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Protecting Sources, New Reporting Tools Focuses of African Investigative Journalism Conference

At Wits University’s three-day African Investigative Journalism Conference in October, NRGI staff and four NRGI media fellows from Nigeria and Tanzania developed a deeper sense of how the media landscape in Africa is changing—particularly as it relates to oil, gas and mining reporting.

Though it wasn’t possible to take in all of the conference--300 journalists and media development professionals from the continent attended--below are some key takeaways:

New information sources are popping up. Journalists were exposed to a host of new and old data sources at AIJC. These include sector-specific strategies, or data sources, that are widely available but seldom used. NRGI develops data portals like resource projects and resource contracts to liberate data and make it accessible for different oversight actors. Journalists are well placed to use these data. NRGI led a session on natural resource sector data. The session emphasized that extractives stories are often the product of in-depth investigation, sometimes requiring on-the-ground presence and vital local insights.

Few journalists are using available extractives data and oil, gas and mining contracts remain intimidating to analyze. NRGI continues to support journalists by teaching them how to parse such data and use it to develop important stories. In another session, we delved into easily accessible open sources and learned that public documents can corroborate corruption allegations. Requesting public records from bureaucrats at ministries and police stations and consulting public libraries, for instance, can be surprisingly helpful in enriching an investigative story and providing balance. These sources provide new angles for bigger-picture stories such as how many days a president spends abroad in a year, or inconsistencies in police reporting that need hard evidence to substantiate.

In an era of contested truths, fact checking is more important than ever. Fleshing out the truth behind public claims is vital as the use of images and videos to tell stories gets easier and more common. A session led by former Code for South Africa Director Ray Joseph worked through new tools to help journalists authenticate data, facts, images and to avoid errors in their presentation of facts. For example, reverse image searching with TinEye or RevEye allows a journalist to see where else a particular image has been used and when it was used to debunk narrative manipulation in stories. Counting Crowds verifies the number of people gathered in a crowd. This tool is useful in crosschecking claims about attendee numbers.

Tools exist to protect sources and reporters. Journalists can be tracked or hacked via their digital devices by authorities or other interested parties. At the conference, we learned how to secure our identity, assets and technology in an increasingly online and mobile world. And security is not just about protecting ourselves—it’s about shielding sources. We can use different tools and methods to secure our devices and communications when developing stories (e.g., Signal for messaging, MailVelope for emails, Jitsi for video chats) to minimize risk. A common characteristic of these tools is they are often published on open source software and are user-friendly. However, reviewing the security level of these tools periodically to ensure they provide adequate protection is a must.

Toyin Akinniyi is a media capacity development associate with the Natural Resource Governance Institute. Ryan Powell is a consultant with NRGI. Kelvin Matandiko, Juma Juma, Idd Juma and Isaac Anyaogu, who contributed to this blog post, are NRGI media fellows.