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September 10, 2015

Greenpeace expands into journalism with launch of investigations team

By William Turvill

Greenpeace has announced the launch of a new investigative journalism unit, bringing its editorial staff number in the UK to seven. (Picture: Shutterstock)

The campaign group already has a news website, Energydesk, founded in 2012, which has an editor, two reporters and an intern.

The investigative team is led by Jim Footner, Greenpeace's deputy director of investigations, and now counts former Panorama and Newsnight producer Meirion Jones as a part-time consultant. Maeve McClenaghan, formerly of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and Lucy Jordan, who has worked for the New York Times and Vice, have also joined the team.

Executive director John Sauven told Press Gazette the organisation is changing its "mindset" and prioritising investigations. And he said the door is open for Greenpeace's journalistic operation to grow further.

He said: "We will increasingly focus and prioritise the investigative work as a key aspect of what we do as an organisation. In the past we might… have been known as a direct action organisation. I suppose what we want to be known as is an investigative organisation."

One of the advantages Greenpeace has over media organisations, he said, is that "nowhere is off-limits to us", with employees working across the world.

Asked whether the expansion into investigative journalism has been prompted by news organisations having more limited resources, he said: "To a certain extent I suppose the media landscape has changed very dramatically. And I suppose if you look at, say, traditional newspapers, many of them – or even traditional broadcasters – many of them have cut back. Partly for budgetry reasons, partly because their priority’s lie elsewhere.

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"Some of that has been picked up by organisations that might do some of this work, like Buzzfeed, and there are a couple of I think newspapers maybe still take this work seriously – like The Guardian certainly does, the Telegraph certainly does."

Former BBC journalist Damian Kahya has edited Greenpeace's news website, Energydesk, since launching it in 2012.

He said: "The point of the project is to be collaborative, internally and externally.

"The initial slogan of Energydesk was 'open data and open reporting on energy and climate'. It’s obvious that we’re working from within a campaigning organisation but we have our independence in what we write and how we write about it.

"And the idea to make the stories as useful to other people as possible."

He said that initially Energydesk was targeted at journalists, but is now for a "much wider audience". He added: "They’re still written so that other journalists could look at them, could take them apart, add their own research and reconstruct them."

Kahya said that although Greenpeace is a campaigning organisation, the journalistic operation has "editorial independence".

Asked how this works, he said: "For Energydesk the way it works broadly is that I would never be forced to publish anything… and the final say over what goes on the site rests with the editorial team."

He added: "Obviously we tend to focus on areas that are important to Greenpeace because that’s where a lot of our information comes from… I don’t want to call it an independent project, but it has editorial autonomy or editorial independence. The other thing that’s important is we put out the facts as we see them."

Asked whether an investigative reporter working for an organisation like Greenpeace can be called a journalist, he said: "I think so. I think that so long as you tell the facts as you see them, and so long as you have the freedom that what you write is what you believe the facts to be, then you can be called a journalist.

"I think that if you look at the range of what journalism is becoming in the new media context – and also already is in terms of media outlets where there can be significant output from proprietors – I don't think that this is off the ballpark. Ultimately what’s important is to put the content out there and let [people decide."

He added: "What I would say is that we have to work very hard to make sure that we get everything right."

Kahya also suggested that the fact Greenpeace has moved into investigative journalism should not be surprising. He said: "Greenpeace has been doing investigations without having an outlets for them for eons. So it’s not that new – the idea of bearing witness to investigative journalism is core to Greenpeace and in that sense it’s not too surprising that Greenpeace is the first one to try and do this."

Meirion Jones, who left the BBC earlier this year, has joined the investigative team as a consultant and will work for one day a week at Greenpeace.

He suggested that other campaigning organisations could follow the influence of Greenpeace, creating more jobs for investigative journalism. He said: "It may well be that it opens up new opportunities for investigative journalists at a time when TV, for instance, is very wary of taking on risks.

"TV is moving away from doing investigations because they’re expensive and they don’t know if they’re going to work."

He also said that the move should prove postive for traditional news organisations, who can draw on Greenpeace's research.

Jones told Press Gazette: "Newsdesks can’t just ring up somebody and say what’s happening in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you can’t find out what’s going on in a jungle in Indondesia – Greenpeace actually can.”

Asked why he had chosen to join up with the Greenpeace team, Jones said: "I’m working for them because I’m interested in what they’re doing and I think in general they’re a force for good."

He added: "I think what you’ll get out of this is much better researched stories. Stories that will meet tests that the media would want to set for them.

"Campaigns and campaigners often make very inflated and misleading claims. I would imagine that anything coming out of this unit will have been properly tested and gone through all the processes – right to replies, everything else – that you would do if you were a journalist doing a story about someone."

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