MuckrakerThe Muckraker

Postscript: The seizure of the Boston College tapes

If journalists and the victims they cover – who often regard us as hungry parasites – have anything in common, it’s that the truth is denied to them both. There are gaps in Northern Ireland’s historical narrative from 1969-98 (and beyond) but those who could erase them are too afraid to talk. The legacy of the seizure of the Boston College tapes is a generation afraid to recall what really happened.

In seizing the Boston College tapes, the PSNI were supposedly “helping” victims, aiding in the truth recovery process. In hindsight, as I was to realise in the months that followed, it destroyed any truth recovery process that could have happened by removing the tapes from the public eye. Without the “sunlight of transparency”, any subsequent judicial proceedings in the Adams/McConville case would be suspect and dodged by rumours of Adams calling in favours from on high. Even if he was found innocent – and genuinely was – it would not seem like justice when justice was literally not *seen* to be done. There would be two trials – one in an actual courtroom, one in the court of public opinion – and Adams would have walked free from one while being hung in the other.

Like the disappearance of Jean McConville, the seizure of the tapes was a hiding of the evidence, away from a public jury that would have judged those alleged to have ordered her execution. When the media furore died down and journalists stopped asking about Adams innocence or guilt, her voice was silenced once again. Read More

Previous Posts


  • Letter to my 14 year old self

    Yesterday, I tweeted a response to the hateful homophobic comments made by a Northern Irish pastor, James McConnell. Mr McConnell said: “Two lesbians living together are not a family. They are sexual perverts playing let’s pretend.”

    I said: “People like Pastor McConnell made 14 year old me feel like I was better off dead, rather than deal with the shame of being gay.”

    I rarely use this blog for anything other than professional work/journalism-related matters but a number of people asked me to write a blog post summarising what I said. Someone remarked that maybe some 14 year old would read it and take hope. So I decided to write a letter to my 14 year old self, 10 years later, as a 24 year old looking back. 

     

    Kid,

    It’s going to be okay.

    I know you’re not feeling that way right now. You’re sitting in school. The other kids are making fun of you. You told the wrong person you had a crush and soon, they all knew your secret. It’s horrible. They make your life hell. They laugh at you, whisper about you and call you names. It’s not nice. And you can’t ask an adult for help because if you did that, you’d have to tell them the truth and you can’t do that. They can’t ever know your secret.

    Life is so hard right now. Every day, you wake up wondering who else will find out your secret and hate you.

    It won’t always be like this. It’s going to get better. Read More

  • Journalism, like music, is now a project economy

    I saw some sad news today on Mediagazer: Byliner, the longform publisher co-founded by John Tayman, might be folding.

     

    For those not familiar with it, Byliner is a publisher of bite-sized fiction and non-fiction. When I met Tayman in San Francisco a couple of years ago, he talked about realising there was a sweet spot in between a magazine article and a book – a story that was neither too short nor too long. We’ve come to know these stories as ‘longform’. Generally 3,000-30,000 words in length, they even have their own site and Twitter hashtag.
    The company wanted to be like Netflix, charging a monthly “all you can eat” type subscription.

     

    Since the industry’s implosion post-2005, many of us have spent hours wondering what the next business model is. Whole conferences have been dedicated to answering that question: how will journalism make money in the Internet age?

     

    For enterprise/investigative/longform journalism, the answers are already here – but they’re not what we want them to be.

     

     

    A comforting idea but not a great idea

     

     

    Byliner’s key proposition was that it could be the Netflix or Spotify of longform. Yet words do not have the star/pulling power of film. The attraction to that particular revenue model wasn’t that it could work but what it represented: a monthly pay check. In an industry beset by economic stability, the thought that readers would want to contribute a monthly sum is nice. It symbolises stability.

     
    Therein lies the problem. The search for business models has not been dictated by what the market wants but a yearning for the old days, when you did your job and collected your salary at the end of every month.

     
    It doesn’t work like that anymore. Across the creative industries – film, journalism, music – practitioners are living from project to project.
    I call this the Project Economy. You make as much money as your latest project does. When the project ends, you move on to the next one and hope people find it interesting and will pay you to do it.

     
    Example: my latest investigative project, The Last Story of Robert Bradford. Using Beacon Reader, I raised nearly $6,000 through a crowdfunding campaign – nearly $1500 of which is recurring in monthly subscriptions. After Beacon takes its 30% cut (which it shares around writers whose stories have done particularly well, a monthly bonus) and the exchange rate, it works out at about £330 a month. Not to be sniffed at.

     
    However, I’m aware that I’ll probably have, at most, a year’s mileage out of the project. Then there’ll – most likely – be a year where I make no income from it whilst writing the final edition, finish up research and shop for a publisher. To prepare for that eventuality – should it come to pass – I’m squirrelling away as much money as I can from freelance assignments.

     
    This is the reality of living in the Project Economy. As a filmmaker friend remarked, when times are good, they’re really good – but money management is key to survival. A % of every commission needs to be saved to see you through the times when no money is coming in.
    There is no stability in this industry anymore. Being a journalist is now like being an actor: unless you have a huge hit, you’re going to struggle.

     
    The search for business models needs to reflect this. “The good old days” aren’t coming back. It’s a different world. And it’s scary. Staying focused enough to follow your heart instead of the pay check is tough. But there has to be a way.

  • In defence of Anthony McIntyre

    In the wake of Gerry Adams arrest, a lot has been written over the past couple of weeks about the Boston College tapes.

    Throughout the furore, one person has been consistently demonised, other than Jean McConville herself: Anthony McIntyre. Anthony was the researcher who interviewed Republican ex-prisoners for the Boston project. He’s been denounced, in various graffiti around Belfast and by Sinn Fein themselves, as a “tout” and an “informer”, a disgruntled ex-Provo motivated by his hatred of the Peace Process and the feeling that Gerry “sold him out”. Read More

  • The growing independent journalism movement in Northern Ireland

     

    Today, I was walking down the Lagan towpath - a path that stretches along miles and miles of canal and river from Belfast to Lisburn - with my friend Barton.  I was venting about the story. Every now and then, I run into a brick wall. I need a document, a phone call, anything to come unstuck. Usually, within a week, I do, but the frustration until then is unbearable.

    Barton didn’t have any solutions but he listened and he understood. And by the time we were returning down the path after breakfast at a little cafe beside the river, I knew what I needed to do next. I was ready to make another round of phone calls. Read More

  • The Crowdfunder: What happens next

     

    At 20 minutes to 11 on Thursday, I received this message on Facebook:

    “Guess what, you’re fully funded!”

    It was another 10-15 minutes before I stopped crying and started breathing normally again.  Ben, who made the crowdfunding film, was also incredulous: “I thought you’d be right down to the wire!”

