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Credit: Image by TapiF on Flickr. Some rights reserved
The Syrian conflict blogger and munitions investigator Eliot Higgins, better known as Brown Moses, is set to launch a new website as a platform and resource for open, investigative journalism in early 2014.

The as-yet-unnamed site will act as a hub for bloggers like Higgins to publish their work and background on how they approached the stories. As well as investigations based on open information – like user-generated content (UGC), public data and web tools – Higgins and other writers will explain the process of analysing and verifying such information, internet security techniques and how-to guides on the area.

"It's going to bring people together in a network to share their work," Higgins told Journalism.co.uk, adding that it will share the stories and skills of "people who have a great deal of knowledge about specific subjects and use open-source information."

Higgins has become renowned for his investigations into weapons used in Syria. In recent months he has investigated the 21 August chemical weapons attack in Damascus and fact-checked official statements from the international community, while his insight into the latest developments in Syrian munitions led to interviews with CNN and CBC.


A video showing a large, unexploded DIY "barrel bomb" in Kafr Zita, verified by Brown Moses

Stuart Hughes, a senior world affairs producer at the BBC, recently said Higgins had "probably broken more stories than most journalists do in a career" for a feature in the New Yorker, but all of Higgins's work has been based on open tools, social media sources and UGC.

"I'm going to have a really big focus on how to use social media," he said, "teaching people how to do what I'm doing."

"Every time I write about this subject it gets a lot of views and I'll interview people, journalists and NGOs using these techniques, and write how-to guides about the process I went through."

Higgins regularly shares his techniques and resources on his blog, including a list of hundreds of Syrian Facebook pages and YouTube channels sorted by district, but said the new site will act as a central hub for the broader ideas of open journalism rather than just his work on Syria.

"It's not just about using these videos and saying 'these videos show this'," Higgins said, "you can take those videos and use that to inform investigations on the ground."

This new stuff, investigations using open sources, can inform traditional methodsEliot Higgins
As an example, he pointed to a story run by the New York Times claiming the Saudi government armed Syrian rebels with weapons from Croatia, and credits Higgins with identifying weapons used in the conflict. The New York Times presented his work to unnamed officials "familiar with the purchases" to uncover the truth, Higgins said, and published a blog post by him detailing how foreign weapons had spread through the conflict.

"It's traditional journalism and this new journalism working together to break a big story," he said.

"I don't want it to be old journalism vs new journalism, I want them to work together because this new stuff, investigations using open sources, can inform traditional methods."

Higgins's new site will be working with Uncoverage, a crowdfunding platform for investigative journalism due to launch in 2014, giving writers a 'bio' page that will link to a profile on Uncoverage where readers can donate to support authors, topics or article pitches.

It will also partner with Heavy.com, which Higgins said is looking to support more investigative journalism, in promoting the work of its writers.

Other prominent writers involved in the site include the University of Maryland researcher and Hezbollah expert Phillip Smyth, Peter Jukes, who crowdfunded £4,000 to cover the phone-hacking trial, and others who will be announced closer to the time of launch.

Earlier this year social news wire Storyful launched a Google+-based open newsroom for journalists to share tips and assist in the verification of UGC. Both Higgins and Malachy Browne, news editor of Storyful, will discuss "the changing face of news gathering" at a Frontline Club event in January.

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