Enabling Quality Watchdog Journalism
Independent watchdog journalism, supportive of environmental sustainability and democratic participation, is a key factor for accomplishing our mission. We apply a holistic approach to it, which combines robust research with hands-on training for journalists and practical implementation.
BlueLink is a member of the European Center for Press and Media Freedom in Leipzig, Germany since 2020.
Research and Innovation
BlueLink is committed to identifying adequate professional techniques, tools and responses which enable journalists to perform their watchdog functions, defined by the Fourth estate theory. Contemporary journalism changes dynamically under technological, market, political and business pressures. Quality investigative reporting on issues of public interest, such as human rights, democratic participation, climate and environment, is often hampered by unchecked interferences of consolidated media ownership, lack of ethical self regulation and weakened democratic institutions.
BlueLink employs a wide range of social research methods to regularly analyse the developments in the journalistic ‘field’ (as conceptualised by French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu). We study the evolving practices and norms of journalism, the impact of new information technologies and the internet on it, and its interaction with democratic civil society’s needs. BlueLink frequently hosts academic and practitioner conferences and workshops.
Countries in CEE and outside of the EU who lack traditions and market base for free media and watchdog journalism are worst affected. This is why BlueLinks analytical focus is on the Eastern periphery of the EU, South Eastern Europe and the former USSR.
BlueLink’s international research is headed by the organisation’s co-founder and executive editor Pavel Antonov, who was awarded a PhD by the Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences at the Open University, UK, for his 2008 - 2012 research of neoliberal journalistic practices in Bulgaria. A list of BlueLink’s recent studies and publications is available here.
Training and Capacity Building of Journalists
As part of its mission, BlueLink has held or contributed to over 30 capacity building programmes and training workshops for journalists from over 20 countries since 2000. Recent donors and partners for thee include: the World Health Organisation, European Environmental Agency, Europe for Citizens Programme, Green European Foundation, Internews, the German Environmental Foundation, EEA Grants, Europe Aid - Albania and WWF - Turkey.
Each BlueLink course, workshop or programme is custom designed for the particular purposes of the respective project - its thematic and geographical focus, the problem to be resolved of professional needs - addressed. Topical fields of capacity building offered to journalists have included: toxic waste disposal, nature protection, climate change, UN sustainable development goals, green energy, women’s rights, tobacco control, anti-corruption investigations and data journalism, among others.
Regardless of their specific thematic focus all BlueLink capacity building programmes are designed to strengthen independent watchdog journalism, for the purpose of fostering democracy, nature protection and shared European values. This involves strengthening the quality of reporting, improving journalists’ skills and knowledge, and equipping them with professional tools, techniques and ethical norms.
While we employ a broad variety of methodological and training approaches, BlueLink’s preference is for practically applied capacity building. This means that in all cases we strive to connect all educational, theoretical and knowledge-generation work with hands-on practical investigation and story-writing work in our curricula. The majority of BlueLink’s programmes have utilized visualised story-telling as a preferred genre for mastering participants’ professional abilities.
The preparation phase of a typical BlueLink professional training workshop would involve:
- setting of the thematic focus, purpose and expected outcomes, as well as the participan’s profile, demography and geography - based on careful research of the respective field(s);
- designing a detailed curriculum, outlining the contents, learning and practical process of the programme/workshop - in close consultation with the partners or donors involved;
- selecting a most suitable venue where participants could easily participate in a learning process while performing hands-on research, investigation, information-gathering or reporting on the selected topic(s);
- identifying the most suitable channels for reaching out the desired target group, recruitment and selection of participants, including employers’ commissioning;
- logistical preparation of the workshop/programme or close coordination with the organising parter; and
- preliminary communication with participants to maximise the effectiveness of their participation.
An average BlueLink training workshop would last 2 - 4 days. A group of 13 - 20 participants would gather in a carefully selected venue. The working process would mix three key ingredients:
- Learning - acquiring new thematic knowledge in the selected topic area(s);
- Training - developing ethical reporting, investigative, source checking and story writing skills; and
- Reporting - practical investigation, information-gathering, field reporting, interviewing and story writing.
A course leader and a senior trainer - both experienced journalists - would be in charge of facilitating the process proactively. Team spirit, mutual respect and tolerance on gender and other relevant basis will be implemented.
As part of the training component professional and ethical norms, skills and techniques would be presented, discussed and agreed upon among participants, based on shared experiences and needs. Different approaches will be discussed and compared.
Participants obtain new knowledge from leading experts from academia, civil society, business or government, who are asked to provide scientifically-grounded information, facts, science and analyses of the selected learning topic(s). On a number of occasions we have held workshops adjoined to major international conferences or scientific events, to facilitate journalists’ access to knowledge and expertise available from them.
As part of the reporting component participants investigate one or more specific story cases, interview various sources, collect different - and sometimes opposing - points of view, interpretations and data.