    So had I. Yet 3 days ahead of deadline, I cleared my crowdfunding goal – 200 backers in 18 days, contributing nearly $6000 raised ($1,445 in that in recurring monthly subscriptions). 

    While I’ve been working on the book for nearly 2 years, my journey in reporting started long before that. I wrote my first story in 2005. 9 years later, 4 days shy of my 24th birthday, I finally have my first steady reporting gig. 

    So, from the bottom of my heart – thank you to everyone who backed me or helped in some other way. You aren’t just helping me finish this story – you’ve made a dream come true. Journalism is a tough industry to be in right now and if it wasn’t for you wonderful people, I wouldn’t have the resources to keep chasing this story. 

    Some of you have been asking me what happens next:

    • The campaign officially ends at 2:00am GMT on Monday 31st March. On Wednesday April 9th, you’ll receive the first chapter of the book (which I’m currently rewriting in a nervous state of caffeine-induced excitement)

    • All backers and friends  will be invited to a celebratory party. The details are being arranged but it’s most likely going to happen in late April/May. There will be free food and drink (it’s the least I can do)

    • I’m already planning trips to see sources and hunt documents in the National Archives. I will, of course, keep you updated via Beacon

     

    As always, if you have any questions – ping me (lyra at muckraker dot me). Otherwise, I’ll see you over on the Beacon forums (details on this coming soon). 

    I love you all. Night. 

    P.S The reason I’m only writing this post now is because I was in London yesterday and didn’t actually get to bed the night before because of my early flight. 

  • New reward option just for journalism wonks: Behind the scenes insights into the project

     

    With my crowdfunding campaign, Beacon and I are trying something which – to our knowledge – hasn’t been tried before.

    By backing the campaign, readers get access to the book as it’s being written, with a short chapter published each month. Instead of saving the story until the very end when the book is ready for publication, I’m giving them a chance to come with me on the journey as I knock doors and try to find answers. They will be with me as the story unravels. Read More

  • One week down, two to go: Progress update on the crowdfunding campaign

    Today marks 7 days since I launched the crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to continue my reporting/write my book on Reverend Robert Bradford, an Ulster Unionist MP murdered in November 1981.

    It’s been an amazing week. According to the Beacon guys, the campaign has smashed their records – raising over $2,000 on its first day.

    Since Monday, 81 backers have pledged $3,050. Many have opted for the $60 (one-off yearly subscription) reward which surprised me; I thought most would stick to the $5-$15 monthly rewards. Read More

  • Supporting independent investigative journalism: fund my book on Beacon Reader

     

    Folks, I need your help.

    For nearly 2 and a half years, I’ve been blogging here. I’ve posted stories about corruption and incompetence in government and public bodies. When expenses have cropped up – travel, lunches with sources, equipment costs – I’ve covered them myself.

    Today, I’m launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds so I can continue my reporting. Specifically, the money will help me finish my latest investigative project, a book about the last weeks of Robert Bradford, a Northern Irish politician murdered in November 1981. Read More

  • Twitter, I need your help finding someone who worked at Westminster more than 30 years ago

    This is probably going to be the weirdest #journorequest ever but I’m a believer in the power of the web and social media. For the last 6 months, I’ve been trying to locate someone without any luck. I don’t even know what her name is. Yet if anyone can help me find her, it’s you, Twitter.

    Basically, I’ve hit a brick wall in my reporting and I believe she may be able to help me – or at least point me in the right direction (click here for a brief explainer about my current project, a book about a murdered politician from Northern Ireland). Read More

  • The real problem with Caleb Hannan’s story is that shitty journalism has a ripple effect

    You may have seen me ranting on Twitter over the weekend about a hateful piece of journalism from reporter Caleb Hannan. Josh Levin over at Slate sums it up:

     

    “If you haven’t read Hannan’s story yet, you should—I’ll be here when you’re done. In brief, the writer discovered that “Dr. V” was a con artist. She lied about her educational and professional credentials to Hannan and to a man who gave her $60,000—cash that investor never saw again. In the course of his reporting, Hannan also learned that Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt “was born a boy.”

    Hannan eventually sent Dr. V “an email trying to confirm what I had discovered.” The inventor got very angry, tried to get Hannan to sign a nondisclosure agreement, and wrote him a note saying that “his deportment is reminiscent to schoolyard bullies.” Not long after that, Hannan writes, he got a phone call informing him that Dr. V had committed suicide.”

     

    The Twittersphere is exploding with reactions to the piece. Some think Hannan did what reporters are supposed to do: expose the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Others take issue with how Hannan seems to suggest that “Dr V” being a con artist and being a trans woman are directly related. They argue he made her status as a transgender woman the subject of the story, as if it was something dirty or shameful.

    I have to agree with the latter camp. Read More

  • A journalism qualification will probably not get you a job. It may help you make a living.

     

    When I sit down to write a blog post, I try to make it informative. Sometimes, it’s just an update on the book, but I always try to give something back.

    I’m afraid this is not one of those posts. It’s 1.33am and I am stressed out.

    I spent most of the holidays filling out funding applications and preparing a crowdfunding campaign. I also started writing a brief for an illustrator friend who is doing the artwork for my book. Next up, I have to file my tax return and sort out my budget/costs for the year: £500 for that flight to meet Source X, £X to live and eat, etc.

    When I started in journalism, I had no idea I’d end up like this: self-employed and hustling for the funds to do each story. My plan was for a life of stability: graduate from university, get a newsroom job, mortgage and live happily ever after.

    That’s not how it turned out. 25% of my time each week is spent filling applications for funding and toying with crazy ideas. Sometimes, it’s fun. Coming up with crazy ideas always is.

    Other times, however, it’s really hard. In fact, most of the time, it’s hard. It’s not what I imagined it would be. In some ways, it’s better; in others, worse. Such is life.

    I tweeted recently that I wished my younger self had known that the future of journalism was Read More

  • A book’s progress: The fight for investigative journalism and plans for 2014

    Every few weeks, I post an update on my book project – a story about the last weeks and murder of Reverend Robert Bradford, a Northern Irish politician killed in November 1981. Given that it’s New Year’s Eve and a time for making resolutions, I’m also going to look back over the last year and talk about my plans for next year.

     

    After a pretty rough 2011-12, 2013 was a great year for me, personally and professionally. I was shortlisted for a journalism fellowship at Stanford University in California (I didn’t make the final cut but  given my humble roots and that I dropped out of university the first time, being shortlisted felt like a huge achievement), passed the first year of my Masters degree and made great progress with my book.

    2014 is going to be an even bigger year. While I feel proud of what I achieved in 2013, I also feel like I didn’t take enough risks. There’s so much I want to do and I haven’t done it because I’m afraid. It’s easier to talk about doing things rather than making them happen but life is too short. So this year will be about jumping off the cliff and building wings on the way down.

