The role of journalism in disrupting corruption
Jane Bradley is an investigative reporter covering the United Kingdom for the New York Times. She is based in London, where she focuses on uncovering abuses of power, financial crime and corruption, and social injustices.
Prior to joining The New York Times in 2020, Jane spent 10 years at the BBC where she became one of its youngest senior broadcast journalists and worked on the flagship investigative program, Panorama, before joining BuzzFeed UK's investigations team in 2015.
Jane was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Investigative Reporters and Editors award winner in 2018 as part of the BuzzFeed team that investigated a string of mysterious Russia-linked deaths in Britain. She is a three-time Orwell Prize finalist for an investigation into how the British government failed victims of domestic abuse at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown; an exposé of the trafficking gangs recruiting Britain's homeless into slave labour; and an investigation into how the UK's biggest bank, RBS, systematically abused customers for profit.
Watch the video of Jane’s talk
This seminar was a special collaboration between the institute's Global Journalism Seminars series and the Blavatnik School of Government's Chandler Sessions on Integrity and Corruption. As well as a conversation between Mitali and Jane, the event saw contributions to the discussion by editors and journalists from countries including Kenya and Peru, our own Journalist Fellows and members of the Chandler Sessions.
Read an automated transcript.
Why investigative journalism matters
- Investigative journalism holds people and organisations in positions of power to account, challenging popular or established narratives, like the Venezuelan government’s explanation for the mass exodus from the country.
- It can also expose abuses and has the potential to bring the world’s attention to crimes which could otherwise have been covered up, such as the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.
- Investigative journalism drives real-world change. In this piece, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism rounds up the impact of some of its recent investigations.
5 takeaways from Jane’s talk and the discussion
1. Make sure the right people hear your reporting. Jane doesn’t advocate for journalists crossing the line from investigating and reporting to campaigning. Still, she does share her stories with the people who are in a position to make a difference.
“I’m of the school that we should be as balanced, as impartial as possible. And we should simply be reporting what's happening, and then leaving it to the campaigners or politicians to then act on it. Our job is to tell people what's happening, not to try and lobby for something to happen in response. However, having said that, what I think we can do and what I do with a lot of stories is making sure our reporting is read by the right people, people who can influence change,” she said, giving the example of a recent story she wrote about ‘joint enterprise’, the practice of charging multiple people with a single crime, and how it disproportionately affects Black defendants. Jane made sure UK politicians knew about the story’s publication so they could ask about it in Parliament. In this case, her reporting led to a government recognition of the practice’s disproportionate effect on some groups.
2. Diversity in the newsroom is important when covering stories of corruption. In the UK, investigative journalism is still struggling with diversity, Jane said, describing it as “mostly white, male and posh.” This then has an impact on the kind of stories that get covered, she said: “Obviously you're going to pitch stories about corruption in communities you have sources in, or communities where you're hearing it's having an impact, right? So if you're only publishing stories, or pitching stories about corruption that is impacting your communities as a posh white man, for example, you're not going to be telling half the stories that you should be and you're not going to be engaging readers.”
Another point Jane made is that, when focusing on diversity within the newsroom, social class seems to be overlooked. She cited a report published last year which found 80% of UK journalists come from professional and upper-class backgrounds.
3. A good investigative report dives deeper and finds a different angle to news stories. Sometimes, even stories that have been widely reported on can be good starting points for investigations, as long as you bring something new to the story. Speaking about her investigative reporting on the UK for the New York Times, Jane said: “We're trying to do it in a different way, from a different angle than the British press has done. Sometimes it might be to correct a stereotype or a sensationalist angle that they often use. But more often than not, it's trying to dive deeper and take a more systemic look.”
4. Investigative journalism is dangerous. Gustavo Gorriti, a contributor to the discussion and Peruvian journalist currently leading the investigative centre at the IDL-Reporteros in Lima, is particularly well-placed to talk about the dangers of the job. Gustavo was abducted immediately following the 1992 self-coup of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Gustavo was released following international pressure on the Fujimori regime, achieved in part thanks to contingency plans he had put into place before his disappearance.
“Investigative journalism everywhere, but especially in corrupt countries is inherently dangerous and you should take that into account. I think that most journalists, before undertaking investigative journalism, should be very clear with themselves that it might impact them, and one has to be prepared,” Gustavo said. Being prepared means planning ahead and always thinking about safety in all its forms, from physical to digital.
5. Audiences won’t always engage in the way you’d like them to. Kenyan investigative journalist and CEO and co-founder of Africa Uncensored John-Allan Namu also contributed to the discussion. He highlighted that sometimes, the response to the publication of an investigation may feel underwhelming for a reporter, but that this doesn’t mean their work was in vain: they are still contributing to building a public record.
“Because we deal with such very serious, heavy topics, it's not easy for people to constantly be engaged, and so I think you should start to abandon that expectation that people are going to like your work simply because you put a lot of effort into it, or because it is interesting. The way not just algorithms but the world works is that many times the labour that you invest so much time in, is to create this kind of library of institutional memory that people can return to,” John-Allan said.
The bottom line
Investigative journalism is dangerous, requires a lot of time and resources and sometimes seems to be slow to land with the public, but it is still an invaluable public service that has a tangible impact now, as well as serving as a public record for the future. Investigative reporting dives deeper into stories that news journalism doesn’t have the time to examine, adding a new perspective and uncovering corruption. If you want to start doing this kind of reporting, our contributors advise you to consider your safety, take a systemic look at stories, and make sure your reporting reaches people who can take action, while keeping in mind that the general public may not be as engaged as you would like. For the industry, it’s crucial to support investigative reporters, keep them safe, and encourage diversity in all forms.
If you want to know more…
- Read some of Jane’s recent investigations. | Read
- Find out more about Gustavo’s experience with his abduction. | Read
- For more on John-Allan’s experience as an investigative journalist: Read this Q&A with him by our contributor Maurice Oniang’o. · Read | Watch and read a summary of his seminar with us last term. | Catch up here