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How I got into investigative journalism

Patricia Cruz

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Investigative reporter and alumna Vicky Gayle shares how she got into investigative journalism.

Holding power to account, uncovering secrets, and telling stories that make a difference… these might be just some of the reasons why you want to be a journalist.

Investigative journalists have some of the most exciting jobs in the industry and are the subjects of countless TV dramas, films, and documentaries.

But what is it really like to be an investigative journalist? And what does it take to become one?

We spoke with Vicky Gayle, health inequality reporter for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, about how she got into investigative journalism and her advice for people wanting to break into the industry.

VICKY’S ROUTE INTO INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

What made you want to become an investigative journalist?

My intention has always been to write articles that mean something and for my journalism to be useful and impactful.

Investigations are typically long-form and require intense focus, which suits my personality and writing style, and lets me produce work that matters to readers.

What was your path to a journalism career?

I began writing in my teens and contributed to different local publications in Birmingham.

A youth magazine asked me to be an editor, so I managed a team of writers and edited their work from my dorm room during my first year at university.

I did the usual – university paper, starting blogs, doing unpaid work placements – and was constantly writing.

After university, I took a few years out and worked at a secondary school before enrolling on the postgraduate NCTJ course in Manchester.

After completing my NCTJ, I landed a trainee job at the Daily Gazette in Colchester.

Read how to make the most of student media here.

What does an average day look like in your current role?

My day as a health and inequality reporter at the Bureau Local will vary depending on what stage of a project we’re at, but there’s always a lot to juggle.

If we’re at the beginning ‘scoping’ stage, I’m reading a lot, contacting people for interviews, and establishing my subject knowledge.

Our latest project will be published next week, so I’m fact-checking, providing evidence, giving feedback on illustrations, and answering questions from different colleagues.          

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What is your favourite investigative story you’ve written?

A data-led investigation into systemic barriers for deaf people trying to access mainstream mental health support is one of my favourite published stories.

Even when others didn’t agree, I pushed to do the story because I knew how important it was, so I’m proud of myself for believing in my own editorial judgement.

Deaf people’s health still doesn’t get enough attention.

Are there any journalists who inspire you?

I don’t idolise any journalists. There are a lot of people doing great work and I see and respect that, particularly the older journos whose wisdom I’ve always valued.

I have a lot of admiration for anyone challenging the status-quo in journalism, who have launched their own platforms or are working on documentaries.

GETTING INTO INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

What are your three top tips for carrying out an investigation?

  1. Question everything. Even when you think you’ve established the answer, double check, and purposely look for what you might have missed.
  2. Develop a thicker skin. It’s hard when your work is being scrutinised to not take it personally, but in my experience, my colleagues are doing what our readers will eventually do – picking holes. Remember that and embrace the feedback.
  3. Don’t skip steps. Investigations are like dissertations and each step is important to the next. Be clear on what you’re doing and what the story is, as it becomes more complex later on.

What are the biggest mistakes aspiring journalists make?

Not using their location to their advantage enough. News is everywhere so make use of your connections and local communities.

That gives you a lot of scope to create interesting pitches for local and national outlets, and there are many specialist and independent titles to build your portfolio and write about niche topics.

Should you specialise early or try to be an all-rounder?

There is no right or wrong answer to whether a person should specialise or not. However, if you know you’re passionate about health or criminal justice, for example, it will absolutely work in your favour to build up subject knowledge and contacts in that field.

Eventually, those contacts will lead to tip-offs and all journalists want those.

I came into investigations via data journalism. You build up the skills and techniques the more ambitious your stories become – as you should in any newsroom.

What qualifications do you need?

You don’t need a degree for journalism full stop, but I will always encourage an NCTJ qualification, including shorthand.

Relying on audio recordings isn’t ideal and you can’t do regional or local news reporting properly without shorthand.            

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What are your biggest takeaways from doing an NCTJ course?

Shorthand becomes fun and once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be proud of yourself.

When doing the course, you should write for local publications like Mancunian Matters and take it seriously. You’ll use those same skills when you start working in the industry and the articles will be included in your portfolio.