    So I’ve got big plans for 2014.  Read More

  • Two takeaways from Robert Miraldi’s new book on Seymour Hersh, Scoop Artist

    “So if you’re broke, struggling and wondering if it’s all worth it, just think: Sy Hersh was in your position once too.”

     

    Over the holidays, I decided to treat myself and bought Robert Miraldi’s new biography of Seymour ‘Sy’ Hersh, Scoop Artist.

    Hersh is one of North America’s best investigative reporters. Best known for his exposure of the My Lai massacre in 1969, he now contributes regularly to The New Yorker and has been described by the Republican party as the “closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.” Read More

  • Making a living as an investigative reporter in the digital age

    “There is no red-tile-roof house on the Aegean where famous writers all go to work in relative leisure. There might be 20 jobs now where you’re set for life, but the rest of us will be hustling forever.”

     

    Alexis Madrigal, Senior Editor, The Atlantic – “Follow your curiosity.Read More

  • Reporters, we need to rethink the concept of “beats”

    “ Journalists don’t have regular or traditional beats, they have “obsessions”. His, for example, include the Euro currency crisis and Bitcoin. It means he can really go in deep on these subjects, because he isn’t also required to file a 400 word report every day on the movement of the Belgian stock market just because it is part of the beat. Leo said later on that one of the great things about Quartz’s connected but distributed workforce is that they work things up together. “If I think something is interesting,” he observed, “the rest of the team help me make it interesting for ‘normal people’” who aren’t necessarily quite as obsessed. ”

     

    “Anyone referring to journalism as ‘a product’ should be shot” – Quartz’s Leo Mirani & Jason Karaian at #HHLdn (via Paul Bradshaw and Martin Belam.)

     

    The passage above really struck me. Firstly, it outlines the problem with journalists having “beats”, as defined currently in ‘old media’ newsrooms: they’re way too broad. They require reporters to constantly file copy on the latest developments, instead of letting them delve deep into a story. Read More

  • How freelance reporters are bypassing newspapers and going straight to the reader

    When I talk to older journalists (older being over the age of 30), they ask me the same question: who do you write for?

    It’s an awkward question. If it was 2009, I’d tell them I’d been published in (or had pieces broadcast on) the Belfast Telegraph, Private Eye, BBC, Sky News – a dozen or so news outlets that regularly took my work back then.

    In 2013, the answer is: none.

    I’m part of a new generation of “digital native” journalists who sell their work directly to readers, bypassing traditional news outlets like newspapers and broadcasters. Increasingly, reporters are using services like Beacon, Kickstarter and Woopie to raise funds directly from their readers and publish their work. Read More

  • Survivors: Why did the government remove funding from NI’s only Rape Crisis Centre?

    Note: This story was published in The Muckraker Report – a short-lived, experimental magazine I created – in August 2013. In 2009, a brief, 50-word piece was published in Private Eye magazine. They were the only publication willing to publish it. Despite having a paper trail of evidence to back my claims up, I could not persuade newspaper editors in Northern Ireland to do the same. The full story has never been told.

    During one interview, one of the Rape Crisis Centre’s staff told me she wanted to clear her name. Her wish is that when her great-granddaughter Googles her name, she won’t read “those news reports” and think her great grandmother did something wrong.

    When I first came across this story – five years ago – and saw the injustices the Centre had suffered at the hands of Northern Ireland’s government, I promised them I would do my best to reveal the truth and get their funding back. Such is the folly of youth. Unfortunately, I learned that journalism doesn’t always change the world. The least I can do is deliver one wish for them: clearing their names. I hope readers who paid for the magazine understand why I’ve made it available for free.

    Parts of the story have been updated to reflect new developments. 

    Read More

  • Matter had over 10K paying readers but paywall wasn’t right model, says co-founder

     

    In 2012, tech journalists Bobbie Johnson and Jim Giles raised over $140,000 on crowdfunding site Kickstarter for their new publication, Matter. The idea was simple: a digital publishing house that produced in-depth, investigative stories about science and technology (think Kindle Singles and you have an idea of what Matter stories look like). Their business model – charging readers 99¢ per story – was deemed revolutionary in an age where content is given away for free and paywalls are sneered at. Since then, they’ve been acquired - and recently announced that they’re dropping the paywall. Read More

  • Mosaic theory: Using public documents to break the next Watergate

    There’s a really interesting tidbit in this Mother Jones profile of Ryan Shaprio, an MIT PHD student and the FBI’s “most prolific” Freedom of Information Act requester”:

     

    “In the course of his doctoral work, which examines how the FBI monitors and investigates protesters, Shapiro has developed a novel, legal, and highly effective approach to mining the agency’s records. Which is why the government is petitioning the United States District Court in Washington, DC, to prevent the release of 350,000 pages of documents he’s after.

    Invoking a legal strategy that had its heyday during the Bush administration, the FBI claims that Shapiro’s multitudinous requests, taken together, constitute a “mosaic” of information whose release could “significantly and irreparably damage national security” and would have “significant deleterious effects” on the bureau’s “ongoing efforts to investigate and combat domestic terrorism.”

    So-called mosaic theory has been used in the past to stop the release of specific documents, but it has never been applied so broadly. “It’s designed to be retrospective,” explains Kel McClanahan, a DC-based lawyer who specializes in national security and FOIA law. “You can’t say, ‘What information, if combined with future information, could paint a mosaic?’ because that would include all information!”

     

    One argument I’ve heard over the years is that using public records laws like the FOIA “isn’t journalism.” Critics argue it’s the equivalent of asking for the “smoking gun” and having it handed over, no questions ask. It isn’t, they claim, “real investigative journalism”.

    That’s not true – and mosaic theory proves it.

    Using public records laws to get information is an attempt Read More

  • A new dawn for The Muckraker

    Next month, The Muckraker will be 2 years old. It’s hard to believe.

    When I broke my first story, I had a plan in my head: I would grow the blog into a real news site, figure out how to make money and hire a team of reporters, part-time if needs be. We had terrific sites like The Detail but I felt Northern Ireland needed an army of investigative reporters, scrutinising public documents and holding the government to account. I didn’t really expect to make a living from it but I wanted to grow the team. Read More

  • Best way to support investigative journalism? Crowdfunding and NPR-style pledges, says poll

    PBS Mediashift ran a poll recently, asking people what they thought the best way to support investigative journalism was.

    The results were interesting. With 24.37%, the most popular option was NPR-style pledges (where the public donate money during funding drives) followed by foundation grants at 21.01%. The least popular option was “Other” (no idea what that means) but next to it was the BuzzFeed method with just 11.76%: “Drive traffic with fluff to get them to eat broccoli.” Read More

  • The Irish govt is trampling on democracy with its latest amendment to FOI law

    I was extremely dismayed today to read this. From TheStory.ie:

     

    “One of the most significant last-minute amendments to the FOI Bill 2013 is charging multiple times for what are known as multi-part or “multifaceted” requests.

