Dissertation proposal

For my dissertation I am proposing to research the alleged decline of investigative journalism and the implications it can have.

My research will include using resources such as our library and Moodle to use services like Ebsco and UK Newsstand.

My initial idea for my title is, Are investigative journalists still the custodians of conscience?

Having viewed a video of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh speaking at a journalist school in America in 2013, I believe it would be advantageous to look at his work on the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam that won him the 1970 Pulitzer Prize.

It may also benefit me to look at his books Chain of Command, The Dark Side of Camelot and The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House and his writing in 2005-2006 about Iran to see how his work has differed.

Reading the book All The Presidents Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein could help with research as well.

Another step would be to contact Pip Clothier to ask him about modern investigative journalism.

Books that I will be, and already am, reading include Lifting the Lid: A Guide to Investigative Research and Investigative Reporting: A study in technique.

There will be reference to the Leveson report and the constraints it has put on modern journalism, reference will also be made to certain freedoms that members of the press enjoy due to the nature of their work.

The reporting of the Hillsborough disaster from the day it happened and subsequently in the days, months and years beyond will show how dreadful mistakes can be made, and the effect these can have on journalism and ordinary people.

One of the questions I could ask would be if anything similar to Watergate could happen now thanks to investigative journalism, or is it still the highest form of journalistic practice?

I will also research such constraints as financial pressures and the overriding power of business and governmental politics and the effect they can have on investigations.

Speaking to our librarian Carol Wright will be invaluable for research.

Using the Bob facility to find programmes regarding certain subjects will also be very useful.

I will also refer to reading material that I looked at for my essay about press freedom like the book There is no such thing as a free press, by Mick Hume, contacting the author could also be very important.

Researching journalism law, particularly defamation of character, gagging orders and super injunctions taken out in famous cases, will definitely help me to form an argument and pose questions that need answering.

Seeking advice from Nicky Harley will help me to understand the implications of journalism law and my research about it moving forward, my McNae’s book of journalism law will undoubtedly form part of my research as well.

Press coverage of things such as the Fifa scandal, the investigation of doping at the Olympic Games and reporting of the 1984 Miner’s strike can also provide examples of both sides of my argument.

The case of Jack the Ripper, as I have shown before, can also show very valuable lessons of the effect of good investigative journalism, the Panama Papers case will also form an argument that maybe investigative journalism is not in decline?

Google scholar can be very helpful, especially when researching particular cases.

It will be important to stay away from cases such as those involving people like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden because, as pointed out to me, this is about investigative journalism, not whistle blowing cases.

The phone hacking scandal and subsequent closure of the News of the World will raise the question of trust in the press, and what we, as journalists, can do to restore public faith in the industry.

The subject of the effect of social media on journalism could also be taken into account if it can be established that it has any sort of consequences on investigative journalism, either positive or negative.

The core of my dissertation will be about whether investigative journalism is indeed in decline, and, if it is, what are the reasons behind its decline?

There is no shortage of theories about the state of the press today and investigative journalism in particular, and what contributed to its downfall.

Is it because of phone hacking, corruption or lower standards than those displayed by the likes of Woodward and Bernstein?

Do recent investigations like the Panama Papers, the Fifa scandal and doping at the Olympic Games show that, actually, investigative journalism is not in as much of a mess as some would maybe believe?

If it is on the decline, how does it clean up its battered image and regain the trust of the people we serve?

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Possible dissertation subjects- The legacy of strong journalism

Another possible subject for my dissertation could be about showing what would be the affect of strong journalism, asking if it could truly make a difference which could be compared to previous successes.

Showing previous stories like the Michael Buerk report from Ethiopia in 1984 and the subsequent Live Aid concerts which happened as a result of it.

Other subjects that could be used to show a legacy of strong journalism could be Watergate or the case of Jack the Ripper and subsequent bringing down of then Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Charles Warren.

The question I would ask could be along the lines of, how much did these events shape modern society or, after a raft of change, could journalism do something similar now?

This would involve in-depth investigation of what happened, how and the legacy it has left as well as showing how these events would have been affected in modern day journalism.

Possible dissertation subjects- Journalism and the law

Considering possible subjects for my dissertation my first thought is about the affect of the law on journalism.

One thing I read when I first thought of this was an online blog detailing seven laws every journalist needs to know covering subjects from database rights to hate speech.

This blog covered such subjects like using Creative Commons and Open Government Licence among other options available to the media.

In McNae’s Essential law for journalists 60th anniversary 22nd edition introduction, it claims that The UK media enjoy freedoms which are the envy of journalists in oppressed societies.

