Tweets a power tool for journos

Social media in journalism is increasingly becoming a useful tool for investigative journalism said Raymond Joseph, social media expert and freelance journalist, at this year’s Power

Reporting journalism conference. Twitter, if used properly, can be used as a tool to probe sources for investigative stories. According to Joseph, Twitter can be creepy because you can monitor what

people say and do without their being aware of it.

“There are conversations that are going on there [Twitter] about things that you want to know. You can actually monitor someone without them actually knowing that you are watching them. There

are useful tools which allow you to get to the heart of a subject or source.”

Garaki Fadzi, a delegate from Zimbabwe, said he was not active on Twitter until he attended a talk on its use for investigative journalism. He says he now realises how helpful Twitter is when it comes to crowd-sourcing stories.

“I’ll be able to get leads from people without following them directly and I will be able to get more depth than I was doing now.

It also keeps me secure when I’m confronting people … So I think I will benefit a lot,” he said.

A journalist from China says there is a Chinese twitter called Weibo. It works the same as

Twitter and people interact in the same way as they would here in South Africa.

You can actually monitor someone without them actually knowing that you are watching them.

Liam Lee, a delegate from Hong Kong, said he noticed South Africa and China have similar ways of using social media as an investigative tool to write stories. He used Weibo to find out what happened to people after an earthquake struck a small town in China.

“I try use my Chinese version of Twitter to find people who were living in a small town where there was an earthquake.” He thinks social media is fast and efficient because ordinary people are always posting breaking news and are at the scene when a story breaks. When the story broke about the earthquake, people using Weibo who were at the scene were very descriptive in how it all happened.

“A young, kind father replied to my request and gave me leads to phone numbers and an email so

I could contact people to tell me what happened and they described every detail for me so I appreciate it,” Lee said.

Adeonke Ogunleye, from Nigeria, thinks Twitter can have positive and negative effects on journalism. She said she has been bullied on Twitter for exposing corruption in Nigeria. Ogunleye complained about the bullying to Twitter and the harasser was suspended, only to return to social media two weeks later.

“I’m a victim of Twitter bullying because of all of my stories from the past, stories I’ve done or investigative stories I have been able to carry out and so many people have come after me on Twitter, they bully me, even fellow reporters and journalists.”

However, according to Joseph, Twitter, if used correctly, can help journalists uncover stories in a way they have never been covered before. He said in all his experience as a journalist he has never seen such a powerful tool.

“If you use Twitter properly you should never have to look for stories … If you’re doing it properly. The tools do the heavy lifting.”

He admits that Twitter on its own is not enough and conversations on Twitter need to be written and read in context so that the story is not skewed or clouded by rumours. He said using lists is also a way for users to sift through tweets.

“Twitter on its own is not enough. There is a variety of tools that you are using that you use around it. The secret source is lists where you can distil right down to subjects so what you really want is an controlled stream,” Joseph said.

Nkandla journalists win investigative prize

Justice Tom Cloete, Prof Anton Harber and winners Sam Sole, Steffans Brummer and Vinayak Vhardwaj at the 8th annual Taco Kuiper Awards. Photo: Nqobile Dludla

Pictured from left to right: Justice Tom Cloete, Prof Anton Harber and winners Sam Sole, Steffans Brummer and Vinayak Vhardwaj at the 8th annual Taco Kuiper Awards. Photo: Nqobile Dludla

A team of amaBhungane journalists walked away with the 2014 Taco Kuiper award for investigative journalism at the Johannesburg Rand Club earlier today. 

Stefaans Brümmer, Sam Sole and Vinayak Bhardwaj of the Mail & Guardian’s investigative centre were recognised for their efforts in sifting through more than 12 000 pages of documents resulting in “The Nkandla Files,” published last July.

The team’s investigations show the irregular escalation of costs related to security upgrades on the personal residence of President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla. The investigation is based on documents accessed through a PAIA application (Promotion of Access to Information Act).

[pullquote]“This was undoubtedly the story of the year, in fact of the last five years, and maybe the next five.”[/pullquote]

Professor Anton Harber, the convenor of the judging panel, and head of the Wits journalism department said: “This was undoubtedly the story of the year, in fact of the last five years, and maybe the next five. The presidential spokesperson said they were making a mountain out of a molehill, but in fact it was not them that were making a castle out of a kraal, or a palace out of a homestead, but they did reveal it. Few stories have had, and continue to have, such impact. It was work done by a formidable team.”

The runner-up spot was shared by teams from television show Carte Blanche and the Sunday Times for “Game of Geysers” (Joy Summer and Susan Comrie), and the “Dina Pule series” (Rob Rose, Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter).

Guest speaker, Brant Houston, a Knight Fellow in Investigative Journalism, addressed guests before the awards were handed out. On the future of journalism, Houston said that “We are entering the golden age of journalism.” He attributed this to technological advances, quick communication, collaboration and networking and journalists working together.“This helps us to preserve our work and cover our backs. It helps us do what we love, which is truth-telling.”

This was the eighth installation of the annual awards in honour of the late journalist, Taco Kuiper, and carries a cash prize of R200 000 for the winner.

GALLERY: Highlights from Power Reporting 2013

This year’s Power Reporting Conference hosted by Wits Journalism was the biggest they’ve hosted to date. Three days saw close to 300 delegates from around the world coming together to discuss abd debate issues central to investigative journalism.

