February 24, 2020

These Reporters Rely on Public Data, Rather Than Secret Sources

At issue is an April 7, 2018, attack on Douma, Syria. Bellingcat reported, based on an analysis of six open-source videos, that it was “highly likely” that Douma civilians had died because of chemical weapons. In March, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported that there were “reasonable grounds” to say that chemical weapons had been used in the attack.

Critics of Bellingcat have pointed to an email from an investigator with the organization, saying that it raised questions about the findings. WikiLeaks published the email on Nov. 23. In a response, Bellingcat defended its reporting, saying the final report on Douma from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reflected the concerns of the investigator whose email was published by WikiLeaks.

Open-source journalism often takes the form of the authors showing their work, a transparency that tends to make their brand of journalism more believable. The documentary “Anatomy of a Killing,” for instance, is as much about how the investigators reported on the roadside shootings as the incident itself. The effect is like a magician walking you through each step of a trick.

For champions of open-source journalism, narrative transparency is crucial to the form’s credibility. It has also proved useful when its practitioners are attacked by the governments they investigate.

“I’ve seen some very sane people tell me there weren’t chemical attacks in Syria, in the same way I’ve seen very sane people tell me the Saudis aren’t bombing civilians in Yemen — they’re just bombing military targets,” said Rawan Shaif, who until recently worked on a Bellingcat project tracking Yemen’s civil war. “All you need is that doubt in order for people not to believe facts.”

For her, open-source journalism is an antidote to spin.

“You can show people how much information you know and how you know it,” Ms. Shaif said, “and they can make their own decisions.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/01/business/media/open-source-journalism-bellingcat.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

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