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Read this: The truth about investigations

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The truth about investigations…

BBC sounds music Radio podcasts from BBC Radio 4 health British investigative journalism in you might think actually not least because a lot of it is happening away from the National headlines and being conducted by local journalists for incidents in Manchester because maybe it's because I should say it's being undertaken by specialist willing to operate for a variety of titles all parts is because a pandemic being a complex and hopefully the century event lends itself to scandal leeks and whistleblowers today.

We're going to go inside the Mechanics of investigative reporting to give you the nuts bolts for loading of being a proper investigative hack.

Let me introduce you to our guests George arbuthnot is a deputy editor of the Sunday Times insight team Jennifer Williams is politics and in.

Editor for the Manchester Evening News and Rachel all droid is older.

I'd say is managing editor and CEO of the Bureau of Investigation of investigative Rachel it is Georgia start with you over the past year you'll be running pieces on the Sunday Times on Britain's Handling of the pandemic and your book on this is called Bailey's Estates out this week's featured is from within the government and the NHS how have you got about cultivating sources during a pandemic because presumably you can't sneak off required coffee when will resume as we are right now.

What's the time? It's actually been easier because the key has been build-up sources within the government and the NHS and normally and pick it up if they got their horses over seeing them in the office and it's very hard to get a call into them and have an open conversation but been at home.

It's easier for them to speak to speak freely and it does it does often help to meet people in person to build up Trust but actually that the ability to ring someone else and have a conversation with and without them being supervised has certainly made a big difference and that was Jennifer Williams from the Manchester Evening News regarding through what George says there.

I mean I was well.

Just building those contacts in government.

I suppose I was building some of those contacts and go to Manchester and yeah, I wasn't health journalist before they still not my contacts with political rather than the public health system or anywhere like that, so I went through a similar process of building up my contacts base.

I actually found to be very useful in.

And in terms of just having chat with people over over direct messages.

I think sometimes people get worried about whether my messages can be applied and that kind of thing and they find social media Direct messaging yo is feels more comfortable and I've noticed that the quite a few people that people through direct message on Twitter then it's a safe of form of communication on WhatsApp or signal telegram.

I don't think I think it's more that people sometimes feel more comfortable having those conversations in that way then doing over text or doing it in another way and I've noticed a lot during the pandemic is in common with pizza at home.

So there's that in front of their laptops and if you just drop you a message on Twitter and say you know what.

Long side pieces looking at Amazon Walmart Facebook and how easy is it mean to interest readers in problems beyond the pandemic is it sounds a lot of people like the news of the last 80 months has been all virus.

Yeah, I mean I think it's not just had a lot of trump to Havant we've had a a year of just insatiable news stories and yes, it has been quite difficult to think he died of the virus and what else is important.

There are there are so many other important issues, and I think going back to sources one of the key things that gets people talking his anger.

There's a lot of Anger in the world at the moment say people really prepared to talk about things and that one of the key things that we found is that it is very difficult in this space to build up Trust O2 find those stories.

Define stories about the pandemic to find stories about Trump's leadership.

They are there been relatively easy in this world, but the stories you just don't know I exist those tricky ones in a world.

Where it all in remote zoom lens.

You don't know you don't talk about one of the most respected out.

It's in the word for Blockbuster scoops is the Washington Post and the last 9 years it has been Marty Baron he's just retired and earlier in the week.

I sat down with him open internet course.

It's another bonus interview for Media in the BBC Sounds app.

Just look up the media show and click subscribe and he talks about some the temp unit surprises that the Washington Post has one under his editorship and looked back at this time in Boston globe in the Oscar-winning film spotlight.

You know about his work there and I'm going to play a little bit of the interview now because I also asked him about how the Washington Post funds their famous there that will famous investigations.

Key question that we're going to talk about the moment because investigative journalism is expensive but the Washington Post as Marty Baron explains is now in the fortunate position of having a pretty rich owner name is Jeff bezos.


