Investigative Journalism-Week 5 The Opposition

Investigative Journalism-Week 5

The Opposition


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?


The Fightback

They don’t take it lying down

The Individual/Organisation

Public Relations people


Might fight back – in the Press Complaints Commission, via Ofcom, or in the courts with a libel action

Scientology-The Nightmare

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

Avoid deception

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



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?








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.


Madeleine McCann

Robert Murat – papers suggested he was an abductor, a liar, paedophile tendencies, similar to murderers

Pay-out was several £100,000


Kate Winslet

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

Allegation: Hypocrite?

Allegation: Liar?

High Court libel action

£25,000 “damages” (low)

£XXXX much more in “legal costs”

Mail publish an apology

Celebrity tittle-tattle?

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

-courts of law and tribunals anywhere in the world
-a public inquiry by a government or legislature anywhere in the world
-an international organisation or international conference.

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.

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