Since the charity investigation two years ago, I haven’t really thrown myself into a story. I was afraid to. It’s like falling in love again when the first time broke your heart: terrifying. But I’m doing it.
When I find a story, I lose myself in it. I become obsessed. I stay up at night. I replay interviews. I can’t sleep. I try to figure it out. There’s always a piece missing. It bugs me. The victims bug me. You’re not allowed to get “emotionally involved” in stories. But you do. You lie to yourself, promise “objectivity”. Then you’re sitting with a mother whose child was murdered. Or a young woman who was raped. And your job is no longer about getting a scoop. You think you can make things right by writing about them.
These stories scare me. When they get into my mind, I can’t get rid of them, not until they’ve been solved. They are like ghosts that want to be written about.
Then there’s the adrenaline. The buzz. It keeps me working through the night. When it’s 3am, I feel tired. But I’m alert.
Here’s a snapshot of the stories I’m working on at the moment:
The Wikileaks Files: When Wikileaks published its 251,000 cables, it did not redact the names of sources: whistleblowers, activists, diplomats. (In some cases, names were redacted (mainly the Afghan and Iraq war logs, I believe, published in partnership with the New York Times, The Guardian and a few other news organisations). I’m told there are fears some of the sources named may have been harmed. By being publicly identified in the cables, their lives were put at risk. To date, the fears are unfounded; there are no reports of anyone being seriously injured or killed after being named as an ‘informer’ or activist in WL’s cables. But I want to check it out. At the moment, I’m looking for a semantic search solution that can crawl the cables and compile a list of sources’ names. (Crawling manually through 251,000 cables is too big an undertaking for one reporter. Although I’ll do it if I have to). From there, I’ll start manually checking each name off the list by attempting to track each source down and find out what’s become of them. Currently, the biggest obstacle to this story is the technology. A semantic search would identify named sources by determining the context in which they are discussed in the cables. For example, if the sentence is “XXXX XXX is an activist in a Syrian rebel group”, the search would understand the meaning of the words “rebel” and activist” and determine that the name is a matching result for my search. I had talks with one startup in Belfast who have developed a cool solution but it was out of my price range (at £15K upwards, they normally sell to big corporations).
The Rape Crisis Centre: Three years ago, I investigated the government’s dealings with a small charity. The relationship between Northern Irish newspapers and the government department in question meant it wasn’t publicised locally. I’m digging up old paper trails and research and will publish the story again soon. Fear of returning to it has held me back.
The Old Boys Club: What happens when the son of a police chief is accused of rape? Without going into too many details (Google if you’re curious), this was a nasty case. After accusing the Chief’s son of rape, the alleged victim was publicly named and vilified by the city’s tabloid press. Regular leaks to the media about how shaky her case was seemed to stream from the police department. Normally, the media are quite good about keeping the identify of alleged victims private when writing about rape allegations and trials. It was strange that they didn’t in this case. Then, the woman’s complaint was dismissed. I’m sending a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act to the police department in question (as well as the District Attorney who handled the case) to find out more about what procedures were followed. They may not release it as it relates to a specific crime but given that it involves the son of the city’s police chief, it is in the public interest. If it is released, I’ll match it against both the police department’s and the DA’s written policies on rape/sex crime allegations to see if it matches i.e. if procedure was followed. If it wasn’t, there’s a story to be dug up.
Marie Colvin: This one is bugging me. It’s one of those stories that keeps me up at night. I don’t know why. I just feel there’s a story to be told. The sight of her mother at her funeral will always bug me.