LISTICLE: 5 tips for hard-hitting investigative journalism

LISTICLE: 5 tips for hard-hitting investigative journalism

Addressing a full classroom of over 50 journalists and students, Cheryl Thompson, a journalist from the Washington Post, shared her insights into investigative journalism at the Power Reporting conference in Johannesburg today. Anelisa Tuswa, a student journalist, shares her five takeaways from the talk.

Thompson, also an associate professor of journalism at George Washington University, used anecdotes from her own work to outline the key lessons she’s learned over the course of her career.

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HARD-HITTING: Cheryl W. Thompson of the Washington Post, shared her insights into developing an investigative story at the 2015 Power Reporting Conference at Wits University today. Photo: Samantha Camara.

Outlining steps into the investigation process, Thompson described investigative journalism as “jigsaw puzzle”,  where all the pieces in the puzzle matter.

Briefly, Thompson says the key steps are deciding on a topic, researching the topic, developing your sources,  analysing your data,  fact-check and writing, rewriting and writing some more.

5 Key lessons to learn:
  1. “Always ask questions that you already know the answer to”

The emphasis on well researched investigation remains key in all parts of Thompsons presentation. As a result, Thompson believes that when you are preparing for an interview, you’re must “be mentally prepared” and that includes well researched questions.

  1. “Never sacrifice speed to file for accuracy

It might take you a couple of years to complete an investigative piece, but rather you spend years in it than to rush for a timeline that is less researched and lacks accuracy.

  1. Confrontational Questions? Keep those for later

According to Thompson, questions like “why did you steal the money” should be at the bottom of your list. She says to start with questions that allow your interviewees “ease into the interview'”, added Thompson. “Try to find a commonality or connection with your interviewee”.

  1. “Don’t pick up the phone for interviews, go there in person”

Thompson notes that on one of her investigative pieces that she was working on there were “ghost children in a ghost school” and she only figured this out by actually visiting the schools.

  1. Trust your intuition

“I trust my instincts, especially as a woman”, said Thompson, addressing safety and security issues related to investigative journalism.

Going undercover key to exposing Fifa corruption

Going undercover key to exposing Fifa corruption

The editor of London’s Sunday Times Insight team opened the 2015 Power Reporting Conference by reflecting on one of the most controversial corruption stories in the past year. Speaking in front of a packed auditorium at Wits University, Jonathan Calvert recounted the intricacies of an undercover investigation with fellow journalist, Heidi Blake, that resulted in an expose of bribery and coruption at Fifa, the world football authority.

The pair went undercover in 2010 to investigate alleged corruption that surrounded 2020 World Cup-winning bid from Qatar.

Going undercover has become a crucial tactic in investigative journalism and has enabled more stories to materialise successfully.

Calvert and Blake who were tipped off by an insider, decided to go undercover and pose as lobbyists with interests on behalf of the United States.

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UNDERCOVER: Jonathan Calvert, editor of the Insight Team at the Sunday Times, was the keynote speaker at the opening session of the 2015 Power Reporting Conference in Johannesburg. Photo: Reuven Blignaut.

Kitted out with minute cameras hidden in their clothing, the pair recorded meetings with six people on the bid committee. They formed part of the discussions on how to structure the campaign to lobby for support for the American bid. Eventually, two of the committee members (voters), agreed to “sell their votes”.

Calvert said that each World Cup brings in approximately four million pounds but added that, “We don’t know how they spend their money or where it goes to.”

With corruption presenting itself at the outset of their investigations, the pair pressed on and eventually presented their findings to Fifa which did not act on the allegations.

Calvert said when Qatar was announced as hosts for the 2020 soccer World Cup, “It was a surprise to everyone, but not really a surprise to us.”

Calvert said he feels that Fifa is “burning itself to death at the moment,” and has a strong feeling that “a big revelation” will be made public by February 2016 by journalists in the US who are continuing the investigations.

The pair have since co-written a book on their expose called The Ugly Game: The Qatari plot to buy the World Cup.

What’s haunting Joburg

What’s haunting Joburg

 Ghostly figures, disembodied footsteps and screams lurk along the streets of Joburg. Here are 16 of Joburg’s most haunted tales and ghoulish secrets. You might want to read this with the lights on!