It then goes on to say that, Nevertheless, the UK has more laws affecting journalism than is the case in some other democracies, and so a sound, thorough knowledge of legal matters is especially important for UK journalists.

When considering if the UK has a truly ‘free press’ which is not governed by too many laws affecting journalism an interesting question could be, How to define what is a truly free press and what influence could it have on politics, business or governmental?

With the increasing amount of laws affecting journalism, especially since the Lord Justice Leveson inquiry, but with other undeniable freedoms, what influence does the press have in the UK currently?

Considering such a subject would include researching Custom LawPrecedent Law and Statute Law and breaking down the differences between the various courts in the English legal system.

Journalism Research

The question is, What would be the socio-political impact of fewer trained journalists in the UK?

This is my research to try and answer this question.

A research in 2013 said that less than 14% of the world lived in countries that have a completely free press according to Global Investigative Journalism Network, it is said that a country with a free press have a better democracy and more economic stability.

The Leveson Report certainly had a major effect on press freedom in the UK and, along with this, I believe fewer trained journalists here can only have a bad impact on our society.

In the 2013 report it said, after the publication of the Leveson Report in November 2012, that the UK has a totally free press, I believe this could cause major talking points when it comes to the definition of a free press and, therefore, the impact of fewer journalists here.

Reflection- Test and Research

Being set a research job with a very quick turnaround was a very good test for us and I was very pleased with what I found out about the increase in use of mobile platforms for news consumption.

What it did for all of us who were in the lecture was give us some invaluable experience in turning something round very quickly, we had an hour, which was not straightforward because of the work we had to put in to complete it.

I am very happy with what I’m learning about academic writing, I know my writing is very strong due to my play writing, but academic writing is quite a different sort of skill and it will serve me very well moving forward.

My researching is also, I believe, very much up to scratch and I seem to be getting very much better at handling what I am doing.

Finding out what I did about the rise in the use of apps and the internet for news consumption was quite an eye-opener for me.

I have a test about academic writing to do at home and hand in next week and I believe I can do well in it.

As this semester goes on I do seem to be regaining confidence in myself and the work I’m producing.

Research into use of news mobile platforms

Having been asked in this CATS session to research the increase in use of mobile platforms for news consumption, here are some interesting facts and reviews I have found online.

DigitalTrends.com says that in the last year Facebook have announced Instant Articles, Google launched an Open Source Platform for Publishers with Twitter and Apple announced its own Propriertary News app.

It continues that there were major updates to news apps by Flipboard, Yahoo, LinkedIn and AOL too and then gives opinions on the 18 Best News Apps for iPhone and Android.

I also found a 2014 report by Ofcom on news consumption in the UK.

The report stated that news consumption in the UK said that consumption using Internet or apps rose from 32% in 2013 to 41% in 2014.

This was particularly evident in the 16-34 years old age group where use of Internet and apps had risen from 44% in 2013 to 60% in 2014.

Three times as many 16-24 year olds consume news through Internet or apps compared to the over 55 age group (60% to 21%)

It would seem women are more likely to consume news on TV than men (78% to 73%) but men are more likely than women to use the Internet or an app for news consumption with this being the preferred method for 44% of men compared to 39% of women.

AB socio-economic groups, 58%, are much more likely to use Internet or apps for news than DE socio-economic group, 25%, are.

Since 2013 there has been an increase in the number of people stating that a website/app is their most important news source as evidenced by 14% using them in 2013 compared to 21% in 2014.

The biggest pointer to the demographic using this method is that 45% of 16-24 year olds say that a website or app is their most important news source which leads me to the inevitable conclusion that it is very much the younger age groups who are accessing news online or on an app.

Essay- Do We Have A Free Press 800 Years After Magna Carta?

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Beatrice Evelyn Hall.

The question of the freedom of the press has raged for hundreds of years and shows no signs of coming to an end just yet.

At this time, hundreds of years after the end of state licensing and taxing of journalism, do I, as a student journalist, believe we have a truly free press now? No definitely not, for which I have reasons that I will lay out in this essay.

My first problem with press freedom is that it seems to be controlled too much by the government and judges who have either their own agenda (in the case of politicians) or the interests of celebrities (in the case of both) at their root.

Another problem seems to be that certain parts of the media appear to have forgotten about news reporting and are more obsessed with celebrity gossip and sensationalism.

Something else causing public mistrust of the press is the narcissistic tendencies of tabloid journalism with reporters who, with absolutely the best will in the world, sometimes seem to see themselves as the answer to a particular problem like a war or a natural disaster rather than just reporting the facts as they present themselves.

