Tag Archives: investigative journalism

#GEN2012: ‘If journalism isn’t there to protect people, people get hurt’

Monetisation of digital journalism, described earlier today as the “elephant in this room” by CNN’s Peter Bale, formed the basis of an afternoon session at the News World Summit in Paris today, with a focus on financing investigative journalism.

There was no dancing around the importance of the issue. As Howard Finberg of the Poynter Institute put it:

The challenge, as Paul [Steiger] pointed out, is if we don’t do this people die. If journalism isn’t there to protect people, then people will get hurt.

This is not just a matter of economics to keep jobs, this is about economics that support democracy.

I feel passionately that we need more experiments, more subscription models, more donation models. We also need to figure out how we can tell the public the value of investigative journalism … even if they don’t support if financially they can support it in other ways.

He called for more creative solutions. Online it is “going to be increasingly difficult for traditional media”, adding that recent figures showed 68 per cent of online display advertising in the US controlled by the five big technology firms.

Our difficulties are fairly well documented so we need to start looking for some solutions that are different.

Also speaking about the issue on the panel, ProPublica founder Paul Steiger said he expects the decline in print advertising accelerate, “so the challenge of getting more and more revenue from online is going to be greater rather than less”.

He said ProPublica, which is funded largely by donations, is “looking at the possibility of subscriptions, but we need to make all of our stuff accessible and so the challenge is to figure out to how to keep in the conversation and how to find a variety of sources of revenues.”

He added that investigative journalism is significant for democracy and therefore “worth supporting in multiple ways, including charitable contributions”.

Knight Foundation senior advisor receives Markoff award for investigative reporting fund

Senior advisor to the president of the Knight Foundation Eric Newton has received the Markoff Award for the Foundation’s support of investigative reporting.

The Knight Foundation has invested more than $100 million (£63.2m) in reporting technologies and techniques since 2007.

The award was presented on Saturday 14 April by Lowell Bergman, the former 60 Minutes investigative reporter who founded the University of California at Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Programme, Newton says on the Knight blog as he announces his win:

Knight Foundation has invested some $20 million in investigative reporting projects. They range from establishing an endowed chair, supporting  professional and training organizations, establishment of university-based investigative reporting projects, funding for specific investigations and direct support for independent nonprofit investigative  reporting newsrooms.

Knight’s most recent investigative reporting grant was announced last week – $800,000 to the Center for Investigative Reporting to work with the Investigative News Network to launch an investigative reporting channel on YouTube.

The Markoff Award is named after New York Times journalist John Markoff.

Investigative journalism news site ExaroNews launches

A new investigative journalism site is today marking the launch of its “field trial”, during which time it will test the platform and carry a selection of articles “to give people an idea of what is coming”.

ExaroNews aims to “hold power to account” and will launch as a fully-fledged, paywalled investigative news site “in a few weeks”, with a focus on appealing to readers in the business community, Mark Watts, the site’s editor told Journalism.co.uk.

The new organisation plans to encourage WikiLeaks-style whistleblowing, hoping those with a potential story will contact the Fleet Street-based editorial team or leave the documents in an anonymous drop box, which will launch at a later date, Watts explained.

The server is physically located outside of the jurisdiction which means it makes it much safer in terms of attempts to find out who has passed information on.

As well as hoping to have leaked documents to investigate, the team of mainly freelance journalists will spend the majority of time “crawling public data for stories that are generally going missed”.

The journalists will be “investigating governments in the widest sense of that word, investigating public bodies and what they are up to” by analysing the “increasing volume of public data available”, Watts said.

Journalists working for a mainstream media title don’t really have the time to assess and make sense of that data.

The team of journalists

The growing team of journalists working for the organisation includes “people who have worked on both broadsheet and tabloid newspapers, people who have worked in broadcasting and people from trade magazine backgrounds”, Watts told Journalism.co.uk.