I knew having an NCTJ would get me a junior reporter job and that job led to where I am now.

Whether you want to go into investigative journalism, entertainment writing, sports reporting or political correspondence, we cover it all at !

Find out more about our NCTJ Multimedia Journalism diploma courses here.

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Article: Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online

Patricia Cruz

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The study “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska from Georgetown University experimented on news consumers’ trust as brought on by transparency, and further, in the second experiment, explored the reasons for the findings in the first.

Transparency in journalism is defined as opening up the journalistic processes (production, decision making) to outsiders, i.e. making journalism more transparent. Karlsson (2010, 2020) further divides transparency into disclosure, participatory, and ambient transparency. 

Defining trust, on the other hand, in journalism has been tricky, as it has been associated with credibility. Kohring and Matthes (2007) define the four elements of trust: 1. trust in topic selectivity; 2. trust in fact selectivity; 3. trust in accuracy of descriptions, and 4. trust in journalistic assessment. 

This study recruited its participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform. There were a total of 1092 participants. They were presented with a news story about nanoparticles – a topic that was unfamiliar to most and therefore had a low risk of partisan opinions. The article was presented in six different webpages that had differing transparency items in them.

There were 11 different trust items in the first experiment. Based on the results, the hypotheses were rejected. They were H1: A a) production transparency news item and a b) producer transparency news item will be trusted more than a non-transparent item. H2: A full transparency (both production and producer transparency) news item will be trusted more than a) a non-transparent article, b) a production transparency article, and c) a producer transparency article. And H3a: A full transparency news item will be trusted more than a full transparent article that includes biased information about the producer. H3b: A producer transparency news item with neutral personal information will be trusted more than a producer transparency article with biased information.

Nevertheless, the participants agreed that the journalist was trustworthy and that they sometimes trusted the news media. On results, it was speculated that the participants did not recognize the transparency features as cognitive heuristics and did not interact much with the transparency items. 

The second experiment was similar. There were a total of 379 participants, who were not the same as in the first one. They were assigned to read the same article as in the first about nanoparticles, placed again on five different webpages with varying transparency features.  

Further on, the participants were asked to recall the transparency features (such as hyperlinks, author bio, editorial explanations etc.) and to recall specific information from the article and the transparency features. 

The participants recalled items such as the photo (84% of the ones assigned to the webpage with a photo) only 34% could correctly identify the journalist. Similarly, 53% of those who had seen an editorial explanation recalled it, but only 26% could recall a detail from it. Participants also had trouble recalling the individual transparency features they were exposed to.

It was noted that the participants had better recall on items that were part of the actual story than the ‘digitally outsourced’ transparency items. It is possible that this information is not adequately processed or they failed to acknowledge the utility of this information. 

In conclusion, it still remains unclear how the link between transparency and audience’s trust is created. The question remains on whether news consumers recognize transparency features as markers of journalistic quality.

The article “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska is in Journalism Studies. (open access). 

Picture: scrabble tiles spelling trust by Ronda Dorsey.

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News ideology and media storms in France and Israel

Patricia Cruz

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The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner from Hadassah Academic College looked at the nexus of news ideology and media storms using two media storms to analyze the topic: the Yellow Vests Movement (2018) in France and the Occupy Movement (2011) in Israel.

Media storms are defined as events or topics that take up a substantial part of the coverage for a period of time. They typically peak after few weeks in the beginning and then begin to fade. They have been studied widely with various terms being applied to them like “media event” or “media hypes”.

In the past 15 years, there has been an increase in the amount of studies on media ideology. Measured against the hypothetical gold standard of pure objectivity, media bias can be seen when coverage varies from source to another in different weighings and so on, with professional considerations having been overtaken by ideological ones.

The ideology is often seen in framing – as in this case, left-wing media tends to frame the protests positively and right-wing negatively. This was one of the topics in this study.
There were two data sets for the study: the Israeli one and the French one. The Israeli dataset consisted of coverage from Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel Hayom, Maariv, Haaretz, Makor Rishon (a national-religious newspaper), and Yated Neeman (an ultra-religious newspaper). Israel Hayom, Makor Rishon, and Yated Neeman are right-wing, the rest are left wing.

