By Basit Ali Khan
Islamabad: Attending conferences is always helpful for seeking knowledge, gaining new
experiences and professional growth. I was fortunate to get such an opportunity offered by
Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN)– one of the leading global investigative
journalism organizations. This was the first ever foreign conference I attended in my career. I
have been attending a few conferences in Pakistan on different social issues, but the GIJN’s
conference was simply awesome!
More than 1,000 top class journalists from 130 countries were part of the conference held in
Johannesburg, South Africa dated from 15 th Nov to 19 th Nov, 2017. It was a four day event but it
proved to be a sea of knowledge offering hands-on and other sessions for journalists to learn ,
improve and sharpen their skills. Sharing the same room with top investigative journalists was a
different experience altogether. The four days were offered variety of lectures and discussions
from topnotch journalists across the globe.
The conference had different lectures, orations and presentations about journalism and its
principles. Nonetheless this conference proved a fast track to learn the basic techniques of data
journalism. For instance Brant Houston’s lecture on ‘Building your own database’ would have
been very worthwhile for a person who is keen to learn the basics of Microsoft Excel. His
lecture highlighted the mistakes which we journalists usually do while placing entries on excel.
The lecture further highlighted the techniques of how to categorize the information into Excel.
The conference had variety of lectures in term of modern journalism. There was also a practical
session on data analysis in Excel, and we reconnoitered some of the most common calculation
used by data journalists like SUM, Average, Percentages and percentage change. Moreover, the
speakers were so cooperative that if a person remained behind or had a query regarding any
calculation, they would halt the proceedings unless the person is fully satisfied or have been
able to learn the technique.
One of the most important tools of Excel which makes one understand or identify the direction
of the story easily is the Filter (Ctrl+Shift+L). There was another practice session on how and
when to utilize this tool. Sort and filter are the basic tools of Excel but both are complicated as a
single mistake can ruin your entire work. A golden principle I learned from one of the speakers:
‘Always save the original before going to analyze it’.
The lecture of Raymond Joseph was also very interesting; it would be very beneficial not only
for a journalist but also for a common person as well. The room was full as there was no space
left to sit but somehow people managed to sit on the desk and few remained standing. The
main focus of the lecture was how to tackle the fake news and how to verify it with some free
online tools available on the Internet. The speaker described briefly about the usage of these
The conference was very useful for investigative journalists. Many lectures involved the practice
of different renowned organization data portal. ICIJ’s journalists who broke the Panama scandal
and shook the whole world were also part of this conference. Will Fitzgibbon, an ‘ICIJ Journalist’
took the floor to make people learn ICIJ data portal so that it would help journalists in further
investigation about companies named in Panama and Paradise scandals.
There was also a lecture in which some data journalism experts were sharing their views over
best practices and techniques of data journalism. All journalists shared their experiences of
data journalism, e.g what do they do while teaching data journalism to their student and what
mistakes should be avoided while doing it?
The conference offered many other lectures such as data visualization, Web scraping, tracking
looted wealth, Document Cloud and data cleaning. All lectures were very interesting and full of
information which would surely help in making different and compelling investigative and data
stories. Furthermore, there were also many lectures on free online tools which would definitely
be useful in doing investigative stories. An Awards ceremony was also held at the conference
where prizes were given to the best investigative stories from around the world. The winner
received ‘Global Shining Light Awards and US$ 2,000.