    What is a multi-faceted request?

    This blog has used multifaceted requests in order to maximise the amount of information that can be obtained for the unjustifiable €15 charge. We have also demonstrated that technique to dozens of journalists in most of the national papers in Ireland and journalists working for RTE and TV3 over the past 3 years. Partly because of this activity, FOI officers began expressing concern at the number of new multi-faceted requests they were receiving.

    Under the current regime this request cost €15 upfront – before you get to search and retrieval. Under the new costs regime it will cost upwards of €75, depending on how many divisions the request is split into. Let’s round it down to a 5 part request going to 4 divisions – €60. Or 4 times the current cost.

    Did charging for multifaceted requests appear in the draft heads or the main Bill when published?

    No. Nowhere. It didn’t come up in any of the much vaunted pre-legislative scrutiny (and as David Farrell points out, this makes a mockery of pre-legislative processes). It didn’t appear in the draft heads last year. It didn’t appear in the FOI Bill 2013 published earlier this year. It was put into a list of amendments at the very end of the legislative process.”

     

    As a Northern Irish person, I may one day have to vote for or against uniting with the rest of Ireland and leaving the United Kingdom. It’s not a choice I want: I trust neither government (never mind my own) and would prefer Northern Ireland to be wholly independent (although I realise that may not be economically possible). Still, should my hand be forced, I don’t think I could bring myself to be a citizen of a Southern government, despite my upbringing in the Nationalist community. The absolute contempt with which the Irish government treats transparency and its citizens right to know makes me feel sick to my stomach. Read More

  • “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I…”: The fears of the Unionist working-classes

     Note: Over the last 15 months, I’ve been working on a book about the Reverend Robert Bradford, the Ulster Unionist MP murdered in November 1981. Some of the insights and quotes here are drawn from my research. 

     

    Update 4th November 13:40pm: This is amazing. After tweeting this post on Twitter this afternoon, one of my followers, @andybelfast, replied: “nice piece. Tell ur ma i’m sorry.i lived in sugarfield street and helped make petrol bombs used on Kashmir rd/Bombay st.” Andy added that he was just 9 years old when he did this. It is horrible that children were used in sectarian warfare yet it illustrates a point I made recently: members of organisations like the IRA and UVF were often frightened 15 year olds. I replied to Andy and thanked him for the apology. I also apologised for the actions of my own community. I hope the day comes when we live together as one community instead of two.

     

    It feels like Northern Ireland is at a fork in the road. One way leads to the “dark old days” (a euphemism for The Troubles). The other leads to a (hopefully) permanent peace.

    Lately, I’ve been blogging/tweeting/arguing about politics a lot more than I usually do. I was eight years old when the Good Friday Agreement/Belfast agreement was signed. I didn’t see its impact until I was 16, at college and making friends with East Belfast Orangemen. By then, the notion that Protestants and Catholics couldn’t be friends was laughable. We called each other sectarian names with affection. It was our way of distancing ourselves from the pain our communities had inflicted on each other.

    We could talk about the past without being angry. My friend’s Grandfather was a B-Special. My Mum was a West Belfast Catholic who saw members of the B-Specials help loyalist mobs burn Bombay Street down. Our family histories intersected in a very tragic way yet to this day, we’re good mates. My Mum harboured no bitterness and I knew well-enough to know that no side or organisation was “all bad”.  My friend, for his part, was horrified.

    I, too, was horrified to learn of the horrors people from my community had inflicted on my friends families. If I learned anything during those two years at tech, it was that neither side could claim a monopoly on pain. Bar victims, no one could seize the moral high ground.

    Yet both sides do. That’s the problem. The peace walls in Northern Ireland are not just physical but mental. When “one of our own” is hurt, we speak out, protest, march. When something happens to “one of them’uns”, we say nothing.

    Consequently, much of the conflict was driven by the assumption and fear that the other side harboured only ill-will. This is a belief we need to abandon if we are to avoid another civil war. Read More

  • Sneak peek from the #supersecretproject

    Obviously, these pictures are related to the book. Details coming soon. Read More

  • Journalism, ageism and Northern Ireland’s Brain Drain

    Note: I don’t normally post off-topic issues like this to The Muckraker but since it involves my experiences as a young journalist, I thought I may as well. Also, The Muckraker has become my de facto home online. It feels odd to post elsewhere, even though I have a blog for more personal stuff.

     

    As a woman, I consider myself very lucky: I’ve never experienced sexism. Or if I have, it was too subtle to notice. It’s sad that I think this makes me privileged – not being subject to sexism should be a right – but not everyone has caught up with the equal rights movement yet.

    However, I do face one type of prejudice pretty regularly: ageism. Every week, I hear a derogatory remark about my age and perceived lack of wisdom/experience.

    Here’s the context: I’m 23 but I look a fair bit younger. I have a babyface. Normally, I ignore nasty remarks but the camel’s back was well and truly broken yesterday. During a conversation – in which I didn’t seek advice or try to talk about my book – the person I was meeting told me they’d heard about what I was working on. They then proceeded to lecture me on why I wouldn’t succeed. The implication was that I hadn’t thought through the risks involved because I was young and dumb so they had done it for me. What really bothered me, however, was the tone: that of an adult remonstrating with a naughty child about what they’d done wrong. It was utterly patronising.

    Maybe this person is right – maybe the book won’t materialise. Maybe it will but it’ll be the worst thing ever written. What bothers me was not his criticism of the book but the assumption that being young meant I didn’t know what I was doing. Read More

  • “If they kill a pastor they will kill us all.”

    There is a really interesting piece over at Anthony McIntyre’s Pensive Quill blog (one of the best political blogs in Ireland today, in my humble opinion). Anthony was speaking at an event in Newtowncunningham when Robert Bradford was mentioned:

    “The last speaker of the day was Gary Moore [Note: I've been told this gentleman's name is actually Gary Blair], a former UDA prisoner. A somewhat pronounced Ballymena accent and an affected shambling demeanour did not disguise a very astute intellect that outlined the work he was doing in the loyalist community, much of it in the area of Ulster Scots. It was easy to detect a disdain in him for big house unionism as he narrated his impoverished upbringing. One point that struck me was when he spoke of the killing of Robert Bradford and how that had impacted on perceptions. He fully understood how republicans viewed Bradford and his death but 2 elderly women, one of whom was his granny, if I am right, said that ‘if they will kill a pastor they will kill us all.’

    The impact of that on a child growing up can only be formative. From that moment on life in an armed loyalist body was the pathway he felt destined to tread along. Republicanism will be enhanced by trying to understand the multiplicity of factors that feed into the motivation behind people embracing loyalism.”

