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The end of the scoop – News:rewired notes October 2011 #newsrw

#newsrw - Collaboration in investigative journalism

Christine Spolar, FT; David Hayward, BBC CoJo; Paul Lewis, Guardian. Photo: John Thompson/Flickr

The last session I could make it to at Journalism.co.uk’s News:rewired conference 2011 was on investigative journalism and its precarious future.

Before I go into more depth on what the four speakers said – I’ll start with the most reverberating statement which many readers may find contraversial – but in which all four panellists were in agreement – it’s the end of the scoop.

Here’s what it said about the session in the programme:

Collaboration in investigative journalism

  • It has often been said that collaboration is key for the future of investigative journalism, be that working in partnership with other news outlets or media bodies, or harnessing the power of the community in investigations. This session will feature advice on how best to make a go of large projects by sharing resources and inviting the community to help dig with you.

With: Iain Overton, managing editor, Bureau of Investigative Journalism; Simon Perry, founder, Ventnor Blog; Paul Lewis, special projects editor, the Guardian and Christine Spolar, investigations and special projects editor, the Financial Times.

Iain Overton – don’t let exclusivity stamp out profitable collaborations

#newsrw - Iain Overton

Iain Overton, Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Photo: John Thompson/Flickr

First up Iain Overton from Bureau of Investigative Journalism – a not-for-profit org which runs investigations for press and broadcast media. Since April 2010 TBIJ has seen 26 front pages. He was buoyant about now being a great time for investigative journalism. The Economist and FT have new investigations editor – it’s refreshing, he said when elsewhere there’s a real lack of in-depth original reporting.

Glossing over the outlook for investigative journalism, however, Overton outlined how investment is a perpetual problem – you have to think about the cost of paying journalists to live in London, lawyers and the like – you could get multi-skilled TV producers like at ITN – but there’s a to what one person can do (amen!), so you need to generate as much sales across as many platforms as possible.

But regaining an optimistic tone, Overton said there were exploitation opportunities for the web and multi-media – it’s not just about being a Sunday exclusive read – and this is where collaboration is key. In particular international collaborations. “The easiest way to find money for is international documentaries based on human rights” – he said, as there’s a ready market. But if you become too specific other commissioners get bored.

Then came Wikileaks – and the biggest media collaboration ever. But sometimes exclusivity deals can kill investigative collaborations (which Overton said the BBC was a particular cuplrit for). The model is still sustained by philanthropy – collaborations need to be subsidised. Overton ended on saying investment in investigative journalism could put more energy and financing into the beleaguered journalism industry.

#newsrw - Paul Lewis

Paul Lews Photo: John Thompson/Flickr

Next up Paul Lewis – special projects editor at the Guardian, who grew in notoriety for his uncovering of the Ian Tomlinson protest video and ensuing Met police drama – and more recently for his open reporting of the London riots and current investigation into the causes of the riots.

Lewis said investigative journalism is now always collaborative – “I’ve discovered that increasingly we investigate in the open” – rather than holding the scoop until the end journalists are now more likely to do their digging and uncovering in online public forums. So his recent Mark Kennedy rolling blog – Lewis would reveal much material to the readers but hold some things back but soon found through telling readers what he was working on it made more people come forward with information. He’s also got a lot out of reader comments on the investigations blog – asking for a collaborative process with readers:

“One of the people involved in the unit was posting in the comments section and he was bonafide – he was a source with incredible information. It’s not the case the most difficult and sensitive topics are immune from investigating.”

Twitter underscores all of this – said Lewis, who often starts tweeting about stories as soon as he hears about them, and felt that with the reporting of the riots it was the most open & raw form of reporting available – and through which he gained a healthy 35,000 followers – listening to readers suggestions as to where to go, accepting offers of cups of tea and correct any mistakes.

“It’s a discussion and there’s no finality to it – the facts get more clear as you go along. It’s a massive collaboration.”

Now a team of researchers from across the UK are interviewing those involved in the riots and analysing 2.5m tweets  “For me as a journalist it’s fantastic,” he ended with.

#newsrw - Christine Spolar

Christine Spolar, FT. Photo: John Thompson/Flickr

Christine Spolar from the FT said the old investigative model is a luxury. She talked about collaborations outside the institution – and how both parties have to think about what each partner is bringing to the table. A lot of her time is spent on the phone to fellow news organisations, working out who is working on what and sharing lines of thinking. You have to be able to work closely with people, she said – freely be able to discuss and demand things.

Finally Simon Perry took us through how readers getting involved in looking into council expenses led from one comment to a story in Private Eye and his new Armchair auditor blog on VentnorBlog (soon to be On the Wight).

“Prepare the ground and drop the seed in a fertile ground and people feel empowered”

So who said ‘the end of the scoop’? Well Paul touched on it in his talk – and then he said it again in answer to a question about reader comments:

A cultural shift needs to take place – the scoop moment has gone. What matters more – that the truth is out – or you put it out? Public interest journalism is key.

Spolar added:

The scoop is gone – you have to be satisfied with offering a version of transparency. You want to work for a news organisation that values that. Needs stories for the world which tell you why society is the way it is.

So there you have it – three top investigative reporters and editors are talking about open investigations, open collaboration between rival news orgs and how public interest journalism is more important than being the first to the scoop. An incredible interesing and valuable session at News:rewired where a real debate got underway. I for one look forward to seeing investigative units develop – in an age where we can’t even remember who broke the news first (“the important news will find me”) – it really felt like these people are doing a vital public service in bringing important news to light (the police aren’t even holding an inquiry into the riots and how they happened) – the more open journalism, in-depth investigations and collaborative efforts the better.

See more from News:rewired here.

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