledge and find out how they are affected by recent legal developments.


Online Toolkits and Resources for Data Journalists
Winny de Jong
First Aid for your data journalism learning problem. When you’re diving into a new field of expertise, it can be overwhelming. Our trainer is here to help: tell her what you’d like to learn and why so far that didn't work out; and she’ll try to point you to the online toolkit or resource you didn't know you needed. This workshop will be a full improvisation, so buckle up.


Open Source: Fantastic Formulas to Filter Social Media
Henk van Ess

Who is the mysterious person behind a mining contract in the Central African Republic? What do you do when you have only a very common name and no photos? And what to do when a Twitter account is completely deleted? You filter social media with what you have. In this session you will find out how Mr/Mrs Brown was tracked down via clever use of fantastic filtering in social media, based on the trainer’s work for European news media.


Open Source: Tracking Down a Most-Wanted Criminal via Instagram
Henk van Ess
What is "chronolocation" and why do we need it? How do we research deceiving Instagrams? What is wrong with Google reverse image search? What is the hidden connection between Instagram and Facebook?
How can you track down a fugitive criminal with Instagram and a little help from Facebook and Google, when the police want to know who the convict contacted and where he is right now? This session will answer all these questions and more
This is the first public session ever about the case that made headlines in The Netherlands this spring.


Open Source: The GRU Globetrotters, Tracking Clandestine International Operations
Christo Grozev
Tracking agents of the Russian secret service and their European operations requires employing the full range of open source intelligence techniques. This class will show you many tips and tricks, while explaining how they were used in a range of investigations looking into GRU activities in Switzerland, Bulgaria and elsewhere.


Open Source: The Skripal Poisoning Investigation
Christo Grozev
When two suspects were identified in the police investigation surrounding the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia last March, several researchers from Bellingcat began a hunt to verify the real identities of the suspects, and their links to Russian military intelligence. This class will talk you how through the OSINT tools and techniques, corroborated by reporters on the ground, that made the investigation possible.


R 1: Introduction to R (B), Hands-on*
Caelainn Barr and Niamh McIntyre
In the first class, R-1, you'll be shown the basics and get familiar with R and RStudio, import data and learn some functions for getting to grips with your dataset including sorting and filtering. This class assumes no prior experience with R.
Own laptop required. See technical requirements. 

R 2:  Data Wrangling and Statistics (A), Hands-on*
Caelainn Bar and Niamh McIntyre
In R-2 you'll get down to some data wrangling and learn how join datasets and carry out calculations in R that will allow you to identify trends in the data for storytelling. You'll also learn statistical functions in R and how to use ggplot2 for basic visual analysis.
Own laptop required. See technical requirements. 

R 3:  Scraping and APIs (A), Hands-on*
Caelainn Barr and Niamh McIntyre
In the third and final class, you'll use R to scrape, clean and structure data from webpages and APIs. You'll also learn how to use R to convert, join and split difficult data files.
Own laptop required. See technical requirements. 

*If you are a complete beginner, these sessions will work best if you come to classes 1 to 3 as we will be building on knowledge and datasets from class to class. However, if you have experience in R you are free to join classes 2 and/or 3.


SCIENCE: 101 on Science Reporting
Kevin McConway. Moderated by Wendy Grossman
Where to find stories and how to read research papers and university and journal press releases. An explanation of scientific methods, randomised clinical trials and their importance, including assessing aspects like sample sizes, statistics and risk assessments.


SCIENCE: Reporting on Academic Misconduct and the Business of Science
Éanna Kelly, Hannah Devlin and Holly Else.  Moderated by Emma Stoye
Science is often admired for its pure and infallible nature, but scientists are humans and, like any of us are affected by biases, conflicts of interest and money. And sometimes they do bad things that need exposing. Why do scientists go rogue, and what are the stories we can tell about this? How do you find stories about bad science, and how do you tell them? How do funding and policy affect research priorities? Come and learn about this and more in this session organised in partnership with the Association of British Science Writers.


SCIENCE: Digging Out Research Discoveries and Science Scoops
Crispin Dowler, Joshua Howgego, Julian Sturdy and Mike Power. Moderated by Wendy Grossman
Much of core science reporting these days is driven by big science PR machine: major journals, universities and businesses bombard journalists with ready-to-print press releases that set the agenda and frame science and tech stories. A few brave journalists go beyond this flurry to find their own stories and find untold scoops. In this session, organised in partnership with the Association of British Science Writers you will find out how to break from the pack and find the science stories that no one else has and that your editors will love


SCREENING: The Panama Papers
Followed by Q&A with Bastian Obermayer and Simon Bowers
The biggest global corruption scandal in history, and the hundreds of journalists who risked their lives to break the story. This documentary from Alex Winter charts the story of this huge cross-border collaboration, from first contact with the source to the coordinated international publication.


