Outriders Meetup #3 in Athens took place last Thursday at the local Impact Hub. More than 80 journalists showed up to discuss how journalism can have a bigger and deeper social impact. We kicked off with two workshops: “Digital storytelling through Insta Stories” by Guido Bülow (Facebook Journalism Project) and Jakub Górnicki (Outriders), and “Building impact with data” by Eva Constantaras. The slides from the latter can be found here.
During the meetup that followed, Eva Constantaras, Vlad Ursulean, and Blanka Zöldi spoke on how they define impact and how they make their stories impactful. If you want the juicy details, just watch the videos. The bullet points below just about sum-up what the 3 journalists had to say.
Blanka Zöldi, direkt36: How to create impactful investigative stories?
- The Center for Investigative Journalism Direkt36 launched in 2015. We wanted to escape the political and economic pressures that influenced the outlet we previously worked for.
- We started up with a crowdfunding campaign and we currently finance our operations mostly from readers’ donations, which secures independence.
What do we define “impact”?
- The story results in legal actions against those involved.
- The story helps define better laws reinforces their use
- It brings international attention to domestic affairs
- Crimes don’t end up happening (because they know that we are watching).
- By doing our job well we are rebuilding public trust in the journalism profession.
How do we do it?
- We tackle important stories and a credible way of telling them, hoping for the best possible outcome and bigger impact. We only focus on facts.
- Serious irregularities in the case of a company run by Victor Orban’s son in law → Impact: the European Union started to investigate further and the company ended up closed.
2. Mistakes in asset declaration of politicians → Impact: they quietly corrected their declarations and were dismissed.
3. The prime minister’s father was supplying materials for European Union-funded projects → Impact: we used FOIA and requested data about the suppliers, they charged us, we went to court and won.
4. Golden Visa programs → Impact: We managed to make them officially close the program.
Vlad Ursulean, Casa Jurnalistului: “Running the investigative house”.
- What journalists rely on when working on their stories is a special consensus on what is good for the readers and what is important for society.
- Sometimes you can be right but if you don’t use specific language and don’t recognize your biases, you might lose most of your readers and will end up not having the impact you hoped for.
- What do we do if we don’t have this minimum consensus about the stories we want to tell?
- We need to examine our reporting angles and our topic choices
- We need to start from scratch. This is where anthropology comes in handy. Anthropology, as I understand it, is the science of hanging out with people in an organized way.
- Most journalism is parachute journalism — your editor tells you what they want and you deliver exactly that. It is an extreme form of making assumptions about your story. You need to give your story time and conduct long qualitative research before you decide on the angle for your story.
- After you finish your story, it is important to organize people around and build the momentum for it: breaking a story with the “making of materials”, organize activist campaigns and meetups where people can learn more about the topics they are prejudiced against.
- Casa Jurnalistului did a series of stories about homeless people living underground in Bucharest. They were usually presented in the media as a Romanian threat to Western Europe. My friend spent some months researching the stories and found out that most of these people were orphan children and they build an underground kingdom for themselves. Another story we did was about the homeless group that charges people for finding a parking spot. My friend blended with them so well that he got beaten up by the police as they do.
2. Stories about poverty. Poverty is a mental state. To understand it better our collective moved into a poor community. We started listening to their music, eating the food they were eating — immersing ourselves so that we understand them better.
3. Covering China. We cycled all the way through China and for two years we have researched Chinese culture and how it affects the world at the moment — everything from their take on the internet to how they define an individual and a community.
4. A story on a miracle doctor where we put posters all over town to make sure our voice and the voice of the victims was heard. The guy ended up arrested and on trial.
5. Our recent story about Revenge porn. High school kids don’t read the news, so we have made a posters campaign and talked to many kids ourselves.
Eva Constantaras: Journalism in Crisis — is data journalism an answer?
- I have worked in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Myanmar— places, where the media environment and data environment are very problematic.
- The media crisis boosted me, and the journalists I work with, with confidence that what we do makes sense.
- Brexit and Trump made the media realize that they weren’t doing a very good job trying to reach citizens.
- It makes little sense to cover politics for the scandals and not for the substance, to cover elections as if they were a soap opera.
- We are experiencing a collapse of public trust in media
- At the same time, we see the rise of the audience
This state of affairs should motivate us to do better coverage and help us make sure that people will be voting for the “right” reasons. Hopefully, their vote will be data-driven and opinions rooted in policy. This will result in better elections.
- Define the citizens’ agenda, ask people about what they would like to know, what they need to know.
- Your data sources can be social media, public statements as well as voting records. Remember about the possibility of submitting FOIA request.
- The impact of your stories will be helping people understand what they wanted to know, making the news coverage relevant to them, infusing political coverage with policy and making politicians engaged in the coverage.
- If you are a Greek journalist and would like to participate in a more thorough data training lead by Eva — leave your data here.