Many readers have turned away from newspapers towards the Internet, the Internet in turn has spawned a reversal of the accepted procedure whereby news filtered from those in the centre of power outwards to the oppressed masses – the news has started coming inwards to the main stream media; independent bloggers reporting on items of local interest to them – student Paul Saville was complaining to fellow Bristol students on-line of his ironical arrest for chalking
“Liberty: the right to question. The right to ask: ‘Are we free?”‘
The Dan Hannan phenomenon has been a classic example of news heading ‘inwards’, taking some three days before the main stream media acknowledged an event that was widely known on the Internet.
The Madeleine McCann saga spawned a plethora of web sites united in their disgust that one or other theory which might have been investigated by serious journalists were being ignored by the main stream media – a situation rendered all the more severe after the McCann’s negotiated an out of court settlement from a newspaper for alleged libel that the newspaper was unwilling, possibly for financial reasons, to substantiate.
The case was probably the first and most prolific example of citizen journalism in Europe as posters with a multitude of tentative connections with her family or the fishing village from where she disappeared added their mote of knowledge to a collective pool, from where it was picked over by main stream media. Sadly most of those web sites have imploded under the weight of individual egos, turning the blogs into treacherous alleyways where rival gangs hurl abuse. Where journalists might have picked up and developed original lines of enquiry, they are now more likely to find posters picking over the identity, and alleged misdeeds, of fellow posters, than original theories on the facts behind Madeleine’s disappearance.
The economic crises has compounded the difficulties faced by investigative journalists – the draconian UK libel laws with risk free legal counsel, and advertising revenue seeping away into the ethernet – combining in a received wisdom that investigative journalism is dead, and that paid journalists are nothing more than ghost writers for celebrity press releases.
Not true, investigative journalists are still alive and well, merely searching for a source of revenue. The big newspapers can no longer afford them, the public have never paid for ‘news’ as such – they have paid for ‘paper entertainment’ and much of that subsidised by advertising – and the public are not willing to pay, per view, or any other way, for hard news.
Yesterday The Huffington Post announced an innovative way of breaking this log jam – The Huffington Post Investigative Fund. It is being funded by The Huffington Post and The Atlantic Philanthropies, and will be headed by Nick Penniman, founder of The American News Project, which will be merged with the Investigative Fund.
The Investigative Fund, headquartered in Washington, DC, will produce a broad range of investigative journalism created by both staff reporters and freelance writers, with a focus on working with the many experienced reporters and writers impacted by the economic contraction. Pieces will range from long-form investigations to short breaking news stories and will be presented in a variety of media, including text, audio and video, and will be free for any media outlet to publish simultaneously. The Investigative Fund will have an initial budget of $1.75 million.
By engaging The Huffington Post’s growing audience, along with the growing audience of other online news outlets, the Huffington Post ‘Investigative Fund’ will also provide a higher profile for the work of existing investigative reporting outfits with which it will partner, including Spot.US, The Center for Public Integrity, The Institute for Justice and Journalism, The Center for Investigative Reporting, and The European Fund for Investigative Journalism; additionally, the Investigative Fund will work closely with Eyes & Ears, HuffPost’s citizen journalism project, harnessing the power of Huff’s community of engaged readers to yield research, insights, and information.
The venture is reminiscent of ProPublica, a nonprofit independent newsroom funded by The Sandler Foundation and headed by Paul Steiger, former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, with a $10 million budget. The inclusion of the European Fund for Investigative Journalism holds out some hope that this bright new world might have some impact in Europe.
This is a project fully deserving of public funding – perhaps a portion of the BBC’s bloated licence fee would be appropriate – along with a suitable guarantee of independence.
Hat tip to Jay Rosen – and I recommend reading his excellent ‘Rosen’s Flying Seminar In The Future of News‘