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Investigative Journalists' Favorite Toolkit in 2020

Source: GIJN

In My Favorite Tools, last year GIJN asked 12 world-renowned journalists about the devices they use. They named nearly 90 devices, ranging from databases to hardware, to their favorite offline reporting techniques.

Here are some of the best tools that emerge from the recommendations:


Signal, VeraCrypt, and OnionShare (Recommended by Roman Anin, Susan Comrie, Katherine Eban, Lionel Faull, Sally Hayden, and Ron Nixon)

An encrypted communication tool, Signal - which is available for many devices including Android, iPhone, Windows, and Mac - is the favorite of many of our respondents. Popular with whistleblowers and anyone who needs to ensure conversations are kept confidential, the app is widely available, easy to use, and most importantly, secure. Said Lionel Faull based in UK / UK:

“Signal is highly valued and recommended by people I trust in digital security. This gives me and my sources a much higher level of security and assurance than WhatsApp, both for messages and calls. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to use Signal, and that comes in handy when dealing with sources of varying technical ability or confidence. "

What about protecting and sharing not just messages, but files? Our respondents chose VeraCrypt and OnionShare. "VeraCrypt allows you to create encrypted folders to store data safely," said Roman Anin from Russia. He adds that this open source tool "also allows you to disguise a folder so that it doesn't look like a data folder, and instead looks like an app or a movie."

"OnionShare is a secure tool for sending files via Tor's anonymous browser," said Ron Nixon of AP (Associated Press). “I use it to share with my reporters in China or elsewhere, when we fear that information might be intercepted. That includes videos, documents, or whatever. "


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FlightAware (Recommended by Martha Mendoza)

Martha Mendoza from AP (Associated Press) said she used FlightAware "to track down FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) planes, or UPS, or FedEx planes". This site is a free service that offers paid options to expand features, and is used by aviation enthusiasts, journalists and researchers for its user-friendly interface and time-sensitive updates.


Flourish (Recommended by Alberto Cairo and Barbara Maseda)

Flourish is an easy-to-use tool that allows users to create interactive data visualizations to insert into the news. The service comes with a large selection of graphics, including basic options such as bar and line charts, as well as more complex visualizations such as grid charts, violin plots, and maps.


Google Earth Pro (Recommended by Susan Comrie and Marcela Turati)

"The desktop version of Google Earth Pro lets you go back in time," explains Susan Comrie, a journalist from South Africa. This application, available for Windows and Mac computers, is an essential tool for researchers looking to view specific locations - or even general areas - over a certain period of time. Users can view satellite imagery from government and commercial sources on the same platform.


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Claxon (Recommended by Barbara Maseda)

The Marshall Project, a non-profit, non-partisan news organization developed Klaxon as a tool to alert journalists to changes in online content. By using Github and Heroku, the tool "allows users to 'bookmark' parts of a web page," according to the Github repository page, and users can set up alerts to be sent via email, Slack, and Discord. Said Barbara Maseda from Cuba:

“Klaxon is very convenient, because we monitor many sites and many different sections of the site's pages. The level of customization and detail that Klaxon offers, allows us to focus on very specific elements, and that works really well for us. " (Recommended by Barbara Maseda)

“Visualizing social media connections, company structures, and creating family trees, are some common tasks that are easy to do on a daily basis using We do a lot of social media analysis, and the ability of's network map to be easily embedded and updated by simply updating the Google Sheet document makes us comfortable ”.

For a quick video tutorial on how to use Kumu, click here.


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NordVPN (Recommended by: Sérgio Spagnuolo)

Norton, the United States digital security company, issued a warning about use of public Wi-Fi. "Surfing the web or transacting on insecure Wi-Fi networks means you can expose personal information and things you do while surfing the web," he said. "That's why networking private network, also known as a VPN, is a must for anyone concerned about their online security and privacy. " NordVPN is just one of many great options for VPN providers.

According to Reporters Without Borders: “VPN can secure tracking of user behavior by Internet Service Provider (ISP /Internet Service Provider). ISPs are often nationally regulated and legally required to hand over data to governments, but VPNs are different. Some provider there may be in countries that do not cooperate legally with the government of that country who could be your enemy. "

Click here to see a comparison of VPN services, listing the countries they are in provider are located, as well as their respective technical capabilities provider.

One thing to watch out for: "Users should trust the claims of VPN providers about what they provide," warned RSF. In situations where users no longer trust the ISP they are using, a VPN could be an entity that knows everything you do on the Internet.


OCCRP Aleph (Recommended by: Lionel Faull)

In a post on OCCRP's Medium, George Greenwood, data journalist for The Times, London described OCCRP's Aleph as “a library of content that journalists should visit when conducting background research on a person or company. I have a list of 10 data sources that I run through when I create target backgrounds, and OCCRP Aleph is at the top of the list. "

Lionell Faull explain that "whenever an OCCRP journalist does coverage based on a leak in the form of a large collection of data, the leaked documents go to Aleph. So, it's a database of databases and very useful for investigative journalists. "


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RStudio (Recommended by Alberto Cairo and Sérgio Spagnuolo)

RStudio is an open source tool for data science used by data visualization experts such as Alberto Cairo and Brazilian journalist Sérgio Spagnuolo. Its various uses and the many features it offers are the advantages of RStudio.

"It's very useful and not too difficult to learn - at least the basics," Cairo said. RStudio is a good option for those who are new to programming as it offers great documentation and an easy working platform.


Wayback Machine (Recommended by Susan Comrie, Lionel Faull, Barbara Maseda, and Craig Silverman)

The last tool is the most reliable in internet research. The Wayback Machine allows users to "return" to view archived web page captures, even if the web page has been taken offline. The Wayback Machine is a project of the Internet Archive, a non-profit organization based in San Francisco.

Here's a table of all our respondents for last year's My Favorite Tools series. Many thanks to the authors for conducting the interview and writing their responses.

Whose favorite tool? Articles by Issued date
Lionel Faull Olivier Holmey January 21, 2020
Sally Hayden Helen Massy-Beresford February 12, 2020
Susan Comrie Lynsey Chutel March 17, 2020
Ron Nixon Olivier Holmey March 30, 2020
Barbara Maseda Kristina Puga April 28, 2020
Katherine Eban Rowan Philp May 27, 2020
Martha Mendoza Rowan Philp June 17, 2020
Craig Silverman Rowan Philp July 15, 2020
Sérgio Spagnuolo Mariel Lozada September 1, 2020
Marcela Turati Rowan Philp September 14, 2020
Roman Anin Olivier Holmey November 4, 2020
Alberto Cairo Rowan Philp November 24, 2020

(Brian Perlman / Translator: Okky Mabruri)

Brian Perlman is an assistant editor at GIJN. Some of his areas of expertise are research on human rights violations using digital forensics, data science, and open source engineering. He graduated from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and worked for the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law.

This paper was first published by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) and is reviewed My Favorite Tools 2020: Top Investigative Journalists Tell Us What They're Using. Distribution of this paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. Jaring collaborates with GIJN to translate and publish regularly GIJN articles for capacity building of journalism in Indonesia.


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