- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- All Balkan Countries
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The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN, is a close-knit group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes.
BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. As part of that process, IWPR’s original Balkans team was entrusted with the task of taking local ownership for that programme and making it sustainable, in the light of the changing realities in the region.
Since then, its work in publishing, media training and promoting public debate has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.
Network leadership is composed of award-winning journalists and editors (both local and international), all of whom have many years of professional experience. They share an in-depth understanding of, and interest in, the region and its challenges, including transitional justice, human rights, post-conflict society-building and European integration. Through the production of Balkan Insight, BIRN`s online publication, the network trains local and regional journalists, demanding the highest international standards.
BIRN consists of individual member-organisations, registered in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. Together, these organisations pool their resources, connecting their growing teams of specialist journalists – local reporters and analysts – who are trained and supported to produce top-quality, timely and relevant coverage. The regular output of analyses and reporting, Balkan Insight, is frequently backed up with public debates and other events.
In addition, the independent, non-governmental BIRN member-organisations engage in relevant local media development projects. In Bosnia, this means training on war crimes reporting; in Serbia, on minority journalism; and in Kosovo, producing televised debates on current affairs. In Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania the emphasis is on reporting on the process of European Union integration and membership challenges.
The regional activities of the Network, such as editorial, training, operational and development work, are coordinated through the BIRN “Hub”, registered in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The BIRN Hub serves to coordinate use by members of common resources, such as trainers, editors and BIRN’s websites. During 2006, the “Hub” expanded BIRN activities, and established projects in Albania, Croatia and Montenegro. Editors and coordinators put in place there are now making a welcome contribution to the whole range of BIRN’s activities.
During 2006 we implemented the “Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence", a project initiated by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and ERSTE Foundation, to foster high-quality reporting, encourage regional networking among journalists and advance balanced coverage on topics that are central to the region as well as to the EU.
During summer 2007 the BIRN Hub established BIRN Ltd. in Belgrade, Serbia, to support the development of its sustainability strategy and income-generating activities. While the BIRN Hub worked as a media training charity for the past two years, it has now broadened its scope and the reach of its regional publication Balkan Insight, through partial commercialisation, in order to create a solid foundation for sustainable media development work for the long-term benefit of journalism and the public debate it engenders across the Balkan region.
Apart from the development of its long-term sustainability, the BIRN Hub continues to implement a range of non-profit projects and activities in accordance with its long-term strategy.
To build and strengthen a dedicated, close-knit team of journalists across the Balkans, probing and analysing key transition issues and the process of European integration for policy-makers and the public at large. BIRN is taking steps towards self-sustainability, while also striving to secure its position as the premier Balkan investigative and analytical journalism organization. As part of that process, it addresses the need for objective, balanced and comprehensive reporting of the highest standard on the region's key political and economic challenges, many of which arise from pursuing the goal of EU integration.
Building BIRN's internal capacity:
The BIRN Hub and member-organisations pool their skills, knowledge and resources, seeking in the process to become more self-sufficient, effective and sustainable centres for journalistic excellence, results-oriented training and public dialogue.
Capacity is built by strengthening the services and operation of the Hub, providing staff training and support, thereby allowing further devolution of additional, specific activities to local NGO competence, with the Hub coordinating cross-regional activities, opportunities for synergies and quality control.
Supporting BIRN to build capacity externally:
In the absence of good-quality, easily-comprehensible news journalism, and of region-wide Western Balkans think-tanks, BIRN provides something which fills both gaps. In this way, a culture of accountability, consultation and responsibility in policy-making is nurtured by the BIRN Network. BIRN seeks to improve its outreach, by building and developing its websites, increasing and targeting the dissemination of its reports, and conducting at least one topical debate per month.
BIRN's reports focus on EU integration, post-conflict justice and peace-building, political transformation and democratisation, economic development, international intervention, social trends and regional cooperation. By so doing, they stand for more than just high-quality journalism – they also provide a platform to the main actors in the region's development to communicate their own messages to the wider public, and vice versa.
BIRN seeks support to implement its plans for sustainability. Currently, two approaches are being pursued: drawing on the existence and quality of BIRN's journalistic network, training and research expertise, the professional prestige and influential readership of its reports; and on the BIRN Network's prominent yet neutral position in society.
A significant step in BIRN’s progress towards sustainability was the launching of its two new websites in the autumn of 2007. While one site focuses on the organization's development and its activities, the other one is the platform for its publication, Balkan Insight.
The content of Balkan Insight will remain free for readers and republication until January 2008. After that date certain sections of the website will be available by subscription only. In addition, our expertise in the serious investigative reporting and analysis of complex reform dynamics will be channelled towards a training consultancy for other media outlets, institutes and NGOs.
We have has so far received very promising feedback from a range of potential readers, customers, investors and advertisers regarding our sustainability strategy.
This strategy will allow BIRN to keep local and international decision-makers, stakeholders and the general public reliably and objectively informed of the key political and economic reform dynamics in South-eastern Europe, thus creating a positive context for reform-minded policy and its implementation, as well as for greater investment in the comparatively poor economies of the region.
Additionally, it will also provide support to BIRN at a strategic moment, helping to consolidate its local roots and structures in the region, and bolstering its plans for self-sustainability in the near future. Ultimately, this will mean a valuable addition to the media, policy-making and society as a whole across the Balkans.
What We Do
Training is a vital component of BIRN's work and, like our reporting, it is geared firmly towards building and supporting BIRN's investigative teams throughout the Balkans.
Local journalists and analysts are engaged to produce Balkan Insight reports, each of which goes through a rigorous editorial process. By demanding the highest standards of clarity, accuracy and objectivity, editors provide 'on the job' training and guidance to these journalists.
This is reinforced with occasional training workshops, whereby particular needs identified through the editorial process are given greater attention.
Training sessions on investigative journalism for more experienced members of BIRN's teams go deeper into essential elements of this discipline, with courses covering organised crime and corruption, following a paper trail and dealing with libel issues.
Debates and Round Tables
In order to place issues raised in reports more firmly on the public agenda, and to seek their exploration or possible resolution, BIRN moderates regular follow-up debates and discussions.
By engaging key actors from the media, governments and the non-governmental sectors, such events draw additional attention and promote the 'watchdog' role played by the media in more developed countries, but still lacking in South-east European societies.
BIRN also participates in and moderates other organisations' debates. The entire BIRN team gives regular briefings, comments and analyses on the situation in the region to local and international media.
BIRN country director for Kosovo, Jeta Xharra, has pushed BIRN to the forefront of the political debate in her homeland by moderating a series of widely-watched televised discussions. "I wanted to give Kosovo viewers a more exciting show than they're used to, by providing a different kind of format in which politicians are asked challenging questions and are interrupted when they try to evade issues", she says.
While written journalism has the appeal of continuity and in-depth examination, television work allows BIRN to reach a much wider audience in the Balkans. In 2005 BIRN produced an 85-minute documentary, Does Anyone Have a Plan?, which focused on the dilemmas facing 17 ordinary people from Kosovo, Serbia and neighbouring countries in the run-up to final status negotiations. The film, directed by the award-winning filmmaker Lode Desmet, put their most burning questions to a range of leading local and international political figures.
The cooperation of BIRN's Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina teams in this project demonstrated the advantages of the Network and the role of the Hub, which developed the project, sourced funds, assisted in its implementation, evaluated its progress and presented the film regionally and internationally.