Monday, June 22, 2009

Investigations Fund Launched

A group of distinguished investigative journalists working as the Foundation for Investigative Reporting have announced the launch of a new foundation to support investigative journalism:

"We have decided to announce the formation of a Foundation for Investigative Reporting to look at what practical steps can be taken, both to experiment with new means of funding essential investigations and to inspire a new generation of reporters. The Foundation will act as an incubator for new ways of conducting journalism and for new ideas of how to finance this kind of reporting."

The foundation will administer a fund that will be used to support investigative projects - more information can be found at their website, At the moment the money will come from private donations. The move has attracted some impressive support - the head of communications at Google has signed the letter and the company is supplying technical assistance - the head of the NUJ is listed as a supporter.

The Foundation for Investigative Journalism also call for a debate about the future of journalism.

This is an initiative that is very much to be welcomed. The crisis in reporting is bad and it is getting worse. There is no question that things are going to change rapidly in the coming months, it is just a question of how they will change. It is important for us all to join this debate - only cooperation between professional investigators and an engaged public can ensure that the changes that take place leave us with a strengthened system for providing the public with the information that it needs.

There are two things to say about this initiative.

Firstly, the sums needed to support journalism as a truly effective check on the state and other powerful institutions are truly vast. The government's plan to give £126 million from the TV license to independent news operations should be the focus for discussions about how we fund investigative journalism in the future. If the Foundation agitates publicly for a mechanism that does not simply give the money to existing institutions it has a real chance to make an important impact on public life in the immediate term.

Secondly, the commissioning process is the crucial point to address. If the public is going to fund investigations through the TV license (or is to raise funds by any other mechanism, such as introducing a levy on certain classes of company) then the public should determine which subjects are investigated. Someone has to decide what gets investigated. If public money is being used, and the aim is to defend and promote the public sphere, then the public should decide how that money is spent.

The practice of investigative journalism will be changed by the introduction of public commissioning, but it is a change that should be embraced by those who wish to see journalism become a civic resource that is truly able to call established power to account and give us due warning of impending disaster.

To find out more -

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Anonymous Bill said...

I wouldn't overly stress the role the public should play in journalism just because they fund it. When the public funds journalism it should be doing just that, funding the vital practice of investigation and information distribution independent of whatever specific stories end up needing investigation. Journalists may often be in a better position to judge what needs investigating. It is not radically different from hiring a doctor, you don't want to tell the doctor what his or her prognosis and treatment should be (that is, after all, why you go to a doctor in the first place). There are some great interviews with top journalists about journalism's future and the crisis it currently faces at,com_sectionex/Itemid,200076/id,8/view,category/#catid69 which I have found helpful.

2:16 PM  
Blogger Dan Hind said...

Thanks for this, Bill.

I agree that journalists should be given a good deal of discretion to decide what gets investigated and why. There is a danger that enthusiasm for citizen journalism will obscure the need for full-time investigators and researchers.

But I am not sure that the analogy isn't closer with other professions, architects, for example. When you go to an architect you have an idea of what you want (civic journalism / somewhere to live) and he or she helps you refine that idea (specific proposals / plans of the building) - then they go off and do their professional thing, taking care of the building process / investigative work and taking responsibility for the soundness of the building / the story.

The question after all is - how can the public be sure it is funding 'the vital practice of investigation and information distribution' if it doesn't have a significant degree of control over the sorts of things that are investigated (and that are therefore available for distribution)?

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