Pajama ethics: bear in mind these 4 principles when doing desktop-based reporting

Image by morgaine CC BY-SA 2.0

“Pajama Journalism”—reports you can do in nightclothes on a computer, without going anywhere or talking to anyone—should not define online news, but the practice is widespread. In a special guest post, Michael Bugeja argues that following just four basic principles of reporting can help improve this form of journalism.

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Here’s a story about a celebrity fashion charity which provides some useful tips and tricks for journalists using company accounts

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know every so often I highlight a story which uses company accounts. This latest one has celebrity and fashion, and involves a charity that’s raising money through star-studded events — what more can you ask for?

It’s a great excuse to find out about a range of techniques for finding stories and background in company accounts. Follow the thread from the tweet embedded below, or read it on Threadreader here.

Using satellite data for journalism — tips from the experts

For reporters satellite data offers unique opportunities for original investigations and visual storytelling. But how do you get started? And what should you be looking out for? In a guest post for the Online Journalism Blog, MA Data Journalism student Niels de Hoog speaks to four journalists who regularly work with satellite data about how to start, best practices and —most importantly — mistakes to avoid.

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How to use the ‘4 stages of curiosity’ as a framework for investigations

While researching my post on developing curiosity in journalism I came across Terry Heick‘s 4 stages of curiosity. It outlines 4 steps that learners go through as they grapple with new knowledge: firstly finding out what they are expected to do (the process); then understanding the content involved; then how to transfer that to particular situations; and finally how it applies to, and changes, them.

But the same model can also be adapted to provide a framework for investigations. Here’s how:

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What are regular expressions — and how to use them in Google Sheets to get data from text

In an extract from a new chapter in the ebook Finding Stories in Spreadsheets, I explain what regular expressions are — and how they can be used to extract information from spreadsheets. The ebook version of this tutorial includes a dataset and exercise to employ these techniques.

The story was an unusual one: the BBC Data Unit had been given access to a dataset on more than 200,000 works of art in galleries across the UK. What patterns could we find in the data that would allow us to tell a story about the nature of the nation’s paintings?

Some of the data was straightforward to work with: the ‘artist’ column was relatively clean, and allowed us to identify the most common male and female artist. It turned out that the latter – the Victorian botanist Marianne North – was relatively unknown. So, that was one story we could tell.


But other parts of the data were more problematic. The date column, for example, contained inconsistently formatted data: in the majority of cases a specific year had been entered, but in many others the data contained text such as “18th century” or “1900-1920” or “1800s”.

We also noticed that monarchs featured heavily in the art – but understandably there was no column that was specifically dedicated to classifying those. If we wanted to identify the most-painted monarchs we would have to create new data that somehow extracted those names from the paintings’ titles.

These problems – extracting data from existing data, particular text data – are what regular expressions are designed for. In this chapter I will explain what regular expressions are, and how to use them in spreadsheets.

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Os ângulos mais usados por jornalistas para contar histórias com dados

Nas minhas aulas e treinamentos de jornalismo de dados, costumo falar sobre os tipos mais comuns de histórias que podem ser encontradas em bancos de dados. Então, selecionei 100 reportagens baseadas em  dados, analisei-as e verifiquei com qual frequência cada um desses ângulos é utilizado.

Cheguei à conclusão de que, na verdade, existem sete ângulos principais para reportagens e histórias baseadas em dados. Muitas histórias incorporam outros ângulos como dimensões secundárias da narrativa (uma história de mudança pode passar a falar sobre a escala de algo, por exemplo), mas todas as histórias de jornalismo de dados que examinei levaram um desses ângulos como fio-condutor.

Neste post, examino como os sete ângulos mais comuns podem ajudar você a ter ideias para histórias e reportagens, assim como a variedade de execuções e as principais considerações para se ter em mente.