     

    This piece really made me think. Whenever I ask former Republican and Loyalist prisoners why they took up arms, I never get the answers I’m expecting: “I wanted a united Ireland so I decided to fight for one”, “I did it for God and Ulster.” The answer is always, “I did it to protect my family and community.” Read More

  • Why we must not let “The Troubles” happen again

    The events of the last week – two murders, a day apart – have reminded us of the old Northern Ireland, when you never knew which day would be your last or the last of someone you loved.

    As most of you know, I’m working on a book about the Reverend Robert Bradford, the Ulster Unionist MP murdered in November 1981. Through my research, I’ve met many different people, including those whose loved ones were murdered in “the war”.

    I cannot describe what it is like to look into the eyes of someone whose husband or child or sister was murdered. They all Read More

  • Readers thoughts on the use of anonymous sources in Muckraker stories

    I have a dilemma.

    I’ve always been a documents nerd. My talent is sniffing them out. As a rookie reporter, I looked younger than my years, frequently being mistaken for a 12 year old at 18. No one would confide in a baby-faced hack so I was forced to find stories by scouring public records. That was how I learned to procure documents and interpret them.

    Even today, I never feel more comfortable than when I’m poring through stacks of paper trails. With the Bradford project, however, I’ve had to learn how to talk to sources. I needed to know what questions to ask. This blog has made it easier as said sources usually find me first. Even so, it’s been a steep learning curve.

    One of the things I’m still learning is how to strike a balance between relying on sources and relying on documents. Speaking to a couple of Muckraker readers and advisers offline, they’re not happy with the thought of anonymous sources in Muckraker stories. They want documents. Read More

  • Police internal review upholds decision not to release number of missing children during Troubles, citing cost

    A few months ago, I asked the Northern Irish police how many children went missing during The Troubles. They refused to release the information, citing costs and other difficulties, so I appealed.

    Earlier this month, I received a reply. Their original decision was upheld (although I did receive an apology for how the request was handled).

    Still, as I’ve noted before, sometimes, even refusal notices can reveal very interesting information. Read More

  • Gun used in Bradford murder: .357 Magnum revolver

    In November 2012, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request to Northern Ireland’s police service, asking a very simple question (amongst others):

    What was the make of the gun used to kill Robert Bradford?

    Read More

  • Progress Update: The Book – Tears, Exhaustion and Plan B

    I’m going to start posting regular status updates on my book project so you can keep up with what’s happening. I hope you enjoy them. Want to chat? Email me: lyra at muckraker dot me.

     

    The Book

    When I was a kid, my sister studied English at the local university. One of her favourite writers was Jean-Paul Sartre. She loved his work because, she said, you could never predict what was going to happen next.

    For those of you who studied English beyond high school, you’ll know that all fiction becomes predictable after a while. There are only so many scenarios a character can find themselves in (and wriggle out of).

    One of the things I love about investigative journalism is Read More

  • Revealed: the £1m cost of policing the Northern Ireland Olympic torch relay

    Lyra’s note: This is a guest post written by Help Me Investigate‘s Gesbeen Mohammad. Full disclosure: I am a distance-learning student on the MA Online Journalism course at Birmingham City University. The course is taught by Paul Bradshaw, Help Me Investigate‘s co-founder.

     

    Policing the Olympic torch’s five-day journey around Northern Ireland cost over £1m, according to an investigation by Help Me Investigate.

    The final bill for taxpayers came to £1,029,749 – £205,950 for every day the torch spent in the region, according to information revealed by Freedom of Information requests.

    In comparison London’s Metropolitan Police Service spent less than £150,000 for every day the torch spent in the capital. The Service covers a population more than six times larger than Northern Ireland’s. Read More

  • Nine months after FOIA request filed, PRONI yet to release Bradford inquest file

    Regular readers of The Muckraker will know that I’ve been working on a book about the Reverend Robert Bradford, the Ulster Unionist MP murdered in November 1981, for the last 12 months.

    For nine of those months, I’ve been fighting to get a copy of his inquest file. Read More

  • The elephant in the room

    I’ve just read a brilliant piece in LA Weekly about the last weeks and months of Michael Hastings life. Michael was a war correspondent and investigative journalist, best known for bringing down a US Army general with a Rolling Stone profile. He died in a car crash in June, aged 33.

    Michael was one of my heroes. He had a fuck you attitude to power. He didn’t play the “access” game that most Beltway reporters play i.e. toe the line and respect the Establishment in exchange for access to the President and key players. He went after the powerful, showing favour to no one. He was angry. His fiancee, Andi Parhamovich, was killed in Iraq in 2007. He knew the real cost of the war: the families left without sons, daughters, fathers, husbands and wives.

    While the press coverage around his death has, at times, descended into conspiracy theories, the LA Weekly piece is well worth your time. It quotes many on the record sources and verifiable facts; it’s a solid piece of work (although US investigative news site WhoWhatWhy has raised questions about the coroner who investigated Hastings death). Swatting aside the conspiracies, it paints a picture of Hastings as a man struggling with his demons, with his mental health deteriorating in the weeks leading up to his death.

    Having done no reporting on the subject myself, I can’t say for certain whether this is true or not – although LA Weekly makes a very good case for it. It certainly wouldn’t be unusual for a war correspondent to have undiagnosed PTSD, as the article suggests.

    The one thing we don’t talk about in this industry is mental health. War reporters and investigative reporters Read More

  • Why scoops don’t matter

     

    If you haven’t read this brilliant post by Christopher Murphy, you should. In it, he deals with depression, a very worthy subject and one we should talk about more often. Yet it was the mention of Impostor Syndrome that caught my eye. That, and this passage from another post:

     

    “I believe, as an industry, we focus all too often on the headlong excitement of endlessly moving forward. That’s fine, but there’s a flip side. Relentless progress brings with it relentless pressure. It can be difficult to keep up, and the pressure to stay on top of everything can at times prove debilitating.” Read More

  • Twitter, I need a miracle

    So, slight change in plans. Unfortunately, it turns out I need at least 1200 votes for my book on Robert Bradford to get into the top 10% of the Arthur Guinness Projects and have a shot at winning. I had thought it was 1,000 but the race shifted very radically recently, with other projects picking up votes.

    As I wrote yesterday, The Muckraker is in financial difficulty. The stories I’m working on are ten times bigger than they were this time 12 months ago. I no longer have the means to keep funding it out of my own pocket, to pay for travel and all the other expenses that come with investigative reporting.  This is the reality of being an independent reporter. I’ve been able to run the site for nearly two years without taking outside funding. Now, I really need help. Winning this bursary would not only fund the book but reporting on other stories too – for the next three years. Read More

  • Insider Knowledge

    Something really interested happened recently.

    I’ve been working on Issue 02 of The Muckraker Report, an investigative magazine I launched nearly two weeks ago. It’s been a fun experiment and something I hope turns into a more permanent fixture in Northern Irish journalism.