SCREENING: No Stone Unturned
Followed by Q&A with Barry McCaffrey
An in-depth look at the unsolved 1994 Loughinisland massacre, where six Irishmen were murdered, presumably by a Unionist paramilitary group, while watching the World Cup at the local pub in Loughinisland, Northern Ireland.


Story-Based Inquiry 1: A Method Through the Madness
Luuk Sengers and Mark Lee Hunter
Investigation has a dirty name with editors, who think it’s about slowly rummaging through piles of garbage till you find (or don’t find) a jewel. Too often, they’re right. This session will show you how to choose a subject and define your investigation as a story from the start, using hypotheses. The method helps you figure out what to look for, how to look for it and how to sell it to your boss and the public.

Story-Based Inquiry 2: Creative Techniques
Mark Lee Hunter and Luuk Sengers
In this session we map the plot of a story – a sequence of events that must have occurred, which we can subsequently verify and enrich. Simultaneously, we create scenes, with characters whose actions and conflicts define the content and meaning of the story. These events lead to the sources you need.

Story-Based Inquiry 3: Practical Tools
Luuk Sengers and Mark Lee Hunter
This session begins with an alternative to the timeline – a map of the actors in your story and the sources they hold. Now that we've shown you where to acquire information assets, we'll show you how to optimise them. We'll create a simple but effective database in which you collect the results of your investigation. This 'MasterFile' makes it easier to structure your story – the hardest part of composition. It's a way to write while you research, instead of first researching and then writing. It's also a way to build resources for a long, successful career.

Story-Based Inquiry 4: Crafting the Story
Mark Lee Hunter and Luuk Sengers
This session shows you how to compose a story that hits hard and fast, and builds to a powerful conclusion. The core of this method is continuous composition and referencing – an approach that saves both you and your colleagues time and anguish. We turn the 'MasterFile' into a narrative structure based on a chronology or a sequence of themes and characters. We apply techniques for controlling rhythm, the element that keeps your audience reading, listening or watching. We finish with quality control – reducing the risk of mistakes that can cause damage to others and your own reputation.


SQL for Journalists 1 (I) Hands-on
Crina Boroş
What to do when Excel is not enough to crunch your data and hardcore coding is not your style? SQL is like Excel, but on steroids! This is the first of three workshops that will introduce you to the lingua franca of programming and a popular relational database. You'll see what SQL does: create a database, import a spreadsheet, and learn about the main 'select statements'.
Note: Familiarity with Excel is recommended for those wishing to attend.
Own laptops required. See technical requirements. 

​SQL for Journalists 2 (I) Hands-on
Crina Boroş
You'll learn about the power of the 'golden query' through the introduction of functions, filters and analysing data using code for reporting. You'll also start joining tables.
Note: Familiarity with SQL 'select statements' is necessary, and with Excel recommended for those wishing to attend.
Own laptops required. See technical requirements. 

SQL for Journalists 3 (I) Hands-on
Crina Boroş

Building on SQL 1 and 2, you'll make tables talk to each other, clean dirty data and update tables.
Note: Familiarity with SQL 'select statements' is necessary, and with Excel recommended for those wishing to attend.
Own laptops required. See technical requirements. 


Top-Shopped: Investigating Sir Philip Green
Claire Newell
In this talk you will hear about the hard-hitting investigation the speaker co-authored for the Telegraph: uncovering the behaviour of businessman Sir Philip Green. You will hear how the investigation began and evolved, the role of whistleblowers, and about the injunction that almost shut it down.


Understanding Company Accounts: How to get the Most of Companies House
Martin Tomkinson and Robert Miller
Any UK-based investigative journalist or aspiring journalist should have a working knowledge of Companies House. Companies House is the central registry for all UK registered limited or PLC companies and contains a wealth of useful information for those who know how to use the site. The aim of this class is to show how to get the most information from the official website, as well as highlighting what information can’t be found there. The class will give ample time for questions and queries and is an absolute must for anybody who does not feel confident in using this vital tool for investigators.
Class handout: Companies House.

