Investigative reporting in the digital age



Instructors: Lise Olsen, Alejandra Xanic, Lee Zurik, Denise Malan

With support from:




This self-directed course page features course content from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas' massive open online course (MOOC) titled "Investigative reporting in the digital age." The four-week course took place from February 3 to March 1, 2020. We are now making the content free and available to students who took the course and anyone else who's interested in investigative reporting and data journalism basics, including experienced investigators who seek to deepen their skills on complex investigations, collaborations and data journalism.


The course was taught by Lise Olsen, Alejandra Xanic, Lee Zurik, Denise Malan.


The course materials are broken up into seven modules:

  • Intro Module: Introduction to the course and the outline of topics
  • Module 1: Investigative Reporting - from your first idea to highly complex probes
  • Module 2: Transforming an idea into an investigative plan of action - solo or as part of a collaboration
  • Module 3: Investigating on video - from mastering the confrontational interview to tapping your audience for help
  • Module 4: The latest data journalism and dataviz tools to deepen your investigative work

As you review this resource page, we encourage you to watch the videos, review the readings, and complete the exercises as time allows. The course materials build off each other, but the videos and readings also act as standalone resources that you can return to over time.


We hope you enjoy the materials. If you have any questions, please contact us at journalismcourses@austin.utexas.edu.



About the Instructors



Lise Olsen is a senior reporter & editor at the Texas Observer magazine and previously worked as deputy investigations editor at The Houston Chronicle. Lise has investigated many twisted Texas tales, including crooked judges, an unjust execution, massive environmental disasters, myriad cases of corporate and public corruption, and unsolved serial killings. Her reports over 20 years in three states have contributed to the prosecutions of a former congressman and a federal judge, inspired laws and reforms, helped solve cold cases, restored names to unidentified murder victims and freed dozens of wrongfully-held prisoners. Her work is featured in two documentaries, CNN's "The Wrong Man" (2015) about the innocence claims of executed offender Ruben Cantu and the six-part A & E series on the victims of a 1970s serial killer, "The Eleven,” (2017). She has three times been named Star Reporter of the Year by the Texas APME. In 2019, she was part of the investigative team that broke the story of how hundreds of Southern Baptists with formal church roles—pastors, deacons, youth pastors—had engaged in sexual misconduct, leaving behind more than 700 victims. A former staff and board member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Lise speaks Spanish and French, has lived in Mexico and France and has taught workshops throughout the Americas. Her email is olsen@texasobserver.org and Twitter handle is @lisedigger.



Alejandra Xanic is an investigative reporter and more recently, editor and co-founder of Quinto Elemento Lab, a nonprofit organization in Mexico that teams-up with reporters in order to mentor, produce and disseminate their investigative projects (quintoelab.org). Xanic has worked on stories about AIDS and migration, the lives of the deaf, drug trafficking, corruption and impunity for media such as Siglo 21, Publico, Cambio and Expansión. Xanic worked with The New York Times reporter David Barstow in an investigation that revealed Wal-mart´s systematic use of bribes to fuel its growth in Mexico. She also collaborated with Ginger Thompson (ProPublica) in her investigation into the massacre in the town of Allende that followed a leak of information by the DEA. Xanic has developed an expertise in using Mexico’s Transparency laws and is an active trainer of fellow reporters around the country. She can be reached at alejandraxanic@gmail.com and her Twitter handle is @xanic.



Lee Zurik's hard-hitting investigations continue to effect change and garner respect. Lee’s work has been recognized with journalism’s top awards. In total, two Peabody Awards, three Columbia-duPont Silver Batons, 11 National Edward R. Murrow Awards, the IRE Medal, five IRE Certificates, and 12 Sigma Delta Chi Awards. Lee is currently the evening news anchor and chief investigative reporter at WVUE-TV in New Orleans. In addition, he also serves as director of investigations for Gray Television. In that role, Lee oversees Gray’s National Investigative Unit and its new OTT App – InvestigateTV. Lee is a proud member of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and was recently re- elected vice president of the organization’s board of directors. He can be reached at lee.zurik@gray.tv and her Twitter handle is @LeeZurik.



Denise Malan is deputy executive director of IRE and NICAR. She was a newspaper journalist for more than a decade, covering government, education, politics, the environment and more. After several years at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in Texas, she joined IRE in 2013 in a joint position with the Institute for Nonprofit News, helping newsrooms around the country use data in their reporting. She became a training director in 2016 and earned a master’s degree in data science from the University of Missouri in 2019. She can be reached at denise@ire.org and her Twitter handle is @DeniseMalan.



Introduction to the course and the outline of topics


Introduction

1. Welcome video

Watch Video

2. Course syllabus

Syllabus



Materials



Investigative Reporting
- from your first idea to highly complex probes


In this module you will learn:

  • How and where can you start investigating. Lies, contradictions and other investigative opportunities
  • Great sources and best places to start digging
  • Case studies: how to organize complex investigations of individuals, from a serial killer to a corrupt congressman

Video Classes

1. Digging

Watch Video Transcript Slides

2. Digging Deeper: Tools and techniques in four investigations

Watch Video Transcript Slides

3. Interview with Pamela Colloff of ProPublica (Optional)

Watch Video



Readings



Optional Resources



Transforming an idea into an investigative plan of action
- solo or as part of a collaboration


In this module you will learn:

  • What are the steps in an investigation (and how can you survive it all?)
  • How to turn a rough idea into an investigative plan
  • Case studies: how independent reporters investigated the case of Mexico’s 2,000 hidden mass graves; inside the binational investigation of how U.S. giant Wal-mart violated Mexican laws.