Serial killers, struggle heroes and tragic deaths haunt Johannesburg’s turbulent and varied history, with some of the ghostly figures remaining to this day. After gold was discovered in 1886 Joburg rose from the dust into the metropolises we know today. But do you know all the legends of how it came to be an eclectic and vibrant city? Terrifying tales whose spirits remain include the tragic tale of freedom fighter and schoolboy Hector Peterson, the ghosts of the infamous Stander Gang and lesser known haunted spots like a Parktown’s Mikes’s Kitchen and a headless women mourning in an ancient school.

  1. The rocky knoll- Soweto

A ghostly schoolboy with his hands clenched in the Black Power salute and the faint sound of bullets firing into the night, have been heard at the foot of the Rocky Knoll. The boy is thought to be the ghost of Hector Peterson who was killed by police bullets on June, 16th 1976.

The Hector Peterson memorial in Soweto. Photo: The original uploader was Albinfo at German Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Hector Peterson memorial in Soweto. Photo: The original uploader was Albinfo at German Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Daisy de Melker – Supreme Court

Serial killer Daisy de Melker’s spirit still lurks in her old cell at the women’s prison at Constitutional Hill and at the Supreme Court’s, Court 3 where she was sentenced to death in 1932. The Black Widow was the first serial killer to be convicted in South Africa after she poisoned two of her husbands and a son with arsenic and strychnine. De Melker is said to also appear at 6 o’clock at her home on Club Street in Turffontein where she peers out of the window waiting for her victims to return home.

  1. Foxwood House- 5th Street Houghton

The historic house built in 1924 is not only a popular boutique hotel in Houghton but is also home to some historic guests from the spirit world. As one of the first houses in the area it is filled with antique family heirlooms, some of which haven’t been moved since 1936! Guests to the hotel claim to hear mysterious footsteps and to have seen the ghost of a lady with a child and even Paul Kruger.

The Foxwood House built in 1924 in Houghton. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

The Foxwood House built in 1924 in Houghton. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

  1. Ponte Tower- Hillbrow

The Iconic 54-story cylindrical tower has become an eerie spot for a number of suicides. The once luxurious high-rise fell into disrepair and became a base for Joburg’s notorious gangs in the late 1980s before it was abandoned. Now the ghosts have joined its inhabitance with several of them being spotted in the building reliving their last moments.

Ponte Towers looking over Johannesburg's skyline. Photo: Geoffrey Hancock (Ponte City Uploaded by Yarl) via Wikimedia Commons

Ponte Towers looking over Johannesburg’s skyline. Photo: Geoffrey Hancock (Ponte City Uploaded by Yarl) via Wikimedia Commons

  1. The View Mansion- Parktown Ridge

In a white Victorian dress Lady Cullinan can still be seen lurking around the stately home with the sound of someone climbing the stairs, despite the staircase being removed many years ago. Sir Thomas and Lady Annie Cullinan bought the View Mansion for £1,250 in 1896, which is now a museum and a business venue. Many other stories are also hidden beneath creaky floor boards and secret passageways in Joburg’s historic homes.

  1. Stander Gang – Houghton

South Africa’s most wanted bank robbers went down fighting when the infamous Stander Gang consisting of Andre Charles Stander (37), Patrick Lee McCall (34) and Allan Heyl (32) were wanted by police in the1980s. The ghost of McCall is said to lurk at the place of his death that came after a tip-off led police to their Sixth Avenue, Houghton safe-house. McCall met his bloody end after refusing to surrender resulting in a gun battle in the streets of the leafy suburb. Police finally threw grenades into the house and stormed in only to find McCall lying naked and dead in the hall.

One of the Stander Gang hide-outs during the 1980s where a gunfire battle that resulted in the death of Patrick Lee McCall. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

One of the Stander Gang hide-outs during the 1980s where a gunfire battle that resulted in the death of Patrick Lee McCall. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

A clip from the 2003 Movie Stander starring Thomas Jane as Andre Stander and Dexter Fletcher as Lee McCall.

  1. The Aurora House- Central Avenue Houghton

Howling and disembodied footsteps from mysteriously murdered socialite Bubbles Schroeder can be heard walking around the Aurora building. The party girl’s body was found with her mouth stuffed with clay in August 1949, in what was a blue gum plantation near Wanderers Sports Club. The good time girl’s murderer was never found with many different theories surrounding the fateful night helping to further the Schroeder ghosts anguish.