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Brazilian government attacks data journalist for reporting app that prescribes ineffective treatments for COVID-19

Mayra Pinheiro fala à CPI da Covid

Government says journalist “extracted data improperly” — but the journalist affirms that he only used a browser’s Inspect Element tool, reports Beatriz Farrugia.

Data journalism has been at the centre of a political debate in Brazil for two weeks after President Jair Bolsonaro’s government made allegations against a data journalist — for extracting data from a web app developed by the Brazilian Ministry of Health to prescribe treatments against COVID-19. 

The TrateCov app was launched in January 2021 for Brazilian doctors. Professionals were told they would be able to enter a patient’s profile and symptoms into the app, which would then suggest medication. 

However, the data journalist Rodrigo Menegat analyzed the app’s source code and found that, regardless of the patient’s symptoms, age and health conditions, TrateCov indicated the use of chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin — drugs with no scientific evidence supporting their use in the treatment of coronavirus. 

He announced his discovery on 20 January in a series of tweets. “Guys,” he wrote:

“I just put in the TrateCov app that my patient is a one week-old newborn who has a stomach ache and a runny nose. The app recommended chloroquine, ivermectin, azithromycin and everything else. Crime, crime, crime, crime.”

Other journalists and broadcasters tested the app and came to the same conclusion.

CNN Brazil reported that it simulated a query for a baby aged five months, with symptoms of fever and nasal congestion. The treatment recommended by TrateCov was chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

Soon after the complaints, the app was removed by the Brazilian Government.

Accused of committing cyber crime

Then on May 25th, during a public session of a parliamentary inquiry, Menegat was accused of having committed cyber crime by an official of the Brazilian Ministry of Health: Mayra Pinheiro

The parliamentary inquiry, opened late last month, is investigating the Bolsonaro government’s response to the pandemic. More than 461,000 people have died in Brazil so far. 

Approved by Brazil’s Supreme Court, the inquiry is pursuing multiple lines of investigation, such as why the Brazilian government promoted ineffective treatments and why three health ministers were removed over the pandemic. 

Naming the data journalist, Pinheiro said Menegat performed an “improper data extraction”. 

“He was unable to hack,” said Mayra. “He did an improper data extraction. Hacking is when you use someone’s password, enter a platform, a system. The term is not hacking. Today we have the official report that classifies it as improper data extraction.

“He did improper simulations. [The system] was taken down for investigation.”

In another testimony session to the parliamentary inquiry the previous week the former Health Minister General Eduardo Pazuello said that the app had been “stolen and hacked by a citizen”. 

After the allegations the data journalist explained that he had only used the browser’s Inspect Element tool to analyse the source code. 

“As a data journalist and developer, I only analyzed the source code which was public and available on the website of the TrateCov app, saved on a government server ( and accessible to any internet user curious enough to do this verification on their own.”

“The procedure has in no way altered any content on the platform”, he added. 

Since the allegations Menegat has limited his social media accounts to avoid online attacks by government supporters. 

“I am closing my Twitter account for more than an obvious reason, but I will be very pleased to show who wants to know how to use the Element Inspector to access source code from any website in the world,” wrote the journalist. 

Other Brazilian data journalists showed support for Menegat and published content explaining the technique used to analyse the app.

“The alleged hacking of the TrateCov application was nothing more than a journalistic investigation technique already used in newsrooms around the world,” said Daniel Trielli, journalist and researcher in media, technology and society, in an article published by the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper.

Here’s how one journalist used all sorts of company account techniques to tell a story about a social media platform for sex workers

Eariler this week I came across a fantastic example of using company accounts in journalism: Guardian media editor Jim Waterson‘s article on how the family that founded the sex-worker social media platform OnlyFans “extracted tens of millions of pounds from its parent company in the last year”.

The article uses so many different techniques that I put together a Twitter thread reverse-engineering the story, paragraph by paragraph. The thread can be followed below, and has also been pulled together into a single page by Threadreader here.

