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#Tip of the day for journalists: How to get data out of council budget reports

February 19th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Top tips for journalists

Image by Dave Dugdale on Flickr. Some rights reserved

If you are a reporter for a local newspaper, site or radio station you will no doubt be tasked with looking at council budgets reports.

If you have not tried getting data from PDFs to spreadsheets, this guide written by university lecturer Paul Bradshaw and published on Help Me Investigate is a must read.

Bradshaw includes links to lots of useful tools.

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#Podcast: Examining data-driven health reporting

February 15th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Podcast
Image by a.drian on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Image by a.drian on Flickr. Some rights reserved

This podcast looks at how health data can be a source of stories.

We hear how journalists are using information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, scientific reports and open data as sources. technology editor Sarah Marshall speaks to:

You can hear future podcasts by signing up to the iTunes podcast feed.

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#Tip of the day for journalists: Tap into these resources for reporting health

November 2nd, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Top tips for journalists
Image by jasleen_kaur on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Image by jasleen_kaur on Flickr. Some rights reserved

The Help Me Investigate blog has a couple of tips on resources for health reporting.

A short post points you in the direction of European Health Journalism and the Health Reporting Training Project.

If you have a tip you would like to submit to us at email us using this link.


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#Tip of the day from – learn from the Olympic torchbearer study

August 6th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Top tips for journalists

Last month we reported on the launch of the first Help Me Investigate ebook, which details a study of the allocation of Olympic torchbearer places.

The platform, set up journalism academic Paul Bradshaw, has used crowdsourcing and other methods to analyse the 8,000 people awarded the honour of carrying the Olympic flame across the UK.

The Guardian helped gather responses to Help Me Investigate’s list of “mystery torchbearers”.

On the Online Journalism Blog, Bradshaw has today posted the second of a two-part post explaining how the study was carried out. Today’s post looks at verification, the usefulness of Google Alerts, how SEO meant that others could find details of the project, as well as the benefits of working collaboratively.

Today’s post and the first-part are well-worth reading and provide tips on online journalism research techniques.

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#Tip of the day from – dealing with refusals of FOI requests

August 19th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Top tips for journalists

Chris Dodd came across an exemption he had never seen before after putting in a freedom of information (FOI) request.

Writing in the Help Me Investigate blog, he explained how the Section 44 exemption is the equivalent of “the blue screen of death” because the public body does not need to consider the public interest of the data.

In his post FOI: What is the Section 44 exemption and how can I address it?, Chris looks at ways to address this refusal and various methods of overcoming the hurdles public bodies may put up when denying access to data.

Tipster: Sarah Booker

If you have a tip you would like to submit to us at email us using this link – we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.

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#Tip of the day from – getting data out of PDF files

June 10th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Data, Top tips for journalists

In this post on his Help Me Investigate blog, founder Paul Bradshaw gives six ideas for ways to get data out of PDF files and unlock the information you need. Possible options include using Google Docs’ conversion facility, Document Cloud or the Data Science Toolkit. Tipster: Rachel McAthy.

To submit a tip to, use this link – we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.

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Online innovator to leave university post after ‘complicated decision’

Online journalism innovator Paul Bradshaw has taken voluntary redundancy from his post as course leader for the online journalism MA at Birmingham City University, in what he says was a “complicated decision”.

Bradshaw, who is also founder of the Online Journalism Blog, hopes he can now invest more time in his own projects, with immediate plans to develop his Help Me Investigate site.

“It was a very complicated decision,” he told “There are a lot of opportunities around data journalism that I want to explore and I want to spend more time on Help Me Investigate. I felt it was probably the right time to dive in to more of those opportunities and now I have time to accept offers I have been made. But I am wary of taking too much work on. Part of the point is to invest more time in Help Me Investigate. I plan to start some development work and explore business models soon.”

Bradshaw is also already working on two different books, his own on magazine editing which is set to be completed by the end of the year and another dedicated to online journalism, which he is contributing to with former news editor Liisa Rohumaa, likely to be out by early next year.

On top of all that, he admits he may  keep his toes in the teaching pool.

“I will certainly miss parts of teaching,” he told “I absolutely, enormously enjoyed teaching the students this year. Some of their work has been the best so far. I may still do a bit of teaching, but I think I have always wanted to keep growing and developing. The students say they are gutted, but they were quite excited and positive about what I am doing. I am experiencing a huge jumble of emotions. I am excited about the possibilities but I am really going to miss the students and staff.”