I think she's having a quiet awesome 2013/2014.

We would have been on a on a declining resources that I don't think we would have been because we are we were able to achieve stability to profitability and reinvest of little earnings because your faces doesn't need evidence and

Where and when did pair of you you and Jeff bezos first sit down and discuss the papers Direction Where We sat down with the name of the post the time made very clear right from the beginning that strategies are being born about Washington of the original made in the right strategy for a different era posted money over the years, but it wasn't the right strategy for the because we are taking all the payment for the internet had offer and I was just trying everything until her business and I'll be working what he called the gift of the internet.

We were a bit mystified as to what was at the time but he explained I think I clearly the gift was Worldwide Distribution and virtually no additional cost because of the internet we don't have to deliver papers every round the world and so you should be national and even international and this way because you don't look for additional cost and your ideally positioned to do so why?

We're based in the nations capital because we the good place for that because we had the name Washington Post a good name for going national and international and because we had a traditional Cottage there was well defined in the public tomorrow going back to Watergate dark.

Corners and pulling government institutions and individuals a cannibal one plug it's for the way when she found out that relationship publicly, but I wonder if you would say now reflecting on it somebody is on whether it's it's sometimes uncomfortable place for a journey to be being owned by out with someone who has an incentive in seeing their competitors denigrated, but if that's the case if you had an affair he knows that he thinks that the paper should have its independence and integrity he didn't buy the post for any other reason.

Amazon or anything like that.

It doesn't need it doesn't even help at the Washington Post and so you bought it from the mission mission of Amazon and so that all letters cover Amazon independence as well.

I can tell you this I always the reason favourable and he doesn't he doesn't criticising ceiling because the story doesn't suggest any stories and it's competitors know that we covered them as well for access to these competitors well regardless of the field instead weather is in retail and cloud Computing the world space commercial space you name it they all know that we cover them independently and otherwise.

I wouldn't talk to us but we're going editor of the Washington Post Marty Baron and you can get a match on the version of that into the BBC Sounds app real treat I hope.

Interested in the power of journalism and the importance of a free press and by the way you may have heard about an extended interview with engineer from last week.

Not to be with me eating and talking about it to please check that out as well on the podcast pick up some of the things that were mentioned there Rachel Aldred Marty Baron talk there about needing the deep pockets of a billionaire to fun pieces digging into the trump administration reports that have posted which is owned by BuzzFeed and outside.

It's shutting down.

It's UK news operation UK best of journey from team has already gone.

How did the bureau of investigative journalism front work, so I think the first thing to say is that this stuff is expensive it takes time it takes resource.

It's risky.

It's all there is in the public interest is not necessarily of interest in public.

So it doesn't so bring the cakes and the audiences so yes deep pockets are definitely needed and we are seeing did.

Does of journalism at the scene of which the bureau of investigative journalism is proper Keith under it so we are enough profit organization grants from foundations.

We get gifts from individuals and we get money from individual donations.

How's the Sunday Times insight team funded the Guardian see spikes in contributions around particular bits of investigative reporting like Carole cadwalladr stuff on Cambridge analytica is actually of you guys as well.


I mean we obviously we're back this Sunday x the payroll and he can a basis for that.

Is that rely on people leaving of the journalism we do is worth paying for and we believe that the readers and want to pay for big investigations and

Certainly when we did our first coronavirus story about how Boris Johnson is Mr first five meetings on the virus that goddamn on the thousands options which will actually pay for our team for a few years reading.

How do you know that so so you publish that story on a Sunday and then how do you then get the Department of department say it's amazing.

How do you know that? There's thousands were good people like that story that is understanding the people clicked off the story because it was like they will try to click on the story and then they pick some subscribeon on the story and then they could read it.

So you can you can I see directly where they come from which are fully come from encouraging fuse again this must be nice day, but you always a direct relationship with the reader and their pocket.