The French dataset consisted of coverage from Le Figaro, Le Monde, Libération, and L’Obs – listed here from right to left ideologically. The articles from both datasets were coded either positive, negative, or neutral based on several criteria.

The results show that media storms are a multi-media phenomenon, affecting a number of newspapers at once. The findings also demonstrate a media bias: if professional considerations were the only thing that mattered, the coverage in left- and right-wing media would have resembled each other.

Instead, there was a trend of negative coverage in right-wing media and positive in left – and what is more, the lines of coverage moved to opposite directions, showing increased polarization. There were differences between the storms: in the Israel case the newspapers chose their sides early and there was no significant move, but in France the lines diverged as the media storm went on.

News ideology also operated through production bias mechanisms, such as sizing of articles or their placement in the newspaper (front page or somewhere else). Due to the differences of the two cases, the hypotheses regarding the decline stage of the storm were hard to assess.

The author notes that the study has implications for future research. It proposes that media storms may be high-risk events that even challenge the ideology and interests of the news organizations. As important, politically charged events become media storms, they may become political storms instead.

The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner is in International Journal of Communication. (free access).

Picture: Storm Approaching by Johannes Plenio @jplenio.
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Covering women’s sport: My sports journalism career highlights

Patricia Cruz

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There has never been a better time to work in women’s sport and for early-career sports reporters, the opportunities are endless.

Here, multimedia sports reporter Milly McEvoy shares how she has covered everything from the Olympics and Paralympics to international women’s cricket and football tournaments, only a year after finishing her sports journalism course.

In June 2021, fresh off finishing my Multimedia Sports Journalism qualification with in Manchester, I made the move down to London to join Sportsbeat as a reporter.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but what has come in between also feels like a blur – it has involved international rugby and football, the British Athletics Championships and domestic cricket and netball (and lots more) in person. 

I have also covered the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games, remotely and I have had the opportunity to interview sportspeople involved from the grassroots to the top of the game. 

On top of all that, I spent two months covering the Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand. 

As I came to the end of my history degree in 2020, I already knew I wanted to be a sports journalist, but I started thinking about what form that would take. 

I quickly settled on women’s sport. 

I had always kept an eye on women’s sport, and proudly say the first sporting event I ever attended was a Women’s Euros football match in 2005, but my interest in sport came from what was easily available – and even two years ago most women’s sport wasn’t. 

2020 was a slippery slope to full-on obsession including listening to the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup final on 8 March in the early morning on the radio. 

Even across the airwaves, the sound of 86,174 people packing into the MCG showed to me that there was plenty of appetite for women’s sport, people just need to be able to see it – and read about it. 

Fast forward two years and Australia were winning another World Cup, but this time, I was there to see it with my own eyes before heading to the press conference to speak with captain Meg Lanning. 

What had led to that point at around 9pm on 3 April 2022 was two months covering one of the most exciting tournaments cricket has ever seen, and I’m luckily not yet jaded enough to have cursed having to rewrite my match reports as momentum swung wildly in several games. 

I learnt so much from covering that World Cup producing over 120 previews, reports, reaction pieces and features, but my favourite one was the last thing I did in Aotearoa, speaking with a slightly hungover Grace Harris the day after she had won the World Cup. 

Having returned to the UK, I enjoyed a full circle moment in July as I covered the Women’s Euros, and just like the 2020 T20 World Cup, I watched from afar as 87,192 fans cheered the home team to victory. 

Except, this time I was writing the match report for the Lionesses and I couldn’t get into the Wembley press box because there were so many people eager to cover women’s sports. 

It feels like England’s win will be a turning point for women’s sport, one that is long overdue, and I am excited to be part of what is to come and grateful and proud to have been a small part of what has already been. 

You can find out more about our multimedia sports journalism course here.

For a taster of our award-winning journalism training, sign up for one of our free workshops here.

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