Q&A with Paul Bradshaw: crowdsourcing investigative journalism
In our latest speaker Q&A we hear from Paul Bradshaw.
A reader in online journalism at Birmingham City University, where he teaches an MA in Online Journalism, Paul is a former magazine editor and website manager, and contributor to a number of books about journalism and the internet.
He launched the Online Journalism Blog in 2004 and his ‘Model for the 21st Century Newsroom‘ and ‘BASIC Principles of Online Journalism‘ series have formed the basis for newsroom operations and journalism education around the world.
Paul will be taking part in our panel discussion Building user-driven projects: How can you use your audience to produce better reporting and special features? What are the benefits of letting users become part of the editorial process?
Tell us a bit about your career so far
My background is largely in the magazine industry – I was group editor for a publisher of internet and music magazines, then I managed the online services of another publisher. I’ve taught online journalism for eight years, combining that with work as a freelance journalist and writer, and as a media consultant and trainer. I also speak widely about online journalism – although I try not to do so much that I don’t have time to do it!
Can you tell us a bit about HelpMeInvestigate.com and how it works?
It’s a platform for crowdsourcing investigative journalism. In a nutshell, users submit a question, which then forms the basis of an investigation. There are over 150 investigations on the site. Each investigation is broken down into ‘challenges’ – small tasks that will take it forward, such as submitting an FOI request, or finding an expert. People are invited to the investigation and can contribute in different ways by accepting different challenges. Most investigations will founder but 10-20 per cent gain traction and unearth results.
What benefits does crowdsourcing bring to investigative journalism?
Engagement firstly – previous examples of crowdsourcing show that people are much more interested in an issue if they’re part of the investigation. Secondly, access to a wider skillset: we’ve had a couple of investigations which involved data analysis by a forensic accountant most news organisations couldn’t afford. There have been contributions from lawyers, active citizens, and council employees. It’s the idea of ‘given enough eyeballs’ most problems can be solved.
Can you see large mainstream news organisations turning to crowdsourcing to aid investigative reporting?
Yes – there is an obvious appeal in terms of efficiencies: you can get more done with less. But there has to be a genuine exchange – you don’t get something for nothing. So you either make it rewarding, or fun, or social – and ideally all three.
How is the site funded?
We had proof of concept funding from Channel 4’s 4iP fund and Screen West Midlands for the first three months. Since September it has been an entirely voluntary operation. We are currently exploring potential business models but I can’t say any more on that!
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