The collapse of the print media and the rise of the free internet is threatening to destroy the income that allows traditional journalism to thrive.
As papers and TV cut and cut again staff they have fewer and fewer resources to scrutinise and investigate government, business, crime and the dodgy guys have a much greater chance of getting away with it.
So just like the ancient search for the Holy Grail journalists have been looking for a way to fund their time-consuming and expensive investigative operations. Some have sought world-wide alliances like Alan Rusbridger,editor of The Guardian, to bring an international flavour – like the Prism survellience scandal – to journalism. Others like Rupert Murdoch have thought pay walls and monopoly control will fund journalism.
But they might just be a third way. The government’s decision enthusiastically endorsed by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, to open up data has provided an amazing opportunity for a new breed of journalists – data journalists – to exercise their amazing mathematical and computer savvy skills- and create new stories. But they have also opened up an extraordinary lucrative way to raise cash from business for a tailor-made service to meet their individual needs.
Exaro, the news organisation, who employ me on a freelance basis, may have just found the answer to marry this. By exploiting government data Exaro’s data journalists have produced a major story on the state of liquidations in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland ( see http://www.exaronews.com/articles/5008/liquidations-are-running-at-four-times-level-before-credit-crunch ). But this journalism led investigation – by Tim Wood, Henry Taylor and George Arnett – also has a very lucrative spin-off that may bring an income worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
As Jasper Jackson ( son of the late Mark Jackson. my friend and one of Fleet Street’s great colourful journalist characters) discloses ( see http://www.themediabriefing.com/article/exclusive-exaro-news-channels-investigative-journalism-into-data-products) the possibilities of a tailor-made service that can change the finances.
As Mark Watts, editor in chief of Exaro, puts it: ”
“There are data journalism teams out there, but they traditionally don’t worry about making things commercial. What we are doing is rather different because it is journalists who are doing it, generating material for editorial purposes, but in the same breath doing it for commercial purposes.
The editorial aspect is important. The data interrogation techniques are very specific and journalists are also able to present things in a meaningful way. There is a sense of having to distil it, and make sense of the data.”
So have we discovered the Holy Grail, the way to break stories, subsidise other important investigations, without compromising editorial integrity? Francis Maude may have to put up with data journalism providing an income stream enabling us to investigate and scrutinise him and Cabinet ministers even more thoroughly. A double-edged sword at times.