Unprecedented in terms of my time on Fleet Street to think it has something like 1.5 million views which is the most to Sunday X O X O Deva any single article in its history come onto the story and imagine your WhatsApp push back just on this funding question for Manchester music spot of Reach PLC how do they cover the cost of a long-running investigation because yours is a knot behind a paywall I think so my job.

I suppose I'd describe it as a hybrid job really I still write user stories in between working in the background on log form investigations and Duck kind of works for me because it means that I can keep your hand and keep an eye on what's going on and I'm not necessarily taking two months out solely work on an investigation.

It is not as resourcing.

Is ASDA however I think there's a bit of a misconception but heavier weight of one of the better phrase journalism doesn't get an audience online.

I think the early days of moving over to digital the assumption that was made that said people only want to read stories about celebrities and book a pictures of cats and they don't necessarily want to read politics or something heavy away or long-form.

That's not one of the things that we tried to do a lot of the Manchester Evening News is to play around with how we present our stories our stories Harry headlines, and how we sell them on social media importance of pictures and good quality pictures still importing online just as it was in print and we have found that is there for that content now don't get me wrong and really high value contents.

You would call viral isn't going to be my stuff, but that's not to say that there's only one man and a day.

I think no course although it's Cross subsidise buy stuff is a higher volume of traffic in and of itself.

It does actually it does actually get red and I think that's quite bad online and there's a story about the Daily Telegraph careful here, but there's a story suggesting that there were some moves in the database table to start paying some Jonas according to the number of people that were reading those stories.

I think the Telegraph dented of tried to explain it's much more complex thing that as a principal do you think what you think the idea has been paid according to how many people reading a story with it because I think when you picked up a print newspaper before online was a thing people picked up the newspaper for a mixture of different things they wanted the stuff about Coronation

And they wanted to politics as well and it's part of the why do to your audience and if you say actually only this part of that I think you're probably doing a disservice government advises Drew up a covid-19 triage school to deny critical care to most people over 75 who quoted someone involved saying it look really Nazi like to me and it causes read this back to you on your first published Story how many sources do you need to run a claim like that or we have documentary evidence from the government committee minutes and then we found the actual document online and we went to several members of activity.

At least 506 of them Monday confirmed that wasn't the document that's been discussed and then we spoke to numerous doctors in hospitals in further bed received the documents and it had been used within hospitals to exclude elderly people who became a bit of cheese and pickle from receiving and what did you get and from whom got back from the NHS press office you said who said everybody receive the care they needed and the NHS not been overwhelmed people use a NHS says, not true what happens next.

How do you decide you going to publish? Obviously look back at what we've got and compare it we haven't documentation the

From doctors on the ground in the actual wards and then we compare it to their statements and it was clear that we did not believe that what the post office saying was true in any sense, but we obviously we found no evidence and then carry their comments and then that our readers decide who they believe and ask the story was published in the NHS then come back to you again and say we change our relationship with you was any further push back.

No, I think the tensions between Arsenal and whenever insightnow does a story which talks about the stresses on the NHS we have a very kind of tense exchange relations.

I think it's too big to send message of Genesis the freedom of information request of course the Bureau now.

It's a big victory today.

You want your legal challenge against Thurrock Council which will now be forced to reveal where it is investing taxpayer.

Record this and you just take a suitcase briefly and say we have been digging into Council finances for over 2 years as a stretched area and cancelled as a result have been trying to find other means of of increasing their sons and one of the things that many councils have been doing is investing in Commercial and office buildings retail spaces.

I'm and in digging into that area we discovered that a very odd things seem to be happening that 150 councils were getting money to Thurrock which is a small council in Essex which has a fairly small budget each year.

I'm quite curious wanted to know why they were so much money.

We clocked up over 800 million-pound so much money from other councils and we read through quite a lot of the

Minutes we spoke to councillors and we couldn't really work out what the problem was and then we started to foi the other councils who had lent the money to find out why they had lent money anyway after mums2mums of working on this one getting documents from many other councils it transpired that they had been investing a lot of money in green energy investments and in particular.

