Why we need to preserve the role of high-quality, investigative journalism in our society

12 March 2019

This time last year, faced with a dramatically changing journalism landscape, Dame Frances Cairncross was appointed to chair a review into the sustainability of high-quality journalism and the future of the press.

Her findings, published in the eponymous Cairncross Review, made for stark, if unsurprising, reading.

The threat to the press was “abundantly clear”, with the report going on to state: “The news publishing business is undergoing an extraordinary period of contraction in both of its main traditional sources of revenue: advertising and circulation”.

The review’s findings were wide-ranging, from the fact that half of the UK’s adults worry about fake news to Google and Facebook appearing to have captured the majority of online advertising revenue. But, one aspect I found particularly interesting, and concerning, was that investigative journalism and democracy reporting are the most worthy yet under-threat areas of the press today.

The future of a healthy democracy depends on informed citizens. High-quality journalism has a significant role to play in providing the public with accurate, honest information. The best journalism holds those in authority to account and provides access to a range of opposing views. Historically, this role was often referred to as ‘the fourth estate’ – after the clergy, nobles and commoners – to acknowledge the social influence of journalists and the power they yield.It’s not difficult to find examples of high-quality investigative journalism that has brought people at the highest echelons of power to task. Arguably, the most famous in modern times, the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, saw Washington Post reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, uncover a series of illegal activities that led all the way to the White House and prompted the resignation of US president, Richard Nixon.

Closer to home, the 2009 expenses scandal saw The Daily Telegraph reveal widespread misuse of allowances and expenses among UK MPs that led to several high-profile resignations and even prison sentences for a few.

While the way we consume our news may have changed in recent years – with many people accessing news online via social media – investigative reporting is not a thing of the past.

For proof, look no further than the stories up for recognition at the National Press Awards, which are due to take place in London next month. Organised by the Society of Editors, the awards celebrate the best of British journalism and a quick glance at the reporters and stories shortlisted are an easy reminder of how, in 2018 alone, journalists continued to play a key role in unveiling wrongdoing and influencing significant political and social change.

The Guardian’s coverage of the Windrush scandal has been recognised in several award categories for the work it did to expose the treatment of people from the Caribbean, who were wrongly classified as illegal immigrants after decades of living and working in the UK. The scandal eventually led to Amber Rudd resigning as home secretary and put the issue firmly on the political agenda.

Carole Cadwalladr’s work on the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data scandal for the Observer has also seen her shortlisted for technology journalist of the year. Her investigation revealed the firm had used data harvested from 87 million Facebook users without their consent, leading to Cambridge Analytica closing and Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, testifying before Congress.

Taking place later this month, the Wales Media Awards will seek to celebrate the breadth of Welsh journalism talent on our doorstep, with campaigns on the British Steel pensions scandal and homelessness in Cardiff up for recognition.

These regional, as well as national, awards serve as a welcome reminder that high-quality investigative journalism, in all its forms, continues to play a pivotal role in our society. In a world where trust and truth feel increasingly under threat, we must do all we can to support it.

This article was written by our Group Managing Director, Angharad Neagle, and appeared in the Western Mail newspaper on 12 March 2019.


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