Thursday, December 6, 2012

Investigative Journalism: Mine Deals "Looting" Congo

Interesting in-depth report here from Bloomberg Markets Magazine on Dan Gertler.

The 38-year-old Israeli billionaire built a fortune out of Congo's vast mineral riches thanks to his close personal relationship with Congolese president Joseph Kabila and lucrative deals that let Gertler purchase resources below their value, the Bloomberg report says.

Meanwhile, Congo remains one of the world's poorest and most corrupt countries. Governance is so bad the International Monetary Fund cut off loans worth $225 million U.S. because a lack of transparency in mining deals, according to IMF official Antoinette Sayeh, who is cited in the story.

"Dan Gertler is essentially looting Congo at the expense of its people," Congolese mining watchdog rep Jean Pierre Muteba tells Bloomberg. 

Gertler dismisses such critics, saying he aims to help Congo as well as himself. "At the end of the day, yes, I'm looking to create a lot of wealth," he is quoted saying.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Resources: Wayback Machine

I've just come across this cool resource: the "Wayback Machine."

It's an amazing search engine that lets you look through billions of archived webpages going back to the ancient early days of the web in 1996.

It includes a blog, discussion forum, educational resources for kids interested in archiving pages of historic value and an archiving service. Also available are various web collections of pages on topics like Hurricane Katrina and pioneering websites.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Investigative Journalism: Fukushima Waste Being Stored at Playgrounds, Schools With Little Oversight

Here's a new one from the Fukushima file.

While Japan's government continues to struggle to deal with the Fukushima nuclear disaster, local communities are storing radioactive dirt, sludge and debris in playgrounds and other public places, according to this excellent Christian Science Monitor report.

In one city 150 miles north of Tokyo, groups of children played in a playground where hundreds of bags of the radioactive waste were stored a few feet underground in an unmarked, unfenced corner, the reporter discloses.

While government scientists assure that the risk of the radioactive isotopes in the waste seeping into the groundwater "quickly" is "low," there is no mention of an actual risk assessment or method used to calculate that risk.

And of course, local residents are flabbergasted. One found that at least 20 other such disposal sites in parks  and public spaces exist in his city alone. It's not clear if there's any monitoring of whether radioisotopes are leeching out, and officials even refuse to put up signs.

Across Fukushima prefecture, waste was being stored at 1,027 schools and 788 parks, according to the story, which says the sites are "scantily regulated."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Investigative Reporting: Regulators Ignore Autism Drug Side-Effects

The Toronto Star has published a troubling and well-done example of investigative reporting on autism and how regulators have mishandled oversight of drugs used on kids thought to have the ailment - some as young as 4.

The Star story, by David Bruser and Andrew Bailey, documents a pattern of serious, sometimes fatal health side-effects from the drugs, which have been largely ignored by government regulators.

The story is especially striking when read alongside a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in March that said the youngest children in a classroom are diagnosed with autism more frequently than older children, raising concerns that many schoolchildren are being misdiagnosed.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Resources: Your Journalism Reading List - Investigative and Otherwise

Good reading list here on online journalism for newbie and vet journalists alike at UK journalism prof Paul Bradshaw's Online Journalism Blog.

And here also on the same site is a great list of free ebooks on journalism, including on investigative reporting.

Among them is journalism prof Mark Lee Hunter's very interesting-looking 209-page The Global Casebook: An anthology for teachers and students of investigative journalism.

A companion to the UNESCO primer on investigative journalism that I blogged about in July, also written by Hunter, The Global Casebook features a fascinating list of dozens of investigative stories from around the world accompanied by notes about how each story was done and its impacts.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Resources: Paul Lima's Freelance Writing e-Guidebook

Successful Toronto freelance writer Paul Lima has written a useful ebook on freelancing, "Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing," available for free here.

Covers everything from time management to queries, writing article leads and cold calls - questions every journalist needs to confront.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Investigative Reporting: Needed for Basic Stories Too! Case in Point - That Organic Food Study

Big news in recent days about a study purporting to show that organic food isn't healthier than conventional varieties.