Everybody was rightly horrified at some of the practices employed by the press such as phone hacking, Lord Justice Leveson was charged with the duty of holding an inquiry into the practices and ethics of the press from which he produced his report for Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012 but was it, as Mick Hume claims in his book There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press, “An act of state interference into the affairs of the British press”?

During the proceedings overseen by Lord Justice Leveson there was a parade of several celebrities such as Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan and Max Mosley, all victims of the phone hacking by the now closed down News of the World, systematically humiliating tabloid journalism (rightfully so in some cases).

But what actually constitutes a truly free press and, more importantly, what constitutes a state controlled press?

It can certainly be argued that a truly free press is able to do its job of reporting what is in the public interest without fear or favour and without people quoting the Leveson report at them at every turn, whilst being professional and balanced.

John Wilkes (1725-1797) was a Member of Parliament and Lord Mayor of London but also a radical journalist who fought for free speech and press freedom and it’s thanks to him that journalists can report on what is said in the Houses of Parliament today.

He was thrown in the Tower of London as a prisoner and expelled from Parliament on several occasions but he was extremely popular with the public and was able to overturn his expulsion from Parliament.

It is true to say that the press do enjoy certain freedom that maybe others don’t, such as absolute privilege and qualified privilege and the now changed/abolished Reynolds Defence but of course there are certain things that we can’t report on such as people’s personal privacy and matters of national security.

Having said that it seems gagging orders are almost the latest celebrity ‘Must Have’ item as shown in the action taken by Ryan Giggs to stop news of his affair with Imogen Thomas. (Hughes, Kirsty) (2012) (Taylor and Francis Online) (tandfonline.com)

When the story finally broke about the affair it seemed to be nothing more than celebrity gossip of the sort of thing that, however much we dislike to talk about it, happens in every walk of life from the very famous to the ordinary man and woman on the street.

One part of the law however that does see the press afforded certain legal rights is the protection of journalist’s sources.

This was very ably shown to be in perfect working order in the case of The Guardian against the Metropolitan Police when police officers tried, unsuccessfully, to use the official secrets act to force the newspaper to reveal their sources who had leaked information to them enabling them to break the story of the News of the World hacking into the phone of a murdered teenager in 2011.

It also seems that other items receive the attention of the press maybe more than they should, for instance the recent releases of the new James Bond and Star Wars films has seen certain broadcasters take advertising arguably to new levels.

Reality TV such as I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, X Factor and The Apprentice among others also seem to receive the sort of coverage that maybe they shouldn’t get.

We should though not forget the power of the press and how useful it can be such as Michael Buerk’s report from Ethiopia on 23 October 1984 which spawned the massive relief effort of Band Aid and then the subsequent Live Aid concerts of 1985, direct results of news reporting in its purest form.

Something else that the media seems to be increasingly responsible for in recent years is the conducting of political campaigns with TV and Radio being used in larger amounts to get the politicians messages over compared to the now less used tactic of getting out, knocking on doors or meeting the electorate in public.

Since the publication of the Leveson report we have seen the creation of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) but for me the jury remains out on that for the moment and its potential for, through financial sanctions, to represent some form of indirect state licensing for the press, as was suggested, before the report publication, by Mr Hume.

The freedom of information act 2000 must not be confused as only being available to the press, it is available to everyone, however it would be negligible of me to rule out what the freedom of information act means for me and other members of the profession of journalism which I recently took advantage of to find out how many people were registered as homeless in Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The Freedom of Information act enables you to get hold of recorded information for things such as local council expenditure or, in my case, how many people are registered as homeless in a particular area.

However there is a ‘But’ to this. If a certain body of people like the local council or government think you’re making too many FOI requests they will eventually start refusing your requests, they’ll also refuse a request if they think it will cost them too much money or take them too long to find out the information you have requested.

This would also seem to be another contradiction of press, or public, freedom but in reality I currently have no reason to believe that it happens with great regularity although one would question why it happens at all when it is supposed to be about openness and transparency?

Certain people also question the roles of the owners of newspapers, the so called media barons, with their apparent ‘chequebook journalism’ the media oligarchs like that of Jonathan Pryce’s character Elliot Carver in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

They are right to do so because certainly the ownership of large chunks of the media by a few huge corporations can’t be a good thing but how do we develop and build a new independent press especially when the media is governed by such stringent rules?

As far as I’m concerned (and shoot me down if I’m wrong) a free press should be exactly what it says it is, it should be free. It shouldn’t be ruled by judges, politicians or celebrities with their own agendas, it shouldn’t be licensed or taxed.

In reality what the media needs is to get back to the roots of what it is all about, it needs to be able to report what is in the public interest, fuel debate, contribute to our democracy and investigate as and when required like that shown in The Sunday Times when uncovering the Athletics Doping Scandal that shocked the world.