By the workshop’s end participants deploy collected information in real stories which they structure and - if possible - draft on the spot. Facilitators provide them with individual guidance and feedback on improving their stories. Participants are expected to finish and publish originating articles.
A performance evaluation is performed immediately after a workshop or programme, involving a collection of participants' feedback and expert assessment of the outcomes with the trainers, partner or donor.
As part of a close partnership with the Climate News Network (UK) BlueLink relies on experienced international trainers including former and current reporters and correspondents of The Guardian, BBC, Financial Times and other leading international media. We also partner with the Earth Journalism Network (USA). BlueLink is a member of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom in Leipzig.
Journalism in Practice
BlueLink’s approach never stops with the end of a training programme, as we have learned that this is seldom sufficient for accomplishing actual improvements of journalistic practice. Designing and performing programmes with practical application value and encouraging participants’ follow-up publications in their own media is essential. But not enough!
In many cases former participants depart from a training workshop, only to be confronted by and subjected to degrading editorial standards and bad practices. Some of them have been effectively prevented from applying the new skills and knowledge we equip them with. This is a waste of effort, donor resources, and extremely discouraging for journalists. To the extent that some outstanding participants quit the profession, unable to live up to their own professional dreams and aspirations for watchdog journalism.
As part of its commitment to actual change, BlueLink invests in creating a supportive and safe editorial environment for journalists, who are willing to practice socially responsible investigative and watchdog journalism up to the highest professional standards. For this purpose we launched BlueLink’s Virtual Newsroom - an innovative interactive tool, enabling journalists to participate in an enabling editorial process.
Using the latest internet-based technology the Virtual Newsroom allows for a comprehensive editorial process. It involves editorial discussions, identifying essential topics for reporting and story-telling, detailing and assigning stories to prospective authors, offering them eguidance in the investigation and information-gathering phase, and editorial supervision in the story-writing and copy editing phases. Resulting articles are published by BlueLink’s own non-profit e-magazines: BlueLink Stories (in English) and Euromaidan (in Bulgarian). A Russian language version, as well as online television channels are under preparation.
All published articles are posted online and promoted along BlueLink’s e-networking channels to relevant civil society, expert and decision maker audiences, where they could make a difference. With the help of social networking, BlueLink journalistic stories have received awards and reached tens of thousands of readers. Stories are often reprinted by other media and BlueLink partners, such as Global Voices, to reach an even greater and global audience.
Recent Workshops and Programmes
- Introduction to Tobacco Control for Bulgarian Journalists, with Smoke-free Life Coalition and WHO, in Borovets, Bulgaria, November 2019
- Covering extractive and energy industry in Albania, with Ecoprojects and EuropeAid, in Tirana, May 2019
- European and Russian journalists workshop on toxic waste, with Bellona Russia and EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, in Sankt Petersburg, January 2019
- Reporting on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals - workshop with the Bulgarian Platform for International Development, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, June 2018
- Structural change due to climate protection, international workshop with Heinrich Boell Stiftung and DBU, in Cottbus, Germany, January 2018
- Covering environmental issues along Turkey’s Black Sea coast, with WWF - Turkey, in Istanbul, June 2018
- Professional problems of women in mass media, seminar, with Bulgarian Fund for Women and the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communications, Sofia University, Sofia, October 2017
- Reporting on G-20, international environmental journalism workshop, with Heinrich Böll Stiftung, in Hamburg, July 2017
- Reporting on tobacco control policies in Kyrgyzstan, with WHO, in Bishkek, June 2017
- Biodiversity and Road Construction. International workshop for CEE journalists, with Heinrich Boell Stiftung and DBU, in Sofia and Kresna, December 2016
More about BlueLink
One of the pioneers of civil society e-networking in Bulgaria since 1998, BlueLink is an innovative hub of research and advocacy for information and participation rights, e-networking and support for civil society. BlueLInk’s mission is to uphold civil society, democracy, shared European values and environmental sustainability.
The network’s founders identified lack of independent quality journalism as a primary risk for democracy and civil society. Since 1999 BlueLink.net has been energetically building the capacity of watchdog journalism in the fields of nature protection, sustainable development, green energy, human and minority rights.
BlueLink operates from Bulgaria across the EU. Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), the Balkans, former USSR and Turkey. BlueLink is a member of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and supports the Global South as a member of the Association for Progressive Communications. BlueLInk is a partner to the Climate News Network (UK); the Earth Journalism Network (USA), a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, and many other international and national coalitions, platforms and initiatives.
Support for BlueLink's Journalism Programmes
Изпълнението на журналистически и медийни дейности на БлуЛинк става възможно чрез проекти, подкрепяни от множество донори и партньори, сред които:
EEA Grants NGO Support Programme for Bulgaria
Europe for Citizens Programme
World Health Organisation
Earth Journalism Network / Internews
Green European Foundation
The German Environemntal Foundation
Heinrich Boell Stiftung in Brandenburg
Bulgarian Fund for Women
Voice in Bulgaria Legal Aid Centre