Here's yet another example of how reporters too often report uncritically about science and health issues - and why an investigative approach is so often useful even for reporting regular news, not just in exposés and lengthy features or docs.

The study, in a meta-review, found the following: "The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods."

In terms of health, "there isn't much difference" between organic and conventional foods, study coauthor Dena Bravata said in a story.

This prompted headlines such as CBS's "Organic foods hardly healthier, study suggests" and CBC's "Organic food's health benefits questioned in U.S. study."

Uh, What about Pesticides?

Interestingly, virtually none of the headlines highlighted the fact that conventional foods had dramatically higher levels of pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Few reporters went on to look into the health impacts of consuming pesticides or antibiotic resistance - or if they did, that was buried far down in their stories.

Rather, the reporting highlighted the study's finding that pesticide levels in conventional foods generally didn't exceed government ceilings.

But wouldn't more pesticides and antibiotic resistance make any difference for health - even if they don't violate regulations? Sure, they could, as this Mother Jones piece about the study and the flawed reporting discusses.

In fact, this review of the study by Washington State University's Charles Benbrook says the study failed to include important evidence from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture about toxicity of pesticides and health risks from antibiotic resistance.

Not Nutritionally Better? Hmmm...

Finally, there's the question of whether organic food is more nutritious. This 2011 study came to the opposite conclusion: Organic food is more nutritious and in fact extends life expectancy.

In fact, this issue is somewhat of a straw man. Organic food is generally the same variety of produce, fruit or meat as conventional (with the exception of genetically modified food) - but raised using organic methods. It wouldn't be that surprising if its nutritional content isn't so different from conventional food.

Nutritional quality isn't generally why you'd eat organic food. The real reason would be less pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And that's exactly Bravata's study confirmed in organic food.

What was also lost in the coverage is that conventional food varieties (and organically raised versions of the same varieties) have seen a steady erosion in their nutritional content in recent decades. That's thanks to breeding techniques used to enhance the look of produce, even if it tends to reduce vitamin, calcium and iron levels, as this 2009 Mother Jones story noted.

If you want more nutritional content, look for heritage varieties of food - older varieties that still pack the same nutritional punch.

The issue is yet another example of why journalists and editors should bring a more investigative approach to their regular reporting - asking critical questions rather than just taking the easy way out.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Resources: Freelance Writers' Blog

Freelancers, check out the "Show Me the Money" blog about making a living as a freelance writer. It's geared to members of the Professional Writers Association of Canada, but it's got great posts applicable to freelancers anywhere.

It's cowritten by Heidi Turner, PWAC's B.C. regional director, and Carla Furlong, a business-writing strategist and University of British Columbia business instructor. Their latest post: why and how you should finally pen that non-fiction book you've got rattling around in your head, with advice from several successful authors.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Investigative Journalism Resources: Mentor Program Looking for Help, Open for Applicants

If you're a successful freelancer or investigative reporter, consider helping a newbie. In today's tough industry climate, they need all the help they can get. Or if you're a newbie yourself, a mentorship program can help you get going or to sort out a tricky assignment or career question.

The Society of Environmental Journalists has a successful mentorship program and is looking for mentors who can give advice in freelance pitching and investigative reporting. Find out more at this webpage.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Investigative Journalism: AOL News Exposé on "The Nanotech Gamble"

Just came across some great investigative reporting in this 2010 AOL News series on nanotechnology, which has become widespread in food, sunscreens and numerous other consumer products.

Nanotech has been touted as a miracle technology capable of curing all of humanity's ills - but the first safety studies have tied some nanoparticles to serious health risks, including cancer, the series says.

Meanwhile, regulations are virtually non-existent, even as nanoparticles are now in use in up to 10,000 products on the market - part of an industry fuelled by billions in government subsidies, series author Andrew Schneider reports.