    Issue 02 will likely be the first of a three-part series, examining a particular episode in Northern Irish history and the mystery that continues to surround it.

    Recently, I had a weird moment. I realised I knew some of the victims involved. I also realised that the problems documented in the story – which many thought ended years ago – continue today.

    Read More

  • Muckraker Readers, I need your help

    In three days time, voting in the Arthur Guinness Projects competition closes.

    For those of you who haven’t seen my cries for help on Twitter: The Arthur Guinness Projects’ mission to find interesting new ideas in the following fields – Arts, Music, Sports, Food – and provide the financial assistance to make those ideas come to life. The public vote for their favourite projects and the top 10% in each category then go before a panel of judges.

    My project is a book about the Reverend Robert Bradford, a Northern Irish MP murdered in November 1981. I want to find out about the last months of his life and try to answer the (many) unanswered questions surrounding his death. 32 years later, it’s a murder that continues to puzzle people. Why would the Provisional IRA murder a mild-mannered Methodist minister? As one former Army officer remarked to me, it was a murder that didn’t have any “logic” to it.

    I’ve been working on the book for the last 11 months. In that time, I’ve spoken to dozens of Robert’s friends, colleagues and acquaintances as well as ex-security and intelligence officials. I’ve been gathering information through the Freedom of Information Act and the 30 year rule. I hope to publish the book in 2016. Read More

  • What’s next for The Muckraker Report?

    A week ago today, I launched the first issue of The Muckraker Report (TMR), a new investigative magazine covering Northern Irish politics and public affairs.

    TMR aims to publish longform investigative journalism in the public interest. Each issue will contain at least one 2,000+ word story, exposing corruption and injustice in NI.

    It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. It evolved out of years of trying: projects that didn’t get started, finished or that just didn’t work. Read More

  • Kickstarting investigative journalism?

    As you all know, I’ve been working hard on securing a grant from the Arthur Guinness projects for my book on the Reverend Robert Bradford, an Ulster Unionist MP murdered in 1981. (To win, the public need to vote for my project. The top 10% of projects in each category will then go before a panel of judges).

    So I’ve been tweeting the link like I’m being held to ransom. Mainstream media outlets just do not fund this kind of work anymore. If you look at the current generation of investigative journalists – people like Jeremy Scahill – a pattern emerges: they cut their teeth at independent news outlets, like Truthout and Democracy Now, not at CNN or the New York Times. Or – in the case of Jason Leopold – they are best known for their work at indy sites as opposed to their work at established newspapers.

    It is the independent outlets that are keeping investigative journalism alive. The next Bob Woodward is more likely to emerge from an upstart like NSFWCorp than the Washington Post.

    As a kid, I dreamed about being an investigative reporter. I had it all worked out; I would get my degree, hop on a newspaper trainee scheme and work my way up from general dogsbody to the investigative unit. This was back in 2005, when there was still a straightforward career path into journalism. Read More

  • “Why is a Nationalist working on this book?” The problem with being “betwixt and between”

    “Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?”

    This was the question posed to historian Reza Aslan when he appeared on Fox News to talk about his book on Jesus. His crime? He’s a historian who just happens to be a Muslim.

    Reza’s response is classy: “This isn’t a ‘Muslim opinion’; this is an academic book of history…I’m not sure what my faith happens to do with my twenty years of academic study of the New Testament.” Read More

  • Behind the scenes: how investigative reporting really works

    “My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

    When I’m going through life’s ups and downs, I remember that line from Forrest Gump. I loved that movie as a kid, although I thought life being “like a box of chocolates” meant it would be sweet all the time. Read More

  • Can you vote for my book on Reverend Robert Bradford in the Arthur Guinness Projects competition?

    Friends, readers, acquaintances – I need your help.

    For the last 11 months, I’ve been working on a book about the Reverend Robert Bradford, an Ulster Unionist MP who was murdered in November 1981.

    There’s just one obstacle: money. Investigative journalism requires time and resources. This story is taking me as far afield as Washington in the search for sources and documents – trips I can’t afford on a freelancer’s budget.

    Luckily, I’m in the running for a £50,000 grant from the Arthur Guinness Projects. Read More

  • Historical Enquiries Team conviction rates: Two cases solved out of 1,850 reviewed to date

    This isn’t too good: out of the 1,850 cases reviewed by the Historical Enquiries Team so far, just three have led to charges (two of which resulted in convictions). Another six resulted in no charges or convictions.

    To summarise: 0.5% of the HET’s work to date has resulted in action being taken. If we include convictions alone, that number drops to 0.1%.

     

    The figures were released last week under the Freedom of Information Act. Read More

  • Notes on change

    So, last week, our wonderful volunteer and business/tech reporter Ian Silvera departed. His day job was getting too busy so he couldn’t keep juggling both. He’s one of the best reporters I know (tech blogs, you should be kicking down his door to recruit him). Read More

  • The price of keeping secrets

    One of the things I’m constantly thinking about is investigative journalism and where it’s going next (that and how to break my next story. And what to eat for dinner).

    I did an interview with Northern Ireland’s newest startup blog, StartNI, about The Muckraker Report and where we hope to go with it. It’s funny how answering people’s questions helps you clarify your thinking: in this case, Adam wanted to know why we’re only publishing TMR every three months:

    “Investigative journalism takes so long to do. In fact, we’re already wondering if we should push publishing back until every 4 months – or abandon the schedule altogether. We don’t want to compromise the quality of our stories by forcing ourselves to conform to a timeline. Some stories take weeks to uncover; others take months and years. I’m worried that a set schedule will place too much pressure on us.

    We’ve also had endless debates about what the format should look like – rather than a collection of small snippets, should we have 2,000-30,000 word stories? Or both? Right now, we’ve settled on producing longform stories. We may decide to abandon the word “magazine” altogether because a magazine has a set schedule and I think we’d like to be more a hybrid of a magazine/book publisher.

    The problem is the economics of publishing. You need to publish content regularly in order to make sales and stay afloat. Investigative journalism takes a lot of time so publishing regularly is hard – and that’s why it’s so hard to become sustainable. No one has figured out the sustainability/business model question yet so we don’t have anyone we can follow/copy/imitate – we’re literally figuring it out as we go along, mainly by making mistakes and realising, “Damn, we shouldn’t have done x, we should have done y.”

     

    Here’s the dilemma I’m facing right now: in an age where journalists must “build their brand”, how do investigative reporters stay visible and connected with their readers? Read More

  • Waiting list crisis at NI’s only health service for transgender people should be resolved by end of year – Health Minister

    In May, I reported that NI’s only health service for transgender people – the Gender Identity Clinic – was turning away new patients due to “staffing difficulties”.

    We’ve just received some good news: in a letter to the SDLP’s Conall McDevitt, NI’s Minister of Health Edwin Poots said that additional investment had been provided to the service, with new staff being hired to deal with the growing waiting list of patients.

