Does the future of investigative journalism lie in education?

Key witnesses at the House of Lords Communication Committee believe that education is the key to the future of investigative journalism in an increasingly difficult media environment.

Speaking at the inquiry into the future of investigative journalism, key witnesses John Lloyd and David Levy from the Reuters Institute and John Mair, a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University suggested that reform of the journalism education system in the UK could be the way to move journalism forward in an ever evolving landscape.

John Lloyd explained that new forms of crime “are furiously complex” and as such a need for an improved education of journalism is crucial. Lloyd said that contemporary journalism needs better explaining and understanding skills than ever before, along with a wide range of new skills and an understanding of new technology.

John Mair commented that journalism education in the UK is “a mess”, and suggested that every journalism course should have an element of investigate journalism training, but added:

“Investigative journalists are a strange breed. They’re accurate, they have a sense of mischief, and they’re bloody determined. I’m not sure you can teach that.”

Levy explained the importance of investigative journalism in society, commenting that it “uncovers things people don’t want to be uncovered,” but stressed that there was a need to balance what was in the public interest with what interests the public. Levy also said that in the process of uncovering those things, deception was sometimes necessary, and spoke of an opportunity for journalism which “covers a wider spectrum of organisation,” suggesting that more organisations could benefit from closer scrutiny.

Describing the MP’s expenses revelations as “classic investigation,” Mair said that the scandal was “admirably” exposed by the Daily Telegraph.

Lloyd stressed that the public interest is the core of investigation. He supported the view that measures taken to uncover investigative journalism stories are retrospectively justified, claiming that the checks and balances that are in place are such that it is possible to determine the extent of the public interest. Throughout the evidence session, the witnesses stressed the importance of balancing the damage done through investigation proportionately with the public interest.

The witnesses suggested that “mutual” journalism, a result of the internet, between professionals and citizens could be the future of the trade. Mair added that the changes in the media sphere had changed dramatically, comparing citizen journalism as we know it now to the reader’s letters sections of the past.

Lloyd added that journalism must build into the area in which profits can be realised, citing investigative journalism as a key aspect of this.  He described the MP’s expenses scandal as “an uninhibited search for scandalous information”, and went on to suggest that unless this kind of journalism is being undertaken, the plurality of the British press will shrink.

The committee raised concerns regarding “retrospective justification” of investigative journalism, and the witnesses explained that justification is the only kind there is, but explained that editors and journalists must be prepared to face the consequences of their investigations and publications. Lloyd explained in relation to the phone hacking case in particular, “the end justified the means.”

The session was completed with a statement from Mair: “Great investigations keep us all honest.”