Video Classes

1. How to launch an investigation- Key steps

Watch Video Transcript Slides

2. A few tips that can ease work in your investigation

Watch Video Transcript Slides

3. Interview with Denise Malan, deputy executive director at IRE and NICAR

Watch Video



Readings



Optional Resources



Investigating on video
- from mastering the confrontational interview to tapping your audience for help


In this module you will learn:

  • Do’s and don’ts for conducting confrontational interviews
  • New opportunities for using social media and crowdsourcing to investigate corruption, to obtain information and investigate quickly (even in a mass disaster situation)

Video Classes

1. Opportunities for using crowdsourcing and social media

Watch Video Transcript

2. Do’s and Don’ts for tough investigative interviews

Watch Video Transcript



Readings





The latest data journalism and dataviz tools to deepen your investigative work


In this module you will learn:

  • The importance of data in investigations and how to find data to deepen your reporting
  • New options for securely sharing information with sources and collaboration partners
  • Software and skills you need for your data journalism toolkit, including free data visualization tools to make your investigation more interactive (and generate more tips from readers)

Video Classes

1. What data can do for your stories

Watch Video Transcript Slides

2. Data tools & resources

Watch Video Transcript Slides

3. Interview with Denise Malan, deputy executive director at IRE and NICAR (Optional)

Watch Video



Readings

1. Cleaning house [The IRE Journal]

2. Deconstructing data viz [The IRE Journal]



Optional Resources


Visualizing data


In this module you will learn:

  • Create visualizations that don’t just consist of designing beautiful maps and charts, but that are understandable
  • Understand essential visualization concepts, such as visual encodings
  • Choose the right chart or map depending on the nature of the data and the messages it’s meant to convey

Video Classes

1. Overview of Module 5

Watch Video Transcript

2. Anybody can learn visualization

Watch Video TranscriptSlides

3. Defining visualizations

Watch Video Transcript

4. Visualization is going mainstream

Watch Video Transcript

5. The elements of a visualization

Watch Video Transcript

6. Identifying encodings

Watch Video Transcript

7. The annotation layer

Watch Video Transcript

8. The “me” layer

Watch Video Transcript

9. How visualizations can lie

Watch Video Transcript

10. Reading too much into a visualization

Watch Video Transcript

11. How to choose the right encodings

Watch Video Transcript

12. The visual vocabulary

Watch Video Transcript

13. The big picture vs. the details

Watch Video Transcript

14. Using multiple encodings

Watch Video Transcript

15. Summary of the module

Watch Video Transcript

16. Intro to Flourish

Watch Video Transcript

17. Flourish Basics: The Data Table, Importing Data, and Column Settings

Watch Video Transcript

18. The Line, Bar and Pie Charts Template

Watch Video Transcript

19. The Scatter Template

Watch Video Transcript

20. The Table Template

Watch Video Transcript

21. Maps! Mapping Templates Overview and the Projection Map Template

Watch Video Transcript

22. The Survey Template and Layout Options

Watch Video Transcript

23. Annotations and Colors

Watch Video Transcript


Readings


Optional Resources

1. TwoTone and Morph Introduction with TwoTone Demo

Watch Video Transcript

2. TwoTone Documentation

Watch Video Transcript

3. TwoTone: Advanced Features

Watch Video Transcript

4. TwoTone: Narration Audio

Watch Video Transcript

5. TwoTone: Single or Multiple Instruments

Watch Video Transcript

6. Morph: Pie Chart Demo

Watch Video Transcript

7. Morph: Radial Area Demo

Watch Video Transcript

8. Morph: Scatter Plot Demo

Watch Video Transcript

9. The Data Journalism Handbook, chapter 7 - Delivering Data [DataJournalism.com]

10. How charts lie: Introduction by Alberto Cairo



Data-driven storytelling


In this module you will learn:

  • Determine how storytelling fits into the broader data landscape
  • Identify what makes a good data story, and what makes it relatable and memorable
  • Identify the different shapes that data storytelling can take
  • Embrace experimentation, with examples from The Pudding

Video Classes

1. From data to stories: an introduction to the module

Watch Video Transcript Slides

2. What is data storytelling?

Watch Video Transcript

3. The past and present of data storytelling

Watch Video TranscriptField of vision - Concussion protocol (Full Video)

4. How to get from idea to execution

Watch Video Transcript

5. How to make your data stories shine

Watch Video Transcript

6. A look at The Pudding's successes, experiments, and failures

Watch Video Transcript

7. Popups and Making Flourish Visualisations Mobile-Friendly

Watch Video Transcript

8. Exporting & Publishing and One-Slide Stories

Watch Video Transcript

9. Intro to Flourish Stories

Watch Video Transcript

10. Template-Specific Story Tips: Map Stories and Survey Stories

Watch Video Transcript

11. Other Story Features: Basic Slide and Audio/Autoplay

Watch Video Transcript


Readings


Optional Resources