OSINT in Journalism

The following is an article by Ståle Grut, originally published on niemanlab.org entitled "OSINT Journalism Goes Mainstream"


It used to be the domain of intelligence agencies, but in 2020, more journalists will use the power of digital open sources for journalism. Open source intelligence (OSINT) used for journalism builds on a wide range of digital sources deriving from new camera technology and internet services.


An OSINT investigation is not one single method to get at truth, but rather a combination of creative and critical thinking to navigate digital sources on the web. Satellite imagery, social media, databases of wind, weather, and vessel movement — you name it. All of these datasets can all be combined to recreate an environment of the past in order to better understand what happened at a specific place and point in time. What started out as a nerdy effort by amateurs such as Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat, is set to upend investigative journalism in the digital age.


An OSINT investigation is not one single method to get at truth, but rather a combination of creative and critical thinking to navigate digital sources on the web.

Groups like Forensic Architecture and Bellingcat have pioneered creative new ways of getting to the truth through digital sources. Their own investigations, as well as collaborations with established media outlets like The New York Times, the BBC, and Der Spiegel, are gaining increasing attention. This lends visibility to their methods. Projects based on OSINT have received prestigious awards; a documentary about Bellingcat itself even won an Emmy.


OSINT is quickly gaining a foothold within traditional journalistic institutions. But the OSINT community is currently made up mostly of a relatively small group of skilled enthusiasts doing the heavy lifting. These specialists can be seen in the credits of most prominent OSINT stories, regardless of medium or institution. That will change in 2020 as more and more journalists will adopt these methods.


Both the Tow Center and the Global Investigative Journalism Network released guides on how to do OSINT journalism this year. The BBC made training journalists “in the art of open source media” a top priority for 2019. The results will start to show in 2020.


As more and more journalists are introduced to techniques and tools, OSINT will proliferate from large newsrooms to smaller and even individual journalists. The impressive open source sleuthing demonstrated by Ashley Feinberg proves these techniques can be as valuable to individual journalists and small newsroom as to the resourceful giants.

 

Ståle Grut is a journalist and strategic advisor at the R&D lab of Norwegian public broadcasting, NRKbeta.

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