Networked journalism: Pro-pro

The Guardian team behind a huge, five-year investigation of alleged bribes from BAE, the arms manufacturer and world’s forth largest company, waxes eloquently in the Press Gazette about the power of publishing on the web and the worldwide collaboration that enables:

Leigh says he considered writing a book, but The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger persuaded him “books are old thinking – let’s do a website”. . . .

“We were able to lay everything out with no constraints of space and say ‘OK guys, here’s all the evidence’.”

Evans says that he decided early in the project that it doesn’t matter where the story goes in the paper, as long as it goes online and reaches a global audience. He says: “It’s taking a very long-term view, which editors don’t normally take: you put something out there and 18 months later it will suddenly click.”

The BAE investigation is now being followed by journalists in dozens of countries – the BAE Files website‘s interactive investigation map shows just how global the investigation is. Leigh and Evans themselves have travelled all over the world chasing BAE’s paper trail, including visits to Tanzania, Romania, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Sweden. As Leigh puts it, “you’ve got to take a lot of planes to do a story like this”.

The pair openly welcome help from journalists around the world and give it freely to anyone willing to take the story on – even their Fleet Street rivals. One of the most striking parts of the website is how their evidence is published for all to see -memos, faxes, emails and research passed on to them by other journalists and authors working on the story.

“We’re trying to think our way towards a new kind of journalism,” says Leigh. “Everybody says the internet is a new world with citizen journalism, a global audience and everybody having their say, and we tried to do it that way and say ‘this is a new kind of journalism and we will put everything in front of everybody’. . . .”

There it is: networked, collaborative journalism. You can’t do it all yourself. The story gets better when the story can get bigger. Do what you do best and link to the rest. Bravo.

The Guardian journalists also appreciate the freedom of not having to chose a medium to tell their story but to use all media:

Investigative journalism has long been described as in decline or waning in importance.

But, for Leigh and Evans at least, online tricks such as graphics, video and audio can give it a whole new lease of life. “Things such as maps and graphics really bring it alive,” says Leigh. “The problem with all these bribery and corruption stories is they are often quite complicated, financial and dry. Because of the legal problems, of which there are many, you have to be quite roundabout with the things you say. But to find ways of doing it online that can bring it alive for people and give them a handle on it is a really exciting thing. You’ve seen these stories which say ‘Complex web of financial transactions’, and people’s eyes glaze over. This is about trying to find a way past that.” . . .

And they are very aware of the worldwide — and American — audience the web gives them:

One of the most striking changes to The Guardian’s editorial focus in recent years has been in response to its foreign, and especially American, audience. Leigh says he and Evans publish their work online with this new audience in mind.

“It was deliberate by us to focus on the [Prince] Bandar angle because it had such a strong American angle and we wanted to talk to our new audience in the United States,” he says.

“Everyone’s been whimpering about the death of newspapers but we’ve found a whole new audience for The Guardian and now we can address it.”

I agree with Lloyd Shepard, who pointed me to this, that it’s bracing to hear old-media people recognize and embrace the value of the new.