    “Whilst acknowledging it will take some time to fill new posts, the Trust is now accepting new referrals and on the 10th of June a new practitioner will commence assessments. The Health and Social Care Board and the Belfast Trust accepts that until all new posts are filled, patients may have to wait longer than the current access standard of 13 weeks, however, waiting times for this service should substantially improve by the end of this year.” Read More

  • The difference between watchdog reporting and investigative reporting

    Recently, I came across an interesting conversation in an email thread. I can’t remember the specifics but the gist of the conversation was that ‘watchdog reporting’ and investigative reporting are different.

    What is watchdog reporting?

    I asked for definitions on Twitter; my mentor, Paul Bradshaw, thinks it’s just a case of ego and semantics. The Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) suggested this definition (from pg 10):

    “Sometimes called enterprise, in-depth, or project reporting, investigative journalism should not be confused with what has been dubbed “leak journalism”–quick-hit scoops gained by the leaking of documents or tips, typically by those in political power.” Read More

  • A quick note

    I figured I better type a quick note to say sorry for not posting much recently. I have three stories yearning to be publishing but right now, I have to prioritise the first issue of The Muckraker Report. I’m still knee deep in research, getting ready to lock myself in a room and hammer out a first draft. When that panic is over, however, you can look forward to the following stories: Read More

  • Say hello to The Muckraker Report, the new magazine we’re launching in June

    By now, you’ve probably read this story in Journalism.co.uk: we’re launching a new investigative magazine at the end of June, The Muckraker Report. I recently had a conversation about it with the lovely Jon Mitchell.

    Northern Ireland is full of secrets. Dirty, shameful secrets. And we have a press reluctant to expose them. Rumours abound about our elected officials ["I've heard he beats his wife", "Wasn't he involved in Kincora?] yet it seems no one wants to ask the questions that need to be asked.  Read More

  • REVEALED: The £80,000 government job report that is six months late

    EXCLUSIVE: A £80,000 report into one of Northern Ireland’s vital job generation schemes is expected to be published six months late, the Muckraker can reveal.

    The evaluation of Invest Northern Ireland’s (INI) selective financial assistance (SFA) scheme was contracted to research company SQW Consulting in September 2012 at an expense of £79,982 to the taxpayer.

    SFA is the ‘most significant’ programme offered by INI to provide financial assistance to companies for investment and employment projects. It’s their main incentive for wooing foreign multinationals to NI (or, in civil servant speak, Foreign Direct Investment). Read More

  • Want to know how many jobs Invest NI *actually* creates? You’ll be waiting another 5 years

    Very interesting report from the Press Association this morning:

    “It could be years before meaningful data on whether jobs created or retained by Invest NI is available, it was revealed.

    The Government’s main economic development organisation spent almost £520 million on selective financial assistance over the past decade yet systems to track actual posts have only recently been put in place, the Assembly’s spending watchdog said.

    Five of the largest companies which received Invest NI grants worth almost £145 million before 2009 could not supply details of jobs lost during that period, a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said.” Read More

  • Six degrees of Kevin Bacon: The amazing connections behind one story

    Many of a reporter’s sources sprout from their personal connections; a friend of a friend, a colleague’s sibling, etc. In a tiny place like Northern Ireland, those connections become even tighter. The stories you work on could affect someone you know. You’re never more than a few degrees away from the subject of your stories

    This became clear to me while researching my book on Northern Irish politician Robert Bradford.

     

    The six degree game

    The Muckraker has an office in Farset Labs, Belfast’s only hackerspace. I was working there last week when one of Farset’s founders, Andrew Bolster, walked in. His grandmother had died recently; I asked him how the funeral had went.

    “It went grand. Donaghadee Methodist Church was packed to the rafters.” Read More

  • NI’s only clinic for transgender people turning away patients due to “staffing difficulties”

    Update (14/05/13): Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have issued another statement to The Muckraker:

    “While we have not reduced our service to the trans gender community in any way, demand is currently outstripping our resources, and we are unable to accept new referrals at the moment. This is a temporary measure and should be resolved in a matter of weeks, and we will be keeping in touch with those patients concerned.


    Discussions are also ongoing with the Health and Social Care Board on how the services for gender identity might be expanded.”

     

    Things aren’t looking too good for Northern Ireland’s transgender community.

    Last week, patients awaiting treatment at the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) – the North’s only health service for transsexuals – received letters saying new patients aren’t being accepted for the “foreseeable future”, due to “staffing difficulties”.

    The GIC, based on the outskirts of Belfast, Read More

  • Lady Luck strikes again

    There’s no secret sauce behind breaking a story. It’s a process that involves 90% hard work and 10% luck. If you don’t have luck, you’re screwed, no matter how hard you work.

    Thankfully, with the Missing Children story, we’ve had some luck, thanks to a wonderful staff member at the Linen Hall Library. Read More

  • ‘Violent offenders let off, ex-MPs demanding money and Russian goings on’ – This week’s best #muckreads

    The Weekly Scoop is a weekly post highlighting the best #muckreads (investigative stories) circulating the Interwebs that week. It’s curated by Muckraker reporter Ian Silvera.

    MONDAY: ‘The Russians are coming’ by Darragh MacIntyre

    You can watch the film here. Read More

  • BLOCKED: Stormont’s reason to stop Defamation Act remains secret

    UPDATE:  The Belefast Telegraph revealed earlier today that the Finance Minister Sammy Wilson ‘took a unilateral decision to halt the extension of libel reform to Northern Ireland without consulting other parties on the issue’.

    The Defamation Act 2013 has been hailed as a great liberal reform.

    The law means Britain’s notorious libel laws will be curbed and freedom of speech will be improved.

    It is long overdue. The country had become a desirable location for ‘libel tourists’ looking to settle scores in foreign lands (more on this below, see Background: Why the Defamation Act is so crucial).

    However, the Northern Ireland Assembly (NIA) decided to block the extension of the Defamation Act to the province. Read More

  • The Missing Children Project: Help us catalogue the number of children who went missing during ‘The Troubles’

    Recently, we asked the PSNI to tell us how many children went missing during Northern Ireland’s civil war, The Troubles. They don’t seem to want to give us that information. Their decision is currently under review. We’ll probably be taking the case to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

    Now, we want to reach out to you directly for help. Read More

  • Announcing some changes at The Muckraker: say hello to our new Editor!

    So, here’s the big news I’ve been promising you: The Muckraker has a new Editor, Claire Cromie!

    Claire has been with The Muckraker since late December, assisting in the background and working on some neat stories. She is a digital journalist at the Belfast Telegraph. Prior to the Bel Tel, she was a news editor for a weekly newspaper chain in England, having worked her way up from being a lowly reporter (ahem).

