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UK investigative journalism bureau wins £2m grant

By Paul McNally

A major new journalism project that aims to be the “counterweight” to the perceived decline of investigative reporting has secured £2m in start-up funding, it was announced today.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism will launch in London in the coming months and claims to be the first organisation of its kind in the UK dedicated to independent public interest journalism.

It will hire a managing editor, two or three reporters and will also fund freelance investigators and researchers. Its aim is to dig out – and then sell – the stories that many news organisations say they can no longer afford to cover in-house.

The not-for-profit bureau has been given the go-ahead as a result of the “extraordinary generosity” of a single donor – the Potter Foundation – which has made the £2m grant.

The foundation is run by David Potter, who made his fortune as the founder, chief executive and now chairman of hand-held computer manufacturer Psion, and his wife Elaine – a former Sunday Times journalist who now chairs the board of the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

She said today: “Our goal in helping establish this project is to support investigative journalism of the highest ethical standards and to search for sustainable models for its long-term future.”

Today’s announcement comes a month after a group of investigative journalists joined forces to launch a campaign to raise funds for the future of investigative journalism.

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One of the journalists behind the campaign, Stephen Grey, will be acting editor of the new bureau as it prepares for launch, until a permanent managing editor is appointed.

“We’ve had an incredible response and some great suggestions on how to move forward, and this extraordinary generosity is a sensational start,” Grey said.

“I think the plan we’ve backed is the best way of taking on board all the best suggestions we’ve received.

“I believe it can have a transforming and positive effect on reporting in this country, and go a long way to encouraging and supporting new talent.”

He told Press Gazette: “We’ve been trying to get this going for a while. We really wanted to get a debate going and make sure this thing is done right.

“Certainly this particular donation has outstripped anything I would have imagined.”

Grey said the new bureau would be more of a “production house” than a publisher – conducting the journalistic legwork before selling the story to a news organisation to be aired.

Centre for Investigative Journalism director Gavin Macfadyen said: “We will experiment with all the techniques available to us from crowdfunding to crowdsourcing and provide content across the media spectrum.

“But there is no substitute for first rate reporters being given time and resources to deliver great stories, which hold the powerful to account.

“The bureau will offer investigative journalists both proper funding and the support of senior and experienced editors and researchers to carry out important investigations that are in the public interest.”

Google has agreed to help the bureau with software tools and technical training. Seymour Hersh and Flat Earth News author Nick Davies are among those who are supporting the new initiative.

Hersh said today: “The world of serious journalism is in crisis, with the collapse of economies, loss of jobs, and sharp reduction of advertising budgets.

“The impact on expensive and sometimes unpredictable investigative reporting has been immediate, and devastating.

“I applaud and support the new Bureau of Investigative Journalism for these new and independent investigative units may become the role model for a new kind of journalism.”

Davies added: “The world is full of extraordinary stories which never get written, because the mainstream media no longer have the resources or the will to do the kind of work which they used to.

“The idea is for reporters to be given the support to go and research good important stories.

“This matters because we all need to know what is happening around us, particularly when powerful people may be trying to conceal it.”

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