They had invested over 400 million into 1 vehicle this seemed to us so we went to ask Thurrock about their other investments and we went and ask them if they could come on these Investments that we had bound small pieces of the puzzle along the way to and they basically said no so we freedom of information.

Get the response eventually we had to take it all the way up to the tribunal who's paying for all the way through it out of a central part that the Bureaus got any how are you finding this? So it's been fun.

Don't you know 2 years worth of work on one report is part.

We had to pay for lawyers to put our case to the tribunal reporter and lawyers you're heading towards 100g with other on-costs Underground on Thurrock Council not waiting for the ones.

Ok? I understand it's getting harder to use foi request as last month current and former editor signed a letter calling for an investigation is something called clearinghouses cabinet office unit which is alleged and they've given a pretty strong and rebuttal left your profile some Jonas and block Freedom of Information requests.

What do you make that Rachel information?

This is decisions and money that has been spent on our part as we should be able to have access to this, but it should be able to have my sisters too.

So you know the Freedom of Information Act is a very powerful tool, but it is increasingly being pushed back on it's been pushed back on as our case showed by commercial interests.

I mean more and more private companies are involved in public sector and one of the provisions in the axes that people councils and governments do not have to reveal information about private companies and that's what our case was trying to get that we now have access to information about Council Investments you been doing at the weekend about Greater Manchester Police who failed to record 80000 crimes in a 12-month period at the top of the news agenda at the moment.

What do you make about this changed wear for a while its utility to investigative journalist like you.

I turn to find it is quite.

Talk to you at the best of times but during the pandemic the Lord has changed so that it was much easier for organisations to basically so we can't really help at the moment because you've got going on which has been made extra hard.

I think everything that often strikes me about the other ways, but when you get organisations that are repeat offenders and I just really bad answering them and never really seems to be much in the way of consequences organisations that are very bad at Huntington and a great many ways that they can try and out of providing information and I completely agree more private sector involvement in the public sector and harder at least be able to use to measure confidentiality is a way of avoiding providing back against the first real big pandemic stories last year, so it's all detailed in your boot failure state.

They had a Blog changing some of your conclusions what's going on their son usual.

Once before when the Financial Times on a piece about the Vintage at the ventilators shortages, but yeah whenever peace in the early days seem to be to got traction have a tactical trying to undermine the reporting by putting out of block and went through the blog.

It was it was because it was it was completely misleading one example as they were trying to give evidence that the experts haven't been warning in January the pandemic will be serious, but they can selectively quoted some scientists from the best describes is going to selected quotation in a Kremlin ESK way and usually critical of it was really weird really weird thing for going to start doing this week since we were told they had this the unit the set-up which was telling the stuff out.

The day after a article and it doesn't it's hurting so much resource to trying to sort of the value of turned out to be completely accurate and and and and and a pandemic with some training resources Rachel this is the government decide to do it a bit more of they've got you know we see with the promise of Boris Johnson the Chancellor Rishi Sunak that we go see videos of their we see Paul photographers replaced by their own selected people you do find there's something about the technology in our pockets has given government a sense that they should control message much more days has it government big companies the amount of people that governments employee now to get their message out PR companies and we be on people to everything to everyone journalist, so you know we are fighting a huge branch of pr.

And lawyers.

You know I'm in the amount of legal letters that we get in or not.

Turn the government to you know then, they will redact documents they said they're going to give you they will get so much push back and you'll get down get spoke to people out denying what you said.

I'm in the army trying to push back on and it's a subject close to my heart and 10 seconds advice for young journalist very very quickly, what's the keeping any contacts contacts when you can take them to the pub very much indeed investigative journalism Jennifer Williams is he politics and investigations editor of The Manchester Evening News and George arbuthnot is a deputy editor of the Sunday Times insight investigations team and the book failures of state is out there.

Early we heard from Marty Barry now the former editor of the Washington Post I'll be back at the same time next week.

Thanks, goodbye.

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