The future of investigative journalism - Communications Committee Contents

CHAPTER 7: Training tomorrow's investigative journalists

243.  Many witnesses told us about the skills required to be an investigative journalist. Some told us that investigative journalists needed unique characteristics in addition to those of a regular journalist, for example, more determination to continue with a line of enquiry which may take a long time or be difficult to uncover. There is also a question about whether such attributes can be taught.

244.  John Mair, Senior Lecturer in Broadcast Journalism at Coventry University, described investigative journalists as a "strange breed", saying that:

"Investigative journalists ... can be quite difficult people. They are good journalists, they are accurate, but they have two or three qualities that make them stand out ... have a sense of mischief. They like to cause mischief, and they are also bloody determined. You will not put them off the scent. I am not sure how you teach that. I suspect that people like that will still be coming forward because there is one—or several—in every generation."[192]

Mr Alan Rusbridger, Editor, The Guardian, appeared to agree, at least in part, with this analysis, saying that "investigative reporters' brains are wired differently."[193]

245.  However, Mr Paul Lewis, Special Projects Editor, The Guardian, did not agree with his Editor's analysis that investigative journalists were different from other kinds of journalists, saying that:

"Each investigative journalist has their own moral compass, and it will be different in each case. As flattering as it may be, I do not buy this argument that we are a breed apart. Some are obsessive, you know, some are probably a bit lazy too. What is interesting is that I think all investigative journalists have very different characters."[194]

246.  Paul Lashmar, investigative journalist and Lecturer in Journalism from Brunel University, described the teachable skills needed to be an investigative journalist, saying that: "They have to have a very good grasp of the law. They need functional journalism skills; they do not have to be great writers. Persistence is a key part of it. The determination to carry through where others do not is quite a clearly definable element of the investigative journalist."[195] Mr Stephen J Adler, Editor-in-Chief, Thomson Reuters, agreed, saying:

"There is the ability simply to stick to something. There is a good amount of instinct involved and there is an awful lot of specialised intelligence to know how to read something to take you to something else and of course to know how to get information from people who might be reluctant initially to give it."[196]



247.  Given the technological changes which are occurring, investigative journalists will increasingly need to be adept in using digital technology, particularly social networking tools and analytic tools.

248.  We welcome the investment in the training of journalists made by broadcasters. John McVay, the Chief Executive of the Producers' Alliance for Cinema and Television (Pact), for example, told us that some broadcasters were working with Skillset, the industry body which supports skills and training for the UK creative industries.[197] In particular, we became aware during the inquiry of Channel 4's recently increased commitment to training, and we welcome its Chief Executive, David Abraham's recent announcement at the Oxford Media Convention in January 2012, that new contracts for the production of Dispatches "are to provide paid work and mentoring as part of the Channel 4 Investigative Journalism Training Scheme."[198] We also note the BBC's investment in training through its academy for journalists.

249.  In the newspaper industry we note that there has been a decline in the number of training opportunities available to aspiring journalists. This is partly because local newspapers no longer have the resources available to provide training, largely as a result of financial pressures and a reduction in staff numbers. World in Action Editor and Executive Producer, Ray Fitzwalter, said: "The training courses that there used to be in local newspapers ... do not exist anymore."[199] Those wishing to be journalists often have to be prepared to work for free at local news organisations in order to develop work experience and try to find work.

250.  We have heard about the increasing use of internships as a means for prospective journalists to gain relevant work experience. In his evidence, Mr Edmund Curran OBE, Member of the Newspaper Society, made this clear: "There are increasingly—and I am not so sure it is a great thing—internships. I think it is almost getting journalism on the cheap. But obviously if young people are being trained and they cannot find a post, they are prepared to accept something less just to get a foot in the door and get going."[200] We have also heard concerns that projects where student journalists work on stories without pay, have increased the competition in an already competitive marketplace and that this runs the risk of squeezing out opportunities for people who try to earn a living from investigative reporting.

