CIJ Conference

July 20, 2009

I’ve just come back from the Centre for Investigative Journalism conference in London.

I guess there were two dominating threads: firstly, the state of the investigative journalism trade (and how to fund it) and secondly the rise of Computer Assisted Reporting or CAR.

For non-journalism nerds, CAR is probably the least interesting of the two. Basically, it’s getting data through FOI requests and using spreadsheet and database software to analyse it to find patterns and stories.

It’s really big in the States and apparently, “J-school” grads (ugh) have to take CAR courses as part of their course. There are departments though at the New York Times and other big news organisations that really focus on it though, largely because it is easier to get public data over there than it is over here.

The repeated debates on the state of the industry made the same basic points.

1. Investigative journalism is in decline, newsrooms are shrinking, media outlets are going bust, we feel embattled. There is however, a strong sense of bonding among those who still care.

2. However there has been an explosion in non-profit, grant-maintained investigative journalism organisations in the US. Foundations and philanthropists give money to these organisations, who then research stories in the public interest. One talk explained how a deal had just been reached to syndicate these stories over AP which means their work will soon start to feature in mainstream news outlets.

3. A new foundation along the same lines has just (i.e. in the last few days) been set up at the CIJ itself. This is the first UK non-profit news organisation. However, life will be considerably tougher for them to get their work out. UK libel laws are so tough that the foundation cannot risk publishing its own work because one successful libel suit would bankrupt it.

Also, it doesn’t seem likely the philanthropically-funded news organisation will be replicated. UK tax laws and culture mean there is less money around for non-profit news organisations so it’s hard to see how similar things could work.



  1. It’s interesting that ‘investigative journalism’ is considered a seperate category.

    If it hasn’t been investigated, it’s probably not journalism.

    It’s either PR, typewriting or newsreading, which might help sell things and help people earn a living but they’re not really journalism at all.

    • There are some people, including some journalists, who think this, but it’s not true. You can’t seriously tell me that:

      – reporting election results
      – reporting court cases
      – news of serious crime and accidents
      – news of political decisions
      – reporting political policy statements
      – reporting big cultural events
      – etc, etc, etc

      are not journalism. They are. Some bear the influence of PR at times but the job of a good journalist/editor is to work out when the PR people are doing your job for you (which they do about 10% of the time) and when they’re trying to spin you (about 90% of the time).

      But to say that reporting the news isn’t journalism is just crazy. And, given that’s what I do for a living, I can assure you it’s difficult to do it well.

  2. Didn’t realise you were at this also. Sounds like attended most of the sessions I didn’t so between us we pretty much covered it!
    I’ve posted on my blog one idea from it your readers might want to take up including Mr BB.
    As for the debate about whether inestigative journalism is separate I thought Ian Hislop’s talk made some good points and that should be posted up on the CIJ site soon.

  3. I just did a little dance at the thought of the Bristol Blogger walking into Avon and Somerset Police’s HQ and asking to audit the accounts. That I would like to see.

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