One of those is former Westminster correspondent for the Guardian David Hencke, he said, plus there are “those who are much fresher out of journalism college, particularly those who have learned a bit about data journalism and a bit about how to make use of information that is put in the public domain by an array of public bodies”.

Watts himself ran the investigations unit at the now-defunct Sunday Business, and has worked on the Sunday Times and on TV programme World in Action.

Sample stories

One of the stories currently on the site is on negotiations between the new Libyan government and the UK, which, according to Watts, was later reported in the Sunday Times.

Former Guardian journalist David Hencke has a series of stories on the site “how auditors found crazy examples of misspending by all sorts of Whitehall departments and all this was gathered from audit reports that were in the public domain but had not been picked up on”, Watts said.

Subscription costs

Paywall prices have not yet been set and readers will be able to access the site by paying for a subscription or can opt to micro-buy articles, Watts explained.

The site is particularly, but not exclusively, aimed at a business and City audience,  simply because we think that that’s probably where the paying audience will be, as distinct from the general consumer, which has got used to the idea of having content for free.

Once the paywall is launched readers will see a homepage with introductions to articles and will be then prompted to micro-buy or subscribe.

Investigative journalism does cost money and although people are getting used to the idea of getting news content for nothing, of course what they are often getting for free is just regurgitated, rehashed, or, to use that phrase, churned material which its no wonder is free as really it is pretty valueless.

ExaroNews is holding a launch party this evening (1 November).

Currybet: There is a lot of data journalism to be done on riots

In a blog post today (12 August), information architect at the Guardian, Martin Belam, calls on journalists to make the most of the data now available in relation to the riots which took place this week.

He says using the data is “vital” and the resulting journalism will have the power to “help us untangle the truth from those prejudiced assumptions”. But he adds about the importance of ensuring the data is not misinterpreted in time to come.

The impact of the riots is going to be felt in data-driven stories for months and years to come. I’ve no doubt that experienced data crunchers like Simon Rogers or Conrad Quilty-Harper will factor it into their work, but I anticipate that in six months time we’ll be seeing stories about a sudden percentage rise in crime in Enfield or Central Manchester, without specific reference to the riots. The journalists writing them won’t have isolated the events of the last few days as exceptions to the general trend.

… There can be genuine social consequences to the misinterpretation of data. If the postcodes in Enfield become marked as a place where crime is now more likely as a result of one night of violence, then house prices could be depressed and insurance costs will rise, meaning the effects of the riots will still be felt long after broken windows are replaced. It is the responsibility of the media to use this data in a way that helps us understand the riots, not in a way that prolongs their negative impact.

Read his full post here…

This followed a blog post by digital strategist Kevin Anderson back on Sunday, when he discussed how the circumstances provide an opportunity for data journalists to work with social scientists and use data to test speculated theories, with reference to the data journalism which took place after the 1967 riots in Detroit.

… I’m sure that we’ll see hours of speculation on television and acres of newsprint positing theories. However, theories need to be tested. The Detroit riots showed that a partnership amongst social scientists, foundations, the local community and journalists can prove or disprove these theories and hopefully provide solutions rather than recriminations.

#Tip of the day from Journalism.co.uk – simplifying investigations

Over on the HelpMeInvestigate blog Paul Bradshaw has compiled an incredibly useful list of five ways to simplify investigations. The tips include writing a hypothesis, breaking down the process into more manageable tasks and keeping a record. He also offers plenty of tools and resources to help put these tips into action.

Tipster: Rachel McAthy

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

#ijf11: Charles Lewis on the ‘interesting ecosystem’ of non-profit news

There are more than 50 non-profit journalism organisations operating today in the US, which leads the rest of the world in investigative journalism funded by private donations.

A sizable number of them – eight at last count – were founded by veteran US journalist Charles Lewis, including the Center for Public Integrity (CFPI), which has gone from his bedroom to having more than 40 staff and a budget of more than $8 million.

Lewis now runs the Investigative Reporting Workshop (IRW), which employs 14 staff, a third of which are students.