Here are 8 ideas for helping journalism students develop strategies to deal with online abuse

Online abuse of journalists has become so routine that a study this week recommends that journalism students need training to prepare them for it.

But how do you incorporate online abuse into journalism curricula? Over the past year I’ve been trying to do just that — here are some ideas.

1. Ask about online abuse on news days

Most journalism courses already have news days, so considering online abuse in news meetings is a simple way to incorporate the topic into teaching without having to create new classes or materials.

The International Press Institute (IPI)’s Ontheline programme provides one of the most comprehensive resources to help news organisations deal with online harassment. It recommends regularly speaking about online abuse in editorial meetings.

“The objective is to normalize discussions about online harassment in the newsroom,” they say. “An important step toward a creating a culture of safety. Journalists should feel comfortable coming forward with their experiences and concerns.”

This is especially important in election weeks: the IPI suggest that discussions about online abuse should be more frequent during politically tense periods or ahead of elections.

The Dart Center’s tip sheet

The Dart Center provides a tip sheet for journalists and newsroom managers on dealing with online hate speech and harassment which is an excellent broader starting point. The tips for colleagues can be further fleshed out with PEN America’s Best Practices for Allies and Bystanders and the 5Ds framework for bystander interventionDistract, Delegate, Document, Delay, and Direct

If the outlet you use for student journalism has its own style guide or guidelines, you can also add a section about online abuse that outlines what they should do when it happens, and resources they can draw on, such as this Trollbusters infographic on actions to take regarding a range of threats, and those listed below.

2. Include online abuse in risk assessments

The section on psychological safety from the CPJ risk assessment template

Journalists and journalism students are often required to complete risk assessments ahead of certain newsgathering activity, such as filming on location.

Typically these cover physical hazards — but The Committee to Protect Journalists provides a template for risk assessment (PDF) which includes sections on digital security and psychological security.

Advice on assessing risk can be found in the IPI’s online harassment project section dedicated to risk assessment in the newsroom.

Teaching on risk assessment can include these dimensions and point to those resources. It might be explained that risk factors include the nature of the story being covered: those relating to gender, ethnicity, immigration, extremism, disinformation, and other topics where there are strong feelings are likely to be higher risk than others.

This is also a good opportunity to talk about the risk factors related to the journalist’s own gender, ethnicity and sexuality, and how those aren’t limited to the online world: 73% of UNESCO research (PDF) respondents identifying as women said they had experienced online violence, and one in five said that abuse had moved offline.

3. Cover both sides of harassment in media law…

Harassment laws (or dimensions of industry codes) have become increasingly used against journalists — but journalists are also increasingly having to report harassment under the same laws. Media law classes on privacy, harassment, and malicious communications can address the law both as something to consider when reporting, and something that the reporter and their employer can draw on themselves.

The Library of Congress provides a collection of resources on Laws Protecting Journalists from Online Harassment — in 12 different countries, including England and Wales, Spain and Brazil.

PEN America has a section on legal considerations and publishes a guide to Legal Resources for Writers & Journalists in that country.

And the IPI has a series of videos on legal remedies to address online harassment.

In addition to the law, social media companies themselves are increasingly policing content, a form of regulation which both journalists and their audiences are now subject to. Understanding how that works — and how and when online abuse can be reported on different platforms — is an important new dimension to media law and regulation.

4. …and information security, too

Many strategies of online abuse mean the target needs to consider information security

In the media law module on my MA journalism courses I teach information security. Why? Journalists, as I concluded in research in 2015, can no longer protect sources through legal channels alone, and therefore need to understand both technological and legal defences.

This year I extended that teaching to talk about personal information security in the context of online abuse as well.

PEN America‘s Online Harassment Field Manual compiles “strategies to protect and arm yourself before you become the target of abuse, with an emphasis on tightening your cybersecurity and establishing supportive online communities who will have your back”, addressing a number of tactics used by online abusers, from doxxing and impersonation to hacking. Feminist Frequency also provides a guide to online safety.