The links to all the pieces in the series don't work and take you to Huffington Post's homepage. So I took the liberty of including the correct links here: "Regulated or not, nano-foods coming to a store near you," "Obsession with growth stymies regulators," "Why nanotechnology hasn't (yet) triggered the 'yuck factor,'" "Nano-products are everywhere," "Primer: how nanotechnology works," "Timeline: 16 key moments in nanotech's evolution," "Chart: federal nanotech funding shortchanges safety efforts" and "The nanotech gamble: AOL News' key findings."

Monday, August 6, 2012

Investigative Journalism: YouTube's New I Files Channel

Just learned of a great new investigative journalism resource, thanks to CBC investigative guru (and one-time boss) Cecil Rosner's worthy blog Canadian Muckraking.

YouTube has launched an investigative reporting channel called The I Files, managed by the U.S. Center for Investigative Reporting. Ten videos are already up, and future content will come from a pile of international sources, including The New York Times, the BBC and Al-Jazeera.

The channel was announced just a week ago and already has 1,700 subscribers. Scratch that -- just noticed it's now 1,701 since I started writing this!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

U.S. Prison System: ProPublica Compiles the Best Investigative Journalism

The U.S. has the world's most people in prisons per capita. How did it happen? A mix of private-prison lobbying, harsh sentencing, limited rehabilitation options, nightmarish isolation conditions that make many unable to cope once they're out, a powerful bail bonding industry -- the list goes on.

In "Land of the Free," investigative outfit ProPublica provides a great list of leading-edge investigative journalism about the U.S. prison system.

The stories cover everything from the sky-high U.S. incarceration rate to New York prison guards encouraging prisoner violence, sexual abuse in prisons and the fast-growing use of isolation units in so-called super-max prisons.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Resources: Primer on Investigative Journalism

Interesting investigative journalism primer here from UNESCO. The 88-page e-book covers the basics -- from organizing your information to dealing with sources and presenting your results.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Awards: Grantham Prize Rewards Investigative Journalism on Climate Change-Driven Deforestation

The Salt Lake Tribune documented climate change-driven deforestation in the U.S. in this interesting eight-part series - a great model for investigative journalism about the environment. 

The series has now picked up a lucrative $75,000 Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment.

Three other investigative reporting projects - a book, a documentary film and a multi-media story - won $5,000 awards of special merit. Read more here. Congrats to the winners.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Investigative Journalism: Ideas for Covering the Quebec Student Demos

Check out Bilbo Poynter's new biweekly online column, Stories Undone, all about investigative journalism in Canada on This Magazine's website.

His first column explores ideas for better in-depth investigative reporting on the Quebec student demonstrations against Premier Jean Charest's proposed massive tuition fee hike.

Bilbo is executive director and co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting (of which I have the privilege of being president of the board).

Investigative Journalism: How Obama Plays a Personal Role in Okaying Assassinations

U.S. President Barack Obama's unprecedented and gruesome role in approving the killing of every suspected Al Qaeda militant is investigated in detail in this interesting example of investigative reporting in The New York Times.

One of the revelations: Obama has the final say in each assassination at "nominations" meetings - held each week or so with over 100 national security staff to decide who will die next.

Also, when death counts from the huge number of military strikes are released to the public, any male of military age is automatically deemed to be a militant. And presto: Virtually no civilians are thus being killed in the drone attacks.

The assassination campaign has had another bonus for Obama, who was critical of the Guantanamo detention facility in Cuba during his election campaign. No detainees!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tools: 50 Cool Twitter Chats for Journos

Hook up with fellow journalists who share similar interests via journalism-related Twitter chats. These are Twitter-based discussions that happen regularly (often at a certain time once a week). Here is an interesting list of 50 good ones.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Awards: PWAC Writing Prizes Call for Entries

Canadian writers and editors take note: Entries are now open for the third annual writing awards of the Professional Writers Association of Canada. You don't have to be a PWAC member to submit your masterpiece. See here for more details.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Investigative Journalism 2.0:

Just discovered this great site about corruption stories in India: Created by the Bangalore-based Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, it harnesses citizen participation to collect stories of corruption and attempted corruption, including details to give a broader picture of the problem and to help the group press for change.