Understanding Company Accounts 1-4
Raj Bairoliya
This mini-course taught by a journalist-friendly forensic accountant will show you how to understand company accounts and get beyond the corporate PR spin. The emphasis will be on teaching practical skills rather than a series of lectures. The objective of the course is to ensure that all participants feel comfortable with a set of accounts and know where and how to look for relevant information.
The only prerequisites for this course are numeracy and an interest in financial matters as the theory will be taught in the first class and applied to real-life examples in the following sessions.
You must attend all the classes in this strand to benefit from it fully.
It will include the following topics: motivation to massage earnings; profit and loss account; balance sheet; funds flow statement; notes. And will finish with putting it all together, an interactive session building up a sample set of accounts or case study questions.
The participants are actively encouraged to ask questions throughout.
Raj's handbook: The Investigative Journalist's Guide to Company Accounts. Second edition. 


Unlimited Power: Investigating Tony Robbins
Jane Bradley and Katie Baker
In May, BuzzFeed News published a major investigation into the world's most famous self-help guru Tony Robbins, who claims to have revolutionised millions of lives including some of the most vulnerable. The investigation revealed that Robbins has publicly berated victims of rape and abuse at his events – and is accused by nine women of inappropriate sexual advances or exposing himself to them, including groping followers and sexually harassing staffers. The millionaire's legal team aggressively fought to shut the story down.


Web Scraping for Journalists 1+2 (B) Hands-on
Paul Bradshaw

In these hands-on sessions you will be introduced to some of the basic techniques to get started on scraping data for investigations:
- investigation ideas: how to spot opportunities to use scraping and automation in investigations
- scraping basics: finding structure in HTML and URLs; what's possible with programming
- simple scraping jobs: how to write a basic scraper in five minutes
- data journalism tools: the challenges of scraping hundreds of webpages, dozens of documents, or the invisible contents of databases.
Own laptop required. See Technical requirements. 


Web Scraping Without Code (B) Hands-on
Pamela Duncan and Niamh McIntyre
How to use the import functions for scraping data into Googlesheets, building a basic scraper with and OCR 3 ways.
The class takes place at a Goldsmiths computer lab. Please create a Google Drive account, if you do not have one already.No laptops required, but you can use your own if you like.<


Why Code? 
Max Harlow, Niamh McIntyre, Helena Bengtsson. Chaired by Leila Haddou.
A talk for those who are unsure on how knowledge of code can help journalists in their investigations. Leila Haddou will talk to a developer, Max Harlow; a code newbie data journalist, Niamh McIntyre; and a code old-hand data journalist and editor, Helena Bengtsson. The discussion will cover the use of code for journalism, which language to learn, and why and how it can improve your investigations. Questions from the audience are welcome and encouraged.

FOIA without the Lawyer: Interview with Brendan Montague

Dan Hind is the author of two books: The Threat to Reason and The Return of the Public, he speaks to Brendan Montague one of the authors of FOIA without the Lawyer about his experience of using the Freedom of Information Act.

Q1: The Freedom of Information Act has been in force in Britain since 2000. What kind of impact has it had on our ability to hold government to account? How has it changed the way journalists approach stories?

Brendan Montague: Transparency legislation has had a dramatic and lasting impact on government in the United Kingdom because it has led to a significant amount of information about world defining events coming to light. For example, we now have documentary evidence that BP was lobbying Tony Blair’s government for access to oil before the invasion of Iraq, thanks to FOIA requests made by Greg Muttitt, author of Fuel on the Fire.

Only this week, Rob Evans has after seven years of appeals apparently secured access to letters written to government departments by Prince Charles which should provide an unprecedented insight into the influence of monarchy in our democracy. Indeed, FOIA has been so powerful that Tony Blair has characterised it as the worst mistake of his premiership claiming it had been “utterly undermining of sensible government”.

Having said all that, there are some very severe restrictions and transparency in the UK falls far short of what should be expected in a modern democracy. FOIA has been seriously limited by the fact public bodies can rely on more than a dozen exemptions to prevent the publication of requested information. The coalition government resorted to the ministerial veto to block the publication of the risk register examining radical reforms of the NHS despite the fact the Information Rights Tribunal had established the public interest in publication outweighed any harm.

Moreover, these exemptions are abused by departments and authorities and in many cases it takes some detailed legal knowledge to begin to understand how to challenge such misuse. Political expediency still trumps transparency and openness whatever the political parties may claim at the election stump.

Q2: Can you tell me a little about what prompted you to write your handbook FOIA without the Lawyer? What does it set out to do for the reader?

Brendan Montague: There are many guides to FOIA aimed either at lawyers or campaigners which do a really good job of summarising the legislation and explaining the exemptions and how they would apply to different government departments. For example, Heather Brooke’s Your Right To Know (last updated in 2007) was groundbreaking. And yet our experience when we first went to the Information Tribunal was there were no step-by-step “how to” guides on the procedures and necessary steps. The Information Commissioner’s website and the Information Tribunal website did not – as far as I could find – tell the public what a “skeleton argument” was or what a “witness statement” should aim to achieve.

