I love to read about projects like this, an attempt to use the benefits of the online medium as a tool for building a future for journalism, rather than seeing it as the root of all evil. Based in the UK’s West Midlands, Help Me Investigate (HMI) is a trial of a platform for crowdsourcing investigative journalism.
It allows anyone to submit a question they want to investigate – “How much does my hospital make from parking charges?” “What happened to the money that was allocated to my local area?” “Why was that supermarket allowed to be built opposite another supermarket?” …But more importantly, it then enables users to mobilise support behind that question; and to pursue it.
It is an interesting development in determining a way to save that costly area of journalism – the one that really makes a difference – the labour intensive investigations that seem destined to be lost as the commercial realities of newspapers hit home. Paul Bradshaw, the UK academic spearheading the project, sees it not as citizen journalism per se but more an example of micro volunteering. Users will have ownership of the investigation agenda and be involved in the process, but with the help of experienced investigative journalists.
It’s not the first time croudsourcing has been used as a tool in investigative journalism. There’s the South Korean OhmyNews, a hybrid of professionally reported and citizen reported stories, which has become a popular mainstream news source in that Asian country. Or there was the Florida News-Press’s investigation of utility rates which used a crowdsourcing approach to empower and engage an otherwise disinterested community.
I have a few questions about the HMI project – firstly will the investigations be published? And if so where – online or in a traditional media? But mostly I am just interested in its attempt to ensure a future for investigative journalism, rather than dominating debate with nostalgia for a journalism that hasn’t existed for 30 years.