Investigative Journalism-Week 5
Cuttings & Clippings
“Clippings”, “cuttings” or “cut” is newspaper industry jargon for an article cut out from a newspaper or magazine.
When you are asked to “do the cuts”, or “have you checked the cuts?” it means: have you searched the newspaper clippings libraries (for a story)?
The major newspaper clippings archive is Lexis Nexis. But this is expensive to access.
Newsbank, which is the news archive provided by Westminster libraries service. (It can be accessed via Westminster Gateway online.) Anyone can join Westminster libraries if you produce normal ID. Westminster Gateway also provides access to dozens of other specialists research archive which will help you.
LSBU has its own newspaper clippings archive that you can access online via your library membership (ProQuest).
Use newspaper clippings archives to research your stories – but also to make sure the story you are planning to do hasn’t already been done by someone else.
John Sweeney & Scientology
How would you feel if, while carrying out your investigation, your every step was closely monitored by the people you were investigating? This is what happened to John Sweeney on his first Scientology film for BBC1 Panorama. Scientologists filmed him as he was going along. Every moment of his conduct and journalism was scrutinised in a film that the Scientologists issued on a free DVD and online after the Panorama broadcast.
This is of course very rare. But if you find yourself at the wrong end of a libel complaint, or in an Ofcom dispute, then your journalism – your emails, your handwritten notes, your conversations – can be closely scrutinised retrospectively. Make sure you don’t end up embarrassing yourself like John Sweeney.
(Incidentally, John Sweeney had a second pass at Scientology in another Panorama film broadcast last year. What do you think? Is it a better film?
They don’t take it lying down
Public Relations people
Might fight back – in the Press Complaints Commission, via Ofcom, or in the courts with a libel action
What if your actions as a journalist/producer were under 24-hour scrutiny
What would it look like?
How would it look to others?
What could they say about you – about your conduct? The quality of your journalism?
Could that scupper your story?
How to Avoid Mistakes- (Common Sense Guide)
Tell the truth
Duty to inform the public
Avoid unnecessary offence
Be honest with sources
Be independent – of sources (don’t take money)
Ariel Hart: Columbia Journalism Review says: “I have never checked a story that had no mistakes, whether five pages long or two paragraphs.”
Objective errors of fact
No sources, sources misquoted
Dates wrong; wrong statistics
FACT-CHECKER versus AUTHOR
Go through story: is it fair? Is it biased? Is something missing
Go through story line by line: fact-checker ask the Author: “How do you know that?”
AUTHOR shows the FACT-CHECKER the source for each fact – a document, a hand-written note of interview
If no source, then CUT it
Abusing Your Subject
Temptation: to attack the subject or be angry
Don’t be emotional in the story
Don’t heap abuse on the subject
Take out insults or aggression
Let the facts tell the story and let the reader react to them
Right to Reply
If someone or some thing is attacked or criticised in your story, they need to be given a right of reply ( = Denial? Explanation?)
If they say something stupid, or unbelievable, “Quote It”
If they say nothing, write that they would not respond or refused to comment
Not talking is not a sign of guilt; neither is talking a sign of innocence
Review your article – use highlighter pen: mark all criticism of a person or organisation
Has the person/organisation you’ve criticised been contacted by you?
If not, WHY NOT?
What did they say?
Importance of keeping TIMED and DATES notes, ideally in SEQUENTIAL order. Make a note of right to reply – their comments
Makes notes of ALL your EFFORTS to get an answer or a response
Make sure you are contacting the right person/organisation – not the cleaner who picks up the phone!!
Have you given them enough to respond?
WHAT ARE THE ALLEGATIONS?
WHAT COULD BE THE “IMPLIED” ALLEGATION?
HOW WOULD OTHERS READ IT?
PUT YOURSELF IN THE SHOES OF THE PERSON/ORGANISTION YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT AND THEN READ IT – HOW WOULD YOU REACT?
Libel/Defamation- What is it?
– Lowers someone (or organisation) in the estimation of right-thinking members of the public, and/or
– causes them to be shunned or avoided and/or
– disparages them in their business, trade, office or profession and/or
– exposes them to hatred, ridicule or contempt.
Robert Murat – papers suggested he was an abductor, a liar, paedophile tendencies, similar to murderers
Pay-out was several £100,000
Jan 30 2009: Daily Mail: “Should Kate Winslet win an Oscar for the World’s most irritating actress?”
Kate Winslet said women should be relaxed about their bodies
But Mail said she was on an exercise regime – i.e. to keep trim and lose weight
High Court libel action
£25,000 “damages” (low)
£XXXX much more in “legal costs”
Mail publish an apology
Could the article be in the public interest – maybe somehow?
Undermined by sourcing????
The Public Interest
Does it pass “the public interest test”?
This will be your protection
Not: “what the public is interested in”,
IT IS “what is in the interest of the public”
Water company poisoning local water
Man is fraudster
No proper fire safety measures in a night-club
Attempt to topple the government of a foreign country using mercenaries
MPs going on foreign trips paid for businessman – but they don’t declare it
What is the Defense?
That it is true and you can show it to be true (JUSTIFICATION)
Proof – sources, multiple sources, you can refer to
People who WILL COME INTO COURT to support what you have said, or who are your sources
Defense: (Qualified) Privilege
Fair and accurate reports of public proceedings of…
– a legislature anywhere in the world (British Parliament) – even if wrong
The public has a right to know – this is a matter of public interest (this weighs in your favour)
Article written in a responsible, balanced way – you gave the other side a chance to respond
The subject of the article was contacted and asked for an explanation or given every reasonable chance to respond to allegations.
Graduate Multimedia Journalist, Online Editor at CIO UK and contributing writer at Culturefly and Contact Music.