We decided to start with a blank sheet of paper and try and describe to journalist exactly how they could make a FOIA request and how they could themselves navigate the law and the available information to make their case as clearly and effectively as possible. We wanted to avoid reproducing the dense and confusing information made available on government department websites. In the course of making almost 1,000 FOIA requests and taking some of them through the tribunal system we had developed a methodology which could be applied to any request to any department challenging any exemption and that is what we wanted to share with our colleagues in the media.

Reporters do not have superpowers – although journalist inquiry has in some cases been a good reason to force disclosure – so our guide is just as useful to campaigners, researchers, lawyers and members of the public.

Q3: Has civil society broadly defined made as much use of the FOIA as it might have? Could it be used in a more targeted way?

Brendan Montague: Campaign organisations and private individuals have achieved incredible disclosures through FOIA. Maurice Frankle at the Campaign for Freedom of Information was central to forcing the legislation onto the statute books in the first place and is currently engaged in finding appeals which, if successful, would set a precedent that would result in the release of treasure trove after treasure trove of new information. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have both been among the most imaginative and successful in using the Environment Information Regulations and FOIA to force the disclosure of government data.

We know that the political parties themselves have used FOIA to better understand what government is planning and implementing. Defence lawyers have also used FOIA to obtain documents held by police forces in cases of miscarriages of justice. And private individuals have made requests that have changed – or at least allowed us to better understand – the course of history. Much of this activity has largely gone on under the radar although some has made front-page news.

Q4: There is growing evidence that ministers and others are trying to find their way around FOIA - private email accounts, unminuted meetings, government by post-it note. Does this worry you?

Brendan Montague: The public should be extremely concerned about the lengths the coalition government appear to be taking to prevent transparency and openness in government. We have anecdotal evidence that some government departments have resorted to using instant messaging services which are not stored so that email-style communications can take place without leaving a record or trace. At the same time, there are some departments which appear to be accelerating the process of deleting and dumping more historic documents – those more than five years old – to prevent embarrassing revelations. Just before the legislation was enacted the Labour government hired Oxford graduates to enter parliament and destroy records that would otherwise have to be released.

However, it does appear that politicians and senior civil servants are still keeping records in most instances. The fear of leaks is greater than the fear of FOIA disclosures. Moreover, a modern day Sir Humphrey Appleby will be more concerned about retaining proof of a decision or guidance at a meeting to protect themselves than they would destroying a record to protect the reputation of a minister.

Ben Worthy published More Open but Not More Trusted? The Effect of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on the United Kingdom Central Government, in which he confirmed that: “The dominant view is nothing has changed, with a minority describing a slightly positive alternation where, for example, ‘inappropriate’ comments were removed from minutes or notes. Nor was there evidence for a ‘chilling effect’... Many of the officials pointed out that the dangers of not having a decision outweighed the dangers of having one and it being released.”

Q5: A lot of people don't know much about the Act's provisions. Is there a particular format that has to be followed in making a request under it?

Brendan Montague: Making a FOIA request is so simple that many people will be doing it without even realising. When you send an email asking a question or for information to your local council, health trust, police station or central government department you are in fact making a FOIA request.

It is the public body, not the person asking for information, who must recognise that the legislation comes into play, interpret the legislation and where necessary provide all the documentation or raw data. There is a legal right to know. You don’t need to state that you are making a request; you don’t have to live in the UK, in the overwhelming majority of cases you don’t need to provide an address.

However, the real difficulties start when the public body refused to provide the information requested by using one of the many exemptions. The legislation sets out a wide set of reasons why some information should not be given out – commercial confidentiality, national security, British interests abroad, data protection and so on. The use of these exemptions has been tested and argued in complaints to the Information Commissioner, in tribunals and the Supreme Court. Therefore, it can prove extremely difficult to understand when an exemption should or should not be used. To make matters worse, it seems increasingly clear that government departments will misuse exemptions, quote tribunal cases that are actually irrelevant and cause the most outrageous delays in order to befuddle and demoralise the requester to the point where they simply give up.

There are, of course, brilliant and committed information officers who work incredibly hard to make sure the public interest is being served – through either the disclosure or the non-disclosure. But this is far from universal. It is vital that government is open and accessible. Therefore there is a profound necessity to fight those bureaucrats who hide behind process and complexity to frustrate the public and prevent transparency.