The Data Detox Kit also outlines “steps you can take to control your digital privacy, security, and wellbeing in ways that feel right to you.”

5. Include guidelines in classes on writing for social media

Protocol to support journalists from the IPI

Social media is the main space where online abuse takes place, so classes on writing for those platforms, and related skills such as community management (the IPI has a whole section on audience moderation), are an obvious place to address some of the techniques for dealing with online abuse.

One of those techniques, for example, is to “flood social media with positive posts about the work of colleagues to drown out any abuse they may be facing”.

It may also be that those managing social media accounts are more likely to find themselves reading abuse directed at the organisation and colleagues, and to have recourse to strategies for dealing with that (concerns are being expressed that ‘audience engagement’ roles are “setting journalists up” for abuse, for example).

Recommendations in Kean and Maclure’s study (summarised here) provide a useful framework here and are worth quoting in detail:

  • “Keep work and personal social media accounts separate
  • “Use strict settings to filter out trolls — block, ignore and mute personal attacks
  • “Switch off outside office hours
  • “If the accuracy of a story is being called into question and you choose to respond, remain factual — but don’t expect to have the last word, as you can never win a ‘Twitter spat’
  • “Differentiate between attacks (personal) and criticism (on journalistic grounds)
  • “Document and threats or abuse
  • “Report abuse to management and use internal processes that are in place
  • “Speak about it with family, friends or colleagues to “take a bit of the heat out”
  • “Do things you enjoy outside work
  • “Remember abuse is never about your ability
  • “Take time away from social media if necessary and ask for an editor’s support to do so
  • “Know it is okay to be upset and that abuse is not acceptable and should not be part of the job.”

The International Women’s Media Federation (IWMF) has a Know your trolls course which can also be incorporated into social media training.

6. Organise a screening of A Dark Place

Earlier this month I organised a screening and Q&A around the one-hour documentary A Dark Place, which highlights “the experiences of female journalists who have been targeted by online harassment”.

It’s a must-see documentary, not least in understanding the gendered dimension of online violence, as outlined in a recent UNESCO report:

“Women journalists are both the primary targets of online violence and the first responders to it.

“Misogyny is one of the key features of online violence targeting women journalists, and it has been routinised … In detail and delivery, the threats are personal [and] they are often highly sexualised.”

Contact details for screening and Q&A requests can be directed to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media.

7. Ask guest speakers about how they handle online abuse

There is a good chance that a planned guest speaker will have had to deal with some form of online abuse themselves. If you feel that this might be relevant or valuable to students it may be worth asking the speaker in advance if this is the case and if they are willing to talk about that as part of the session.

Hearing respected industry figures talk about online abuse makes the topic more concrete and manageable, while helping students to put it into the context of industry practice, support systems, and ongoing developments.

8. Include online abuse as a critical issue in academic classes

Most journalism courses require students to study the critical issues surrounding the profession. Online abuse — either on its own or alongside related issues such as misinformation, privacy, social media, diversity and/or propaganda — is a strong candidate to be included as one of those. Resources you can draw on and point students to include:

How do you cover online abuse in your teaching? Please share other ideas and experiences in the comments below or on Twitter @paulbradshaw

FAQ: The changing ethics of 21st century journalism

Question mark
Image: Alexander Henning Drachmann

The latest frequently asked questions post focuses on questions from a Masters student interested in the effect of the rise of online news on journalism ethics.

Do you think that the ethical codes of journalism have changed in the transition from traditional journalism to digital?

I think the ethics of journalism have changed, yes, for a range of reasons, and in both negative and positive ways. For example, transparency has become much more highly valued as a journalistic value: journalists are expected to earn the trust of readers much more than was previously the case, and I would argue that is a positive development. Linking to sources, sharing methodologies, etc. forces journalists to hold themselves to higher standards. Continue reading