Freedom is a complicated business but it’s no good having the wealthy and powerful telling the masses what we can and cannot read, view and hear in the news.

Only the public can decide what is fit for public consumption, except maybe on certain matters pertaining to national security when disclosure would do more harm than good.

John Wilkes was imprisoned in the Tower of London for publishing a newspaper which claimed “The liberty of the press” is the “Birthright of every Briton” we’ve come a long way since those days but it does seem that we still have a long way to go to see the sort of free press that we deserve in this country and indeed the world.

Many people have many reservations about the press after the phone hacking scandal and subsequent Leveson Inquiry and report but people also need to remember the good things that the press have done and understand that it isn’t all bad.

In these days of automatic citizen journalism on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, which are regulated by whoever posts on them, maybe we need to remember that the articles we see in newspapers and reports we see and hear on TV or radio are all checked by editors before they can be published.

Journalism, for its turn, needs to report the news, promote debate and inform the public of matters that are in the public interest and act as the communication bridge between public figures such as politicians, film stars (Interviewing not advertising), sports stars etc and the public who they influence.

The press, in all its forms, is a vital part of our culture and democracy, it is a voice for the masses and can be a force for real good but, as in all walks of life, you will also find the occasional rotten egg and this is always what will be remembered and what we will be reminded about.

According to Freedom House only 14% of the worlds population now live in countries that enjoy a free press and a free press plays a key role in sustaining and monitoring a healthy democracy, as well as contributing to greater accountability, good government and economic development.

Therefore it seems that the advantages of a free press to the masses are there for all to see plainly but, unfortunately and unsurprisingly, because of the actions of a few the reputation of the media is not currently in a healthy state.

Unacceptable levels of media intrusion have caused undoubted pain and anguish to certain people who certainly didn’t deserve it and that can never be undone but the power and influence of the press can also be used very much for the public good as has been proved on many occasions.

If we are to ever have a free press we have to realise it isn’t about causing scandal it has to be about reporting facts and absolute truth. It can’t be controlled by a select group of powerful people trying to hide skeletons in their closet or people in positions of trust lying, it needs to be about the truth and reporting in the right way.

In his book Mick Hume says: Yes, what is needed is a change in the culture of the press- but more importantly still, a drastic change in cultural attitudes towards the press. (Hume, M) (2012) (There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press) (Exeter, Imprint Academic)

He then goes on to suggest that Better Fewer Laws, But Better are what’s needed. The notion that there are not enough legally- enforceable restraints on the UK media is a bizzare distortion of the truth. The British press is hemmed in and harassed on all sides by dozens of laws, and the list is growing. We need to get the states nose out of the newspapers and other media. The press has to be subject to the same system of criminal justice as everybody else. But no more than that. (Hume, M) (2012) (There is No Such Thing As A Free Press) (Exeter, Imprint Academic)

References

Cps.gov.uk, (2015). Legal Guidance: The Crown Prosecution Service: Prosecuting cases where public have disclosed confidential information to journalists. [online] Available at: http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/prosecuting_cases_where_public_servants_have_disclosed_confidential_information_to_journalists/ [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Encyclopedia Britannica, (2015). John Wilkes | British journalist and politician. [online] Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Wilkes [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Freedomhouse.org, (2015). About ‘Freedom of the Press’ | Freedom House. [online] Available at: http://freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-press [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Hume, M. (2012). There is no such thing as a free press. [Luton, Bedfordshire]: Andrews UK Limited.

Journalism-now.co.uk, (2015). Media Law – Absolute and Qualified Privilege. [online] Available at: http://www.journalism-now.co.uk/media-law-absolute-qualified-privilege/ [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Legislation.gov.uk, (2015). Defamation Act 2013. [online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2013/26/section/4 [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Legislation.gov.uk, (2015). Freedom of Information Act 2000. [online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/36/contents [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Leigh, D. (2011). Phone hacking: Met use Official Secrets Act to demand Guardian reveals sources. [online] the Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/sep/16/phone-hacking-met-court-order [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

McNally, V. (2015). Remember, That Famous Voltaire “Quote” About Free Speech Was Written By a Woman. [online] Themarysue.com. Available at: http://www.themarysue.com/voltaire-beatrice-evelyn-hall/ [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

Thejohnwilkesclub.com, (2015). Wilkes Quotes | The John Wilkes Club. [online] Available at: http://www.thejohnwilkesclub.com/wilkes-quotes/ [Accessed 31 Dec. 2015].

(Parliament Reports on the Law of Privacy and Injunctions, 2016)