  1. Mikes Kitchen- Parktown

The Goch family home, built in 1904, has seen more than one person meet their untimely end. A ghost of a grief stricken mother thought to be Jane Goch has been seen walking up and down the stairs soothing her child that died. The unfriendly appertshion of James Goch has also occasionally been seen, but he doesn’t take kindly to visitors. The Goch family are not the only souls lurking at the restaurant. The kitchen doors can be seen swinging open and closed as a murdered kitchen staff member walks in and out of the kitchen.

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The Mike’s Kitchen in Parktown is a national heritage site that was originally built by James Goch, a photographer in early Johannesburg. The house was designed by JB Nicholson and has survived by being a hotel in the 1930s. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

  1. Constitution Hill- Braamfontein

Many souls have passed through the iron gates since it was built in 1882 but some have never left. As a prison and military defense post it saw many political prisoners being incarcerated at the Fort including Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Walter Sisulu, and Ruth First. Among the many souls that haven’t found their rest is Daisy De Melker’s ghost who haunts the Women’s Jail. Another is a blonde Afrikaans nurse with maroon epaulets from the old Florence Nightingale Nursing Home who still roams the building at the corner of Constitution Hill.

Inside the prison at Constitutional Hill. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

Inside the prison at Constitutional Hill. Photo: Valerie Robinson

  1. Braamfontein cemetary – Graf Street Braamfontein

Created in1888 it offers a glimpse of Joburgs past including unsung heroes, resisters, concentration camp survivors and victims of the dynamite explosions. A 24 year old victim of suicide named Chow Kwai engraved a letter of apology on his tombstone apologizing for unknowingly registering under a new law aimed at restricting the movements of Indians and Chinese. After he realized what he had done he set himself alight in 1907.

  1. Kensington Sanatorium-Bezuidenhout Valley

Mother Adéle, a French nun, has been seen at the old Kensington Sanatorium. She is thought to be a passed inhabitant of the building originally built in 1897.

The old Kengsington Sanatorium that was once home to nuns is now a Life Clinic. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

The old Kengsington Sanatorium that was once home to nuns is now a Life Clinic. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

  1. Jeppe Boys High School- Jeppestown

A headless women known as the “Afkop Vrou” has been seen in the schools Payne Hall holding her head. The legend has it that the women committed suicide after the death of her husband during World War I.

  1. Museum Africa- Newton

A ghost known as Mr Chips was a worker at the potato sheds in Newton who was killed by a falling sack of potatoes. He now is said to haunt Museum Africa’s costume collection section and is heard ruffling the clothes and rearranging the shelves. The sheds which were originally built in 1912 were part of the original Indian market. The market relocated to a larger premise in City Deep in 1974.

  1. The Post Office Building- Rissik Street Johannesburg

The burnt remains are not the only things left from the old Post Office building, that was built in 1897 as the tallest building in town. A dark apparition has been seen in the underground tunnels that link the Post Office and Park Station. The building has been abandoned, except for its ghostly visitors, since 1996 with many of its fittings being stripped and stolen leaving behind only its skeleton.

The remains of the once towering Post Office on Rissik Street built in 1897 by President Paul Kruger's architect, Sytze Wierda. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

The remains of the once towering Post Office on Rissik Street built in 1897 by President Paul Kruger’s architect, Sytze Wierda. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

15. Zoo Lake- Randburg

The dismembered body of Mrs Catherine Burch haunts the watery grave were her decomposing head was found by two boys fishing at Zoo Lake in 1964. This was the last puzzle piece needed to help identify the remains already found in Boksburg Lake and Wemmer Pan. The alleged perpetrator was her husband Ronald Burch who electrocuted himself in front of police upon his discovery. The cause of death however still remains “unascertained” leaving an uneasy spirit lurking at the shore of the Lake.

The banks of Zoo Lake in Johannesburg were the head of Mrs Catherine Burch was discovered. Photo: The original uploader was Albinfo at German Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

The banks of Zoo Lake in Johannesburg were the head of Mrs Catherine Burch was discovered. Photo: The original uploader was Albinfo at German Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

16. Kempton Park Hospital- Kempton Park

If that’s not enough ghostly activity on the outskirts of Joburg are many other ghoulish destinations including the abandoned Kempton Park Hospital that closed its doors the day after Christmas in 1997, without any explanation. The mysterious circumstances around its sudden close have given to the rise of many stories about its ghostly activity. The setting including no electricity, empty rooms, confidential patient files on the floor and broken equipment and ceilings.

A group of ghost hunters posted footage of their experiences whilst walking around the abandoned hospital at night.