251.  We welcome the investment made in training journalists by the whole media and encourage continued investment in this area, especially in digital technology skills. In particular we appreciate the financial pressures facing all media organisations, especially the local newspaper industry but we encourage local newspapers, wherever possible, to provide both paid and voluntary opportunities for aspiring journalists to gain practical experience in local news organisations.

252.  We welcome the opportunities which internships offer but these should not be considered as an alternative to paid employment opportunities for journalists.

253.  We encourage all media companies to offer training opportunities. In those media industries where there is a regulator, the regulator should consider whether there are circumstances in which they should mandate the offering of training opportunities.


254.  There are now approximately 60 university courses in journalism in the UK. Ray Fitzwalter mentioned that he had "counted up that there are 60 British media schools ... and those are ones that have some editorial content or are devoted to editorial matters."[201] We have heard how universities increasingly provide the training ground for aspiring journalists which used to be offered by local media. Gavin MacFadyen, Visiting Professor, City University and Director, Centre for Investigative Journalism, for example, spoke about local media training, saying: "When that dried up ... it was passed to universities to try to make up for this difference."[202] We have heard about three in particular which specialise in investigative journalism—City University, Strathclyde and Sheffield.

255.  Ray Fitzwalter argued that there are now too many university courses in journalism and not enough jobs, commenting that "we could probably do without half a dozen universities and not feel any loss whatever."[203]

256.  Certain universities focus on offering practical training opportunities in investigative journalism for their students, both in the form of placements and through innovative schemes such as the Sheffield Record project at Sheffield University. Several witnesses have praised the important role played by universities in delivering investigative journalism in projects such as these. Gavin MacFadyen told us that Strathclyde University had started a project based on the Innocence Project from a university in Chicago which had encouraged law students to re-examine the cases of convicted prisoners on death row. The Innocence Project at Strathclyde University used journalism students to re-examine the cases of convicted criminals with a view to finding and overturning any wrongful convictions.[204]

257.  We recognise the important role played by universities in training investigative journalists and encourage the Government to support these educational facilities in providing useful and practical training opportunities for aspiring journalists.


258.  An additional route through which journalists can acquire the skills they require to operate and launch their own journalistic projects is through charitable sponsorship and mentoring. It is, of course, essential that there are safeguards to ensure that the donor has, and is seen to have, no influence on the investigations.

259.  An example of this we encountered during the present inquiry was the recently established Journalism Foundation, an organisation set up with a grant from the Lebedev family as an independent charitable foundation.

260.  Its Chief Executive Officer, Simon Kelner, described the three very different projects the Journalism Foundation has decided to support in the first instance:

"In one we are establishing the first really practical training courses for journalists in Tunisia ... Of course, what the journalists there want to know is very basic stuff. How do you sell newspapers? How do you sell advertising? How do you do an edition structure? ... On the other side is a project in Stoke-on-Trent, which was set up by a very public-spirited guy just over a year ago ... He started a website called, which is terrific. It covers local politics in a very fair and impartial way ... We are helping him to build the reach of his website with funding and resources ... The third project, which is very much in gestation at the moment, is based in Tanzania, where another very public-spirited guy, with help from DfID, has set up two Swahili newspapers in outlying areas where there have been no local news networks at all ... We are going out there to see how we can help him."[205]

261.  Another example of charitable sponsorship of investigative journalism was explained to us by Iain Overton, Managing Editor, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as described earlier in this report (paragraph 205).

262.  We welcome the establishment of charitable sponsorship and mentoring bodies, and hope to see this model replicated more widely.

192   Q 30 Back

193   Q 39 Back

194   Q 583 Back

195   Q 474 Back

196   Q 650 Back

197   Q 315, 317 Back

198   Channel 4 Chief Executive, David Abraham's speech to the Oxford Media Convention, 25.01.2012  Back

199   Q 186  Back

200   Q 554 Back

201   Q 186 Back

202   Q 447 Back

203   Q 186 Back

204   Q 463 Back

205   Q 842 Back

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