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#Tip of the day from – mining the ‘hidden web’

November 4th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Top tips for journalists

Online research: Website Help Me Investigate has provided an information-packed guide on mining the ‘hidden web’ for research and ways to track court rulings in the UK. Tipster: Laura Oliver.

To submit a tip to, use this link – we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.

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Jon Bernstein: Where now for accountability journalism?

Clay Shirky believes the demise of most newspapers to be inevitable, not a recessionary blip but a structural certainty. The long-term, digital future is bright but the short-to-medium term outlook is bleak for our news media.

Who, he asks, is going to pick up the mantle of accountability journalism? Shirky, New York University professor and one of the most insightful voices on digital media and its impact on news journalism, paints the following picture.

The newspaper is unsustainable for two broad reasons. First, as an advertising-supported business it has overcharged and under delivered.

This was all very well when it was the only show in town but once its recruitment business got monstered by Monster and its classifieds delisted in favour of Craigslist, the party was clearly coming to an end.

Secondly, he says, the newspaper always lacked coherence.

While people remain interested in expert editorial judgement and serendipity, they are not thirsting for the ‘single omnibus publication’. The future is content unbundled, often delivered by members of the audience disseminating links via social media.

And why is this bad news for anyone except the proprietor, the publishing magnate and the benefactor?

Because, says Shirky, it leaves a vacuum where once newspapers acted as a bulwark against the excesses of commercial and political classes. In place of accountability you have ‘casual, endemic, civic corruption’.

Shirky believes new models will eventually fill that vacuum but not soon enough to replace the old, decaying model.

And where will these new forms come from? Broadly through commercially viable alternatives to the newspaper; through organisations funded by donation, endowments or taxes; and through social production, aka the crowd.

It is the latter two where we are starting to see some interesting ideas emerge. And here are a few places – from either side of the Atlantic – you may want to look to see what the future of accountability journalism may look like:


An independent, non-profit newsroom, ProPublica boasts the ‘largest news staff in American journalism devoted solely to investigative reporting’. Thirty-two working journalists to be precise.

Supported entirely by philanthropy, it offers the fruit of its labour free of charge – and it either self-publishes or hands it over to large media outlets.

ProPublica also has a ‘distributed reporting’ unit, which aims to draw on the energies and expertise of the pro-am crowd. It’s headed up by Amanda Michel, formerly of Huffington Post’s OffTheBus.

Huff Po, meanwhile, has its own Investigative Fund while the Center for Investigative Reporting pre-dates ProPublica by a three decades.

Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Coming soon, the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) gets to work in November and will open for business in 2010.

The model is production house, not publisher and, unlike ProPublica, it intends to sell stories into magazines and newspapers. It will be led by Iain Overton, formerly of More4 News (and an ex-colleague).

BIJ’s was created by the people at the Centre for Investigative Journalism and it will also draw on the recently launched Investigations Fund. It is able to get off the ground thanks to a £2m endowment from the David and Elaine Potter Foundation.

Pioneers of ‘community funded reporting’, has a very Web 2.0 business model.

Users of the site create news tips inspired by specific issues they are interested in that have yet to be reported. journalists turn those tips into story pitches and small donations  (increments of $20) are sought before the investigation is undertaken. The finished piece is freely available to anyone, big or small, to republish.

Only if a news organisation wants the story on an exclusive basis must it pay, in this case at least 50 per cent of the cost of the investigation.

Help Me Investigate:

Brainchild of Paul Bradshaw, a senior lecturer in online journalism at Birmingham City University, this is another example social production.

Launched with an initial focus on Birmingham, Help Me Investigate describes itself as ‘a community of curious people, and a set of tools to help those people find each other, and get answers’.

Recently completed investigations have sought discover why a new bus company is allowed run a service on the same route and same number but at a higher price; which Birmingham streets are issued with the most parking tickets; and how much Birmingham council spends on PR.

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for You can read his personal blog at this link.

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#Tip of the day from – tools for organising your research

September 14th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Top tips for journalists

Research: Investigative journalism site Help Me has posted a guide to the best browser-based tools for organising your research – including Groowe, Evernote and Interclue, which it describes as a serious time-saver. Tipster: Laura Oliver.

To submit a tip to, use this link – we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.

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