    As Editor, Claire will mainly be giving me a hard time, making sure I don’t say anything libellous and overseeing our new secret project (being announced in June).

    Just joking: she’ll be keeping The Muckraker in order, helping us to do bigger and better stories and, most importantly, hold the powerful to account. Our goal is to become a sustainable non-profit and hire more reporters, making Northern Ireland a better place by exposing the evil and wrongdoing that happen here. With the #newsecretproject, we’ll be beefing up our investigative coverage and growing our presence in NI. She’ll be guiding that effort.

    Below are a few questions I imagine some of you will have so I’ll do my best to answer them. If you have any other questions that aren’t listed here, ping me on Twitter or via email. Read More

  • Some details about a project I’m working on: a biography of the Reverend Robert Bradford MP

    For the last 7 months, I feel like I’ve been living under a rock. I’m so used to sharing the stories I’m working on with you. But the stories I’m working on are getting bigger.

    So is the risk of reporting them. Northern Ireland is not the friendliest of places for muckraking journalism. In 2001, investigative reporter Marty O’Hagan was murdered by a local terrorist group. In December, a Belfast Telegraph journalist was attacked while covering the loyalist flag protests. That same week, a pipe bomb was left outside the home of a press photographer.

    When I started to get tip-offs about sensitive stories Read More

  • ‘Snooping tax inspectors, Boris buses and a £27,000 rail ticket’ – This week’s best #muckreads

    The Weekly Scoop is a weekly post highlighting the best #muckreads (investigative stories) circulating the Interwebs that week. It’s curated by Muckraker reporter Ian Silvera.

    ‘Secrets of Britain’s secret Shar’ia councils’ by @BBCPanorama

    Muslim women have suffered domestic violence ignored by Shar’ia councils, Panorama revealed on Monday.

    The flagship investigative programme went undercover to figure out what’s happening in Britain’s Islamic religious courts.

    You can watch the show hereRead More

  • Wednesday Tip: How to read a company’s financial accounts

     I recommend that you use the free Companies House database Duedil throughout this tutorial to practice this article’s exercises. 

    Maths, endless pages of PR jargon and drab statements from business executives, it all sounds very dull doesn’t it? But investigative financial journalism is now more important than ever and this quick guide aims to help you understand financial accounts and enable you to reveal what’s really going on with an organisation’s finances. Read More

  • Northern Ireland’s police service refuses to release figures on number of children who disappeared during ‘The Troubles’

    If there’s one thing public officials in Northern Ireland hate, it’s being held to account. With one third of the population working in the Public Sector, local news outlets make a lot of money from the government via job ads. Let’s just say it’s had an affect on investigative journalism in Northern Ireland. Consequently, our politicians and civil servants are not used to being held to account.

    I’ve always known this but our lovely police force reminded me of it again last week. Read More

  • Tip for working on an investigation: Break the story down into manageable chunks

    One thing people love and loathe about me is that I constantly ask questions. I’m one of those people that needs to have answers to everything. It drives most people mad.

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve been this way. My favourite anecdote on it comes from my mother who describes the following conversation with my four-year old self: Read More

  • IRE announces its 2013 award winners

    Editors Note: The IRE link to the list of winners is broken so I’ve copied this from IRE’s listserv email (forgive me, guys!)

     

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    April 11, 2013

    2012 IRE AWARD WINNERS

     

    Contact:

     

    ·         Mark Horvit, IRE executive director, 573-882-1984 or mhorvit@ire.org

     

    ·         Lea Thompson, contest committee chair, 202-365-9083 or Thompson.lea@gmail.com

     

    ·         David Cay Johnston, IRE board president, 585-230-0885 or davidcay@mac.com

     

    COLUMBIA, Mo. – Investigations that spanned borders and oceans are among the work honored in the 2012 Investigative Reporters & Editors Awards.

     

    An intrepid reporter from Pittsburgh followed a story to Iraq to expose the cover-up of a killing. A team of broadcast journalists withstood heated criticism from the U.S. State Department over their work in Benghazi, Libya. A team of Swedish journalists traced its government’s money to a secret weapons plant in Saudi Arabia. A reporter in New York uncovered bribery in Mexico from a company based in Arkansas, with repercussions in India. A Spanish-language broadcaster in the U.S. discovered a weapons trail stretching from Mexico to Honduras to Colombia.

     

    Lea Thompson, chair of IRE’s Contest Committee, said the winners serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of investigative journalism. “The judges were inspired and moved by gutsy, courageous and heartbreaking work – all shining a light on despicable actions and often bringing about change on issues we otherwise would not have known about,” Thompson said. “Investigative journalism is alive and well.” Read More

  • Digging up the past: What really happened to Thomas?

    Recently, I was ready to give up on a story. I’ve been digging since August, with little to show for it. It’s been tough. Few people are prepared to talk about what really happened to Thomas, a man whose murder I’ve been asking questions about.

    Two things happened over the weekend that renewed my drive. Read More

  • The Lost Children: How many children went missing during Northern Ireland’s Civil War, The Troubles?

    For the last few months, I’ve been working hard on a story I can’t talk about (search our archives for Thomas’s Story). That’s meant you’ve read less about my adventures as a reporter. I miss that. I miss talking about what I’m working on, “opening the kimono” to borrow Henry Blodget’s parlance.

    So, it’s nice to be finally able to share my latest “line of inquiry”. Read More

  • ICIJ’s Offshore Taxes investigation is a game-changer for investigative journalism

    Today, ICIJ released the “largest investigative reporting project in its 15-year history“, an investigation into global tax havens. Titled “Secrecy For Sale: Inside The Global Offshore Money Maze”, it was a collaboration between 86 journalists in 46 countries. That’s incredible.

    Aside from its scale, what makes this project really interesting is the opportunities it opens up for investigative journalists. Increasingly, investigative journalists are becoming independent lone wolves without the resources of large news organisations. That limits their travelling budget and therefore their ability to work on stories that cross borders. Collaboration solves that problem. Read More

  • When is it okay to give up on a story?

    Sometimes, being an investigative reporter is like having your insides ripped out and dangled in front of you: excruciatingly painful.

    When you’re working on a tough story and no one’s talking and public record searches yield nothing, it sucks. You question how good you really are. You beat yourself up. Surely, if you were any good at the job, you’d have found something by now?

    I’ve been having one of those moments. For the last 8 months, I’ve been working on an investigation (known to regular readers as Thomas’s Story). I’ve found a few good leads but nothing close to what I need to publish the story.

    Six months ago, a source came to me with information about Thomas’s murder. The same person gave me information about a story five years ago – it turned out to be correct. So I listened to him. I’ve been able to verify 80% of what he said so far. I believe he’s telling me the truth.

    Right now, I can’t prove it. I’ve knocked so many doors, filed so many records requests and have very little to show for it.

    At what point do I give up? Read More