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These banners were littered all over the FNB on West Campus to welcome all delegates to the conference. Photo: Prelene Singh

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Delegates eager to read the special Power Reporting edition of the Wits Vuvuzela. Photo: Prelene Singh

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Michael Salzwedel gave a class on Google tools and showed attendees how to use them. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

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Delegates taking notes and asking speakers questions. Pictured are Anina Mumm (left) and Izak Minnaar. Photo: Caro Malherbe

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Alex Kotlowitz awed and inspired delegates with his opening talk that spoke to non-fiction storytelling. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

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Nigerian delegates arriving on the first day of the conference. Photo: Nolwazi Mjwara

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Data journalism classes proved popular this year, most sessions were as well attended as the one pictured. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

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Luc Hermann gave a powerful session on pharmacutical drugs. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

WITH GALLERY: Journalism that matters

Paula Fray challenged journalists to “remember the faces” behind the “big issues’ they covered. Speaking at a seminar on “Community Voices”, Fray of FrayIntermedia noted that stories had become accounts of “he-said-she-said” battles between officials. “Nobody speaks to the communities that are really affected, the human face is forgotten,” she said.

“Where were the policy journalists when e-tolling was still being proposed years ago?”

Citing e-tolls as an example, Fray explained the different stages a piece of legislation goes through before it becomes law.

She said the debate among citizens and community members should start while the law is being drawn up, when people can still influence the direction it takes. “Where were the policy journalists when e-tolling was still being proposed years ago?

That’s when the debate should have started because by the time they (the media) broke the story, the debate had already been framed and it had become quite a middle-class he-said-she-said game.”

While Fray said she understood the financial and time constraints journalists faced in the newsroom, she urged them to ask tough questions and not to be intimidated. “I know it’s not easy but many of these problems are universal to all newsrooms and you need to push past them.”

Gcina Ntsaluba of Corruption Watch shared his experiences trying to access information from the government and state-owned companies. He explained how to use the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to get records from these entities. Using examples of stories published by the City Press and other Media24 publications, Ntsaluba gave real examples of how the Act could give more depth and “exclusivity” to a story: “We all love exclusives here and this tool helps you access some exclusive information.”

A community journalist in the audience spoke about the apathy of community members to the work done by community journalists. Fray said this attitude could be changed by a different approach from journalists themselves: “People become disengaged because they no longer see themselves in these stories. Make the stories about the communities who are affected and it will tell a better story and involve the very people you want to see reading your work.”

How to dig up political dirt

By Ray Mahlaka and Dineo Bendile

INTIMIDATION, bribery and smear campaigns are the challenges faced by investigative journalists in South Africa, said Sunday Times journalists Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Rob Rose.

Wa Afrika and Rose are experts in this as they are the team who exposed the wasteful expenditure of state funds by former communications minister Dina Pule.

Earlier this year Pule was suspended from her position following an investigation into her improper conduct after she allegedly awarded her boyfriend, Phosane Mngqibisa, a tender for the organisation of the ICT Indaba in 2012.

The journalists’ interest was sparked by tip-offs and inside sources from the department of communications. They would later use records from a travel agency after Pule had all her own records of her holidays with her boyfriend destroyed.

Investigative journalism tips

The speakers were able to give delegates some tips based on their investigative experience.
According to the speakers, one of the fundamental aspects of investigative journalism was the importance of ensuring the accuracy of any information published. Their initial articles were met with denials, forcing them to get more information on Pule.

[pullquote align=”right”]“The more you deny, the more a journalist will dig. And the more they dig the more stuff will come out.”[/pullquote]

“We became unpopular… we were forced to get more damning evidence for people to believe us,” said wa Afrika. Rose and wa Afrika said they did not stop at getting documents but also sought out the authors of the documents.

“If you get any document, the best way to verify information is to find who is or are authors of this document,” wa Afrika said. “Any document is written by the source, try and trace which is the author and interrogate them on why they wrote the document.”

According to wa Afrika, after breaking the revelations of Pule he had several meetings with the former minister and some of her colleagues where they attempted to intimidate him and offer cash for his silence.

He urged journalists to meet sources in public places that they know well to avoid any possible attacks or being accused of accepting a bribe.

“Make sure that when you meet someone you meet them at a strategic place. Make sure you know the place you are meeting at and you know that there are cameras,” wa Afrika said.

Persistence is needed when uncovering the truth as an investigative journalist. While investigating Pule’s improprieties the team received a lot of backlash from politicians and Pule herself. However, this only encouraged them.

“The more you deny, the more a journalist will dig. And the more they dig the more stuff will come out,” wa Afrika said.

He told delegates that journalists are often intimidated by people with power to force them to back down from investigations.

“When you become an investigative journalist, one thing you open yourself up to is smear campaigns, slander, people trying to intimidate you. People will try to kill you, not because you are a bad person, but because you stepped on some toes,” wa Afrika said.

The Guardian newspaper journalist David Smith, who attended wa Afrika and Rose’s presentation, said he wanted to find out more about investigative journalism in South Africa.

“I wanted to know what stories are being covered and who’s covering them… there is a lot of good journalists doing good work, Mail & Guardian and Sunday Times are a few [such] publications. I think South Africa probably has the strongest investigative journalism in Africa,” he said.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Eyewitness News: Dina Pule fined and suspended. August 7, 2013

Live blog: 2013 Taco Kuiper Awards for Investigative Journalism

The Wits Vuvuzela Online will be live blogging from the 2013 Taco Kuiper Awards for Investigative Journalism. The awards take place on Friday, 5 April 2013 and will celebrate the best of investigative reporting in South Africa. This year the awards attracted 44 entries from 20 media outlets.

Follow us as we bring you the awards as they happen from the Rand Club in Johannesburg.

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