He said that the IRW was purposely “trying to mix the generations”, adding that having young people around vastly increases the organisation’s capacity to innovate.

Like the CFPI, the workshop also has a none-too-shabby budget of $2.2 million a year.

But speaking on an International Journalism Festival panel today on how small online news outlets can have an impact, Lewis said that millions of dollars and scores of staff were not a prerequsite for doing in-depth investigative work.

There is a non-profit in San-Diego that is doing this kind of work and they have two  people. They have done five impactful investigations.

One of the ways you do that is data. In San Diego they took the response times of ambulances in the city, and looked at how they differed over certain areas. This came from one dataset and one guy did it, over a few months.

Great journalism can be done by a few people.

Speaking to me after the session, Lewis said that with the rise of non-profits there was an “interesting ecosystem emerging” in US news.

Listen to more from Lewis on the future of that system and in the US and the future of the relationship of non-profits and traditional mainstream media:


New York Times: Center for Public Integrity to launch investigative journalism site

The Center for Public Integrity is to launch a new site dedicated to investigative journalism this month, New York Times reports on its Media Decoder blog.

The Web site, called iWatch News, will be updated daily with 10 to 12 original investigative pieces and aggregated content from other sources. The site will include articles that focus on money and politics, government accountability, health care, the environment and national security.

The Times’ blog post also reports that advertising will be sold on the new site although readers who do not want to see ads will be able to subscribe to an advertising-free digital edition for tablets and smartphones for $50 a year.

See the full report on Media Decoder at this link.

BBC News: Smoking out the illegal tobacco trade

BBC investigative reporter Samantha Poling has spent several months secretly filming the UK’s counterfeit tobacco trade for a documentary due to be aired tonight.

A clip from the documentary shows Poling and her camera crew being threatened by tobacco dealers with a metal pole in Glasgow’s Barras Market.

Investigating criminal gangs like these ones always carry risks. And these are risks you have to add up.

Are they worth taking in order to get the footage, to get the story told?

After looking back at the hours of evidence I had recorded, and knowing the level of criminality we had discovered, which affects each and every one of us, I knew the answer.

Read Poling’s report here.

BBC Scotland Investigates: Smoking and the Bandits will be broadcast tonight at 7.30pm BBC One Scotland. It will be available on the BBC iPlayer for a week afterwards. In the future we will explore the new regulations for vaping in public places. The article will discuss how these regulations may affect your routine and what you need to know about them. Samantha Poling has previously investigated new vape regulations and this time she’s going to give us her opinion on if it’s good or bad news.

h/t: Jon Slattery

#cablegate: BBC CoJo on Why WikiLeaks’ ‘industrial scale’ releases need journalists

In a post on the BBC College of Journalism site, executive editor Kevin Marsh reflects on the release of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, which started last week, and the essential part played by investigative journalism in similar scenarios.

Marsh argues that the lack of saliency in industrial leaks means that the “transparency style” of whistleblowers such as WikiLeaks must remain to be seen as a “precursor of journalistic possibilites” rather than a substitute.

The diplodocudump was underwhelming – but that doesn’t mean it was a Bad Thing; no journalist should argue that revelation itself doesn’t serve the public interest. At the very least, it’s about a partial correction of the information asymmetry between power and people.

Journalism – especially investigative journalism – has many shortcomings. There’s no science about what gets investigated and what doesn’t, no guarantee that it’s the biggest scandals – for want of a better word – that get nailed nor that some lesser ‘scandals’ don’t get a place in the public sphere they don’t quite deserve. No guarantee, either, that the evidence stacks up or that the ‘truth’ revealed is uncontestable.

But because of the way most investigative journalism comes about – through a whistleblower who rightly or wrongly senses some kind of moral violation – it has that magic thing we call salience. And it’s salience that leaking on an industrial scale lacks.

His comments follow those by editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger on the first day of the release last week, who also argued that newspapers were playing “a vital role” in adding context to the leaked material.

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.