CIJ ConferenceJuly 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.