THE BUREAU of Investigative Journalism invites freelances to pitch (paid-for) stories. Its editor-in-chief, Iain Overton, assured July's LFB meeting the Bureau pays fairly. Even if you have a tip and not the time or inclination to work on it, if the story develops into a partnership with a paper or broadcaster they'll pay a "finder's fee".
Iain is a former Channel Four News commissioning editor. Based at City University, the BIJ launched in April with a £2 million grant for its first five years, from the Potter Foundation. Why give £2 million? "Investigative journalism needs a financial shot in the arm": it's so eroded that "even public service people say, we haven't got the money" to do stories that take weeks or months of investigation.
An editor listens!
The Sunday Times told Iain it has a limit of £2000 or £3000 for a story - a fact which Iain feels "should be investigated itself." When Iain points out to these editors that they seem to have vast sums available for exclusive coverage of celebrity weddings, "I get a scornful look."
Ian hopes the BIJ will make editors see there is a market for investigative journalism - as with "the Telegraph expenses thing". He also hopes that after five years a "financial model through which organisations can move forward" will have been found for the media industry.
For example, the BIJ and the Financial Times each put up half the cost of hiring journalists for a Europe-wide investigation into the EU's "Structural Funds": are they allocated to "the wrong people"? If the BIJ can sell the story to another outlet, such as Arte in France, this covers staff for future investigations.
Meanwhile, the BIJ has 20 journalists, mostly freelance, working at any given time. They pay above the London living wage to new recruits to the industry and interns, unlike many of today's media industry entry-level jobs. "Junior" journalists with around five years' experience are on the pro rata equivalent of £30k, usually on three- to nine-month contracts.
In a front-page Guardian/BIJ story, ex-generals who recently fled from Iran's Revolutionary Guard revealed President Ahmadinejad's orders for helicopter gunships to attack civilians if demonstrations in Tehran had continued for longer.
BIJ's most exciting investigations are yet to come. A "very big story" involving "Tory MPs in the public eye" and a report on NHS whistleblowers were imminent, both with Channel Four News. And stay tuned for Al Jazeera's American pharmaceuticals story.(Links to stories added after their publication.)
What interests the BIJ? Human rights abuses, "centres of power being held to account", health, open society, miscarriages of justice, freedom of information, local and central government waste, and subjects that aren't being done extensively elsewhere.
Iain decided against working on a BP oil spill story, as US investigative foundation Pro Publica were covering it quite well already.
"We never steal ideas", and the Bureau will respond promptly to ask for development of ideas and evidence if interested. If freelances have good relationships with newspapers, Iain's happy to speak to their editor about a share. While entrapment isn't the BIJ's style, "Straightforward undercover stuff? Absolutely, and plenty of it."