Monthly Archives: March 2012

VIDEO: Adrian Goldberg on how running a website helped uncover police surveillance of muslim areas

The Stirrer was an independent news website in Birmingham that investigated a number of local issues in collaboration with local people. One investigation in particular – into the employment of CCTV cameras in largely muslim areas of the city without consultation – was picked up by The Guardian’s Paul Lewis, who discovered its roots in anti-terrorism funds.

The coverage led to an investigation into claims of police misleading councillors, and the eventual halting of the scheme.

As part of a series of interviews for Help Me Investigate, founder Adrian Goldberg – who now presents ‘5 live Investigates‘ and a daily show on BBC Radio WM – talks about his experiences of running the site and how the story evolved from a user’s tip-off.

VIDEO: Adrian Goldberg on leads in 5 Live Investigate’s investigation into dodgy lease agreements

As part of a series of interviews for Help Me Investigate, Adrian Goldberg of 5 Live Investigates talks about an investigation into misleading leasing agreements that had left many schools with large debts and only overpriced, unserviced equipment to show for it – a situation that seems to be happening beyond the education sector too.

How to investigate Wikipedia edits

By Ian Silvera (

First, click on the ‘view history’ tab at the top right of the Wikipedia entry you are interested in. You should then be directed to a page that lists all the edits that have occurred on that entry. It looks like this:

Second, to identify if someone has been deleting unhelpful criticisms of an organisation or person on their Wikipedia entry, you could read through each edit, but with large Wikipedia entries this exercise would be too time-consuming. Instead, look for large redactions.

 To do this scan through the red coloured numbers in brackets. Low numbers such as (-700) mean that a reasonable amount of information has been deleted from the Wikipedia entry. Also, the date the Wikipedia entry was edited is located on the left-hand side of the page. Continue reading

7 ways to follow a field you want to investigate

Here’s a part by part guide to how you can follow different ‘streams’ of information as a journalist to understand what’s going on in a particular field, and how they can inform your real-world digging. Most of them involve using an RSS reader like Google Reader to follow feeds to keep in touch with developments.

1. Prepackaged news

While much is made of the ‘exclusive’ in journalism, and students will be harangued for recycling work done by other journalists, the truth is that the first thing most journalists do every day is check out their competitors, and get a feel for the current news agenda. A journalist has to balance being ‘on top’ of developments that others are covering (“Why don’t we have something on this story?”), while also reporting information that others don’t have. Continue reading

Writing about conflicts of interest and unbalanced accountability

George Monbiot’s piece in The Guardian about Britain’s ‘shadow government‘ is a perfect illustration of the importance of looking at the groups of people that are supposed to monitor, regulate and otherwise exert power in the public interest. Not only does Monbiot highlight the potential conflicts of interest – a process which always suffers from the problem of proving any effects of that conflict – but he outlines how the makeup of these groups contradicts what they are supposed to be there for. In other words, how it illustrates “The gulf between what a government claims to be and what it is”.

This, for me, has a stronger impact. And Monbiot does it at length. If you’re investigating any area which is supposed to be held accountable to the public through a board, council or committee, this demonstrates how you might look at its makeup along the way:

MHRA, the medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency, is the body that has been criticised for failing adequately to regulate breast and hip implants, with grim consequences for some patients. While the board contains retired senior executives from AstraZeneca and Merck Sharp & Dohme, it includes no one from a patient group, or any other body representing people whose health could be damaged by its decisions.

The Medical Research Council, which disburses research funds for the preservation of life, is chaired by a man who runs a company specialising in weapons technology. Sir John Chisholm was the civil servant in charge of privatising the government’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. While doing so, he bought a £129,000 stake in the company. The value of this stake rose to £26m when the new defence firm, QinetiQ, was floated. This was described as “obscene” by the former defence minister Lord Gilbert and “greed of the highest order” by the agency’s former managing director.

The other council members include executives or directors from Pfizer, Kardia Therapeutics and Microgen Ltd, but no one who makes their primary living working for a medical charity or any other public interest group. It seems to me that the direction of publicly funded medical research is being set by a weird and unbalanced board.

You can see something similar across government. The Office of Rail Regulation, for instance, is supposed to ensure that the railways are safe, efficient and “meet the needs of passengers and freight customers”. Yet its board contains no members from passenger groups, unions or transport campaigns. The government did, however, find room for current or former executives of National Express, BAA, Rolls Royce, National Grid and Thames Water.

Soon after this government took office it set up a Farming Regulation Task Force. It was chaired by the ex-director general of the National Farmers Union. His deputy was another NFU official. Other members consisted of two more farmers, three corporate executives, one county council official and someone from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, which claims to defend wildlife but gives advice on setting snares and spring traps. There was no one representing groups protecting the environment, landscape or animal welfare.