Tag Archives: investigative journalism

Bloggers and anonymity

Shocking though it is to say, as I’m not a huge Guardian fan, The Guardian‘s comment on the unmasking of a police blogger by The Times is spot on.

Crucially, Guardian digital content director Emily Bell recognised The Times‘s move was:

No surprise given that old publishing models benefit from restriction rather than spread of information.

Here is the core of the issue. Newspapers – those great bastions of democracy and human rights – are elitist at best and repressive at worst. 

The whole drive of digital publishing is towards free access to global media for almost everyone (at least in the industrialised world).

You don’t have to have money or influence in order to report or comment on your corner of the world – or anyone else’s. You can fire up a blog, or upload video, or simply Twitter what you want to whatever audience you can develop.

And the old-style media hates it. 

I was taken to task by journalism professor Tim Luckhurst for commenting “anonymously” on his university journalism site (ie in my web identity as Freelance Unbound).

Yet if I had come to him with a whistleblowing story, I would have relied on him to protect my anonymity as a source. 

But of course, the problem with the new digital media model is that people are increasingly both the source of stories and those who report them. 

So how do old-style newspapers respond?

In unmasking police blogger Nightjack, The Times caused two things to happen. First, his blog has been pulled. And, second, Nightjack himself was disciplined by his employer. That’s great – thanks old media. I’m really glad you’re on my side.

This isn’t a popular stance, of course. Even some fellow members of the blogging community seem to agree that blogging anonymously shouldn’t be protected by law. The good folk at FleetStreetBlues argued that “it is a decision which is good for journalism”, for example – though they blog anonymously themselves.

But the problem is that journalism is in the midst of dramatic technological change that is changing the relationship between the media, its consumers (let’s call them citizens) and government. 

The old idea that it’s the role of crusading newspapers to expose corruption and wrongdoing is largely a fantasy. MPs’ expenses aside, papers are mostly full of celebrities and entertainment. 

But now whistleblowing citizens can publish direct to the web, bypassing the media gatekeepers. And I think that’s great. 

Yes – you’ll get a whole load of prejudice, ill-informed ranting and bad writing. But you don’t have to go far in what used to be Fleet Street to find that, too.

The flip side is that, in a society that is increasingly watched, recorded, monitored and controlled by the government and its various agencies, the right to privacy is increasingly bound up with civil liberty. 

It’s a tough issue. One of the things that ubiquitous digital communication brings with it is ubiquitous exposure online. Just ask the people who live their lives on Facebook and Flickr. 

Which is why newspapers, rather than pursuing their old-style self-interest in exposing information for their own gain, might serve the public interest better by protecting our privacy – and our ability to publish anonymously – a bit more. 

[Hat tip: Bristol Editor]


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Could investigative journalism save the Evening Standard?

Unsurprisingly, journalism bloggers have been keen to jump on the relaunched Evening Standard as a topic for posting. (Surprisingly, I got in quite early – normally I’m days or weeks behind the curve). 

I wrote that the Standard could go for a local news aggregation model in a bid to offer something different, and attractive, to readers.

FleetStreetBlues punts in with the notion that investigative journalism might be the Standard’s saving grace:

Why not completely scale back its general news coverage, relying more on wire copy for the stories that readers will already have seen or heard about elsewhere anyway, and put all its spare resources into investigative journalism?

It’s an interesting take. I’m a firm believer that no one is actually interested in the news anymore – a perhaps sad reflection on our shallow, trivia-obsessed society. (Or maybe just a sad reflection on me.) But also a reflection that there’s just too much of the stuff around. 

But the FleetStreetBlues crowd have at least partly recognised this. The idea that you’d just give up on general reporting and use the wires – like the freebies do, I imagine – is bold and sensible.

I have to say I find their suggestion that  “every day the newspaper vendor’s sandwich boards would be plastered with one jaw-dropping expose after another – so jaw-dropping that there and then readers would be willing to part with their 50p.” a little fanciful. 

(Actually, so do they. “Could it work? Probably not”, they admit, cheerfully.)

But the idea that you should stop doing the things you’ve done for decades and think of doing something differently is key to making the modern news media work.

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The investigative journalism debate hots up. Kind of.

Despite the fact the the internet is essentially destroying [if creatively] my profession, I love it. Mainly because in the space of a few days it can create links between me and a journalist in Leeds via a publication I’d never heard of and a blog that he’d never heard of. 

So thanks to Simon O’Hare for taking the trouble to come up with effectively a letter to the editor in the comments section to my admittedly slightly snarky post about his analysis of publishing’s woes.

Mostly a comment to a blog won’t make the news, but hey – I’m quite new here. And as this is partly a learning and teaching tool I’m actually pretty pleased that the interconnectivity side of web journalism seems to be working just fine. 

Of course, that and a couple of quid will buy me a cup of coffee. Making money out of all this is another matter. 

In that respect, O’Hare’s piece is pretty on the mark:

Almost anyone can write a blog from their bedroom – but this begs the question of whether there is a place for the paid journalist

Very much an open question I think…

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Investigative journalism? Not really…

Regional magazine Leeds Guide flags up a “major investigation” into the death of print newspapers

Well – it’s 1,250 words, which is hardly the Sunday Times Insight exposé of Israel’s secret nuclear programme we saw in 1986 (around 3,250 – and, you know, I think it probably took longer to research).

Also, while it’s nice to see author Simon O’Hare looked up his figures (profit, loss, chief executive payoff etc), his interview sources are a BBC Newsnight editor quoted on the NUJ web site, and a former Leeds Guide deputy editor – hardly pushing the boat out in terms of “investigative” sources.

This is the problem with journalism. It’s so expensive to do the investigative kind that no one can afford to do it any more. And many younger members of the media won’t even remember what real investigative journalism is like – which is why they might mistake this piece for it.

In conclusion, O’Hare argues:

People will continue to use the internet for social networking, but they will still want to obtain authoritative news.

Really? I wonder. Actually, I think people don’t care half as much about news as people in old media think they do. What they care about is entertainment and connectivity (a subject for a later post). 

In fairness, O’Hare is paraphrasing Rupert Murdoch, who he then goes on to quote (from a published speech in 2008, not a phone interview, of course): 

Unlike the doom and gloomers, I believe that newspapers will reach new heights. Readers want what they’ve always wanted: a source they can trust. That has always been the role of great newspapers in the past. And that role will make newspapers great in the future.

Guess what? On the evidence, I don’t believe him…


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