Tag Archives: bureau of investigative journalism

FT and Bureau of Investigative Journalism on partnering for EU funds investigation

The Financial Times and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism have shared the details of the “considerable” work behind an eight-month investigation to document the recipients of the European structural fund.

The investigation involved dozens of journalists, researchers and coders being deployed by the FT and the Bureau, according to a report by the paper (requires subscription) on the partnership last night, which resulted in the creation of a database holding more than 600,000 records of projects and beneficiaries.

We downloaded the data, published by national authorities for the first time as part of the current budget round, from more than 100 websites of national and regional bodies. In the process, we examined almost 600 different files in 21 different languages.

The result was a database holding 646,929 records that we are puttting online for our readers to examine.

In its account of the investigation the Financial Times discusses the variation in the accessibility of data from different EU states.

Some EU states are to be commended for how they publish the data, but others have a long way to go. Estonia provides an easy-to use database. Others, such as Bulgaria, provide barely legible documents, and our team had to write a letter to the minister of the economy and make dozens of telephone calls to obtain the data in a useable format.

Meanwhile in its own account the Bureau outlines the steps that had to be taken by those involved.

The effort required to collate all the information was considerable. It involved downloading data from more than 100 websites of national and regional bodies that administer the funds, and captured in nearly 600 different files. This took months to complete.

…We are now, in late 2010, half way through the current spending round, and the database shows how funds have been allocated up to this time. We then went further to find out exactly how the money is being spent on the ground, and this has produced a series of films and news pieces.

Over the next few days the Bureau says, together with a group of international collaborators, it will release a number of stories resulting from the data. The Financial Times will cover the story for five days from today, while Al Jazeera, BBC Radio 4 File-on-Four, BBC World Service and France 2 will also broadcast programmes based on the research.

Imminent WikiLeaks Iraq cache ‘biggest leak ever’, report suggests

More classified military documents are to be released in the coming weeks by WikiLeaks, this time on the war in Iraq, according to national reports over the weekend, such as this one from the Associated Press.

News began to circulate on Friday that the whistleblowing site was planning another release following comments made by Bureau of Investigative Journalism editor Iain Overton in Newsweek, claiming the cache will be “biggest leak of military intelligence” so far.

In its article, Newsweek reports that the collection of Iraq documents held by WikiLeaks is believed to be about three times as large as the number of reports released in July on Afghanistan.

More than 92,000 documents were released to WikiLeaks’ media partners earlier this year relating to military operations in Afghanistan, around 76,000 of which have so far been published by the WikiLeaks online while the remaining 15,000 were held back to undergo ‘harm minimisation review’.

Gavin MacFadyen: ‘maniacs’ make good investigative reporters

Leeds Trinity University College Journalism Week is running from Monday 22 until Friday 26 February. Speakers from across the industry will be at Leeds Trinity to talk about the latest trends in the news media, including Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger; BBC news director Helen Boaden, Sky News reporter Mike McCarthy and ITN political correspondent Chris Ship.

Addressing journalism students from Leeds Trinity University College as part of its annual Journalism Week, veteran investigative journalist Gavin MacFadyen said he is optimistic about the future of the specialist field, despite the “bad environment” that surrounds the industry in the UK.

The American, who is the director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism and a Visiting Professor at City University London, told students about his experiences as an investigative reporter and shared anecdotes about some of the world’s most famous exposés.

MacFadyen outlined the bleak conditions that reporters face when attempting projects that are time intensive and require sufficient financial backing, and criticised the “risk averse” culture of media organisations in the UK, who refuse to fund lengthy inquiries that are costly and could end up in court.

“This kind of journalism is very rarely practised in Britain,” he said. “The media don’t want to spend the money – they don’t want to pay for it. It’s time-intensive but there’s no way around that.”

But despite the issues, he said good examples of investigative journalism remained, highlighting the MPs’ expenses scandal and exposure of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme as good examples.

The former war correspondent – who has worked on flagship programmes such as Panorama, World in Action and Dispatches – refuted concerns investigative journalism couldn’t be profitable, citing the example of French magazine Le Canard Enchaine

He described it as the French equivalent of Private Eye and explained it was “profitable because the information is critical to your life.”

And he advised students to get involved in investigative reporting, encouraging them to look for opportunities overseas where such journalism receives better funding and resources.

MacFadyen added that there was a “salvation” in the form of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit organisation that he helped set up.

When asked what skills and qualities were needed in aspiring reporters, he said: “It’s not so much [about] skills, its mania. If you’re a maniac and really suspicious and compulsive – you’re going to do well, you’ll get the skills.

“You have to know your way around public sources. You’re prepared to work extraordinary hours and put up with the endless reading of the most boring documents you have ever seen.

“But then there’s the ‘eureka’ moment and suddenly you see something on the page that’s going to nail some very bad people and it’s all worthwhile.”

What next for the UK Investigations Fund?

Last year, a group of journalists formed the UK Investigations Fund, a launch that was closely followed by a separate project, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ).

The BIJ is gearing up to officially launch soon (more on that in the next few months), but the IF had gone a little quiet and I was starting to wonder what had happened to it. Now, the radio silence is broken and the group held an open meeting in London this week.

On the IF blog, one of the founders, Stephen Grey, reports:

The Investigations Fund will remain, for now at least, a separate initiative [to the BiJ] – existing primarily as a forum both to highlight and encourage all sorts of investigative work (the kind that sometimes, but not always, struggles to surface in the mainstream media).

We have in mind a series of alternative projects to fund good investigative work – and hope to encourage donations for these. First we’re going to consult – and seek ideas on the most promising avenue – from all those who’ve offered us support, and most of this discussion will be in the open.

So we intend this website to be an open access forum to discuss investigative reporting and its future. Please do join the debate.

[Disclaimer: I signed up as a supporter of the project].

ProPublica editor-in-chief on a changed world: ‘Investigative reporting in the web era’

Britain’s own investigative non-profit bureau will soon be up and running, not quite on the scale of the US-based foundation-funded ProPublica, but a significant development nonetheless. It has over 50 non-profit examples over the world to look to for inspiration and the well-resourced ProPublica is likely to be one.

This commentary by ProPublica’s editor-in-chief looks at the organisation’s work and collaborations and focuses on the changes that have taken place over the past few years; developments that saw the Los Angeles Times publish a front page story, spread over four more pages inside, written and reported by two ProPublica reporters.

“Just a few years ago, there would have been a very slim chance that a paper of the Times’s standing would have devoted so much prime real estate to anything not entirely of its own origination and execution,” Paul Steiger writes.

Full post at this link…

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:

Propublica:

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.

Spot.us:

Pioneers of ‘community funded reporting’, Spot.us 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. Spot.us 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 Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at this link.