Buzzfeed investigations editor Heidi Blake has said she credits the Leveson Inquiry with helping to create a “golden age” for investigative journalism in the UK.
Blake was part of the team that broke the FIFA corruption scandal at the Sunday Times and has worked for Buzzfeed since January 2015.
At the 2014 British Journalism Awards she picked up an unprecedented hat-trick of prizes, alongside Insight team colleague Jonathan Calvert.
“In this country, since the Leveson Inquiry – which obviously was a real rock-bottom moment for the media industry – editors were called upon to think about ‘what is it we are proud of when we have to go in front of this judge-led public inquiry?” Blake told the Media Masters podcast.
“’What can we point to and say look, this is the point of us, this is why you shouldn’t curtail our freedoms, this is why we shouldn’t be over regulated, because we do this kind of good work’.
“And what those editors found themselves talking about was investigative journalism and I think then a lot of them realised, ‘well why aren’t we doing more of that when that’s the thing that we want to point to when we are called to explain what’s our purpose in the world?’.
“And so since then I think lots of papers are investing in really great investigative journalism more and more.”
Buzzfeed’s investigations team in the UK is made up of four journalists, including Blake, with a total of 20 investigative reporters said to be working for the online publisher worldwide.
Despite working for Buzzfeed, famous for listicles and and ‘clickbait’ headlines, Blake said she is not judges on the number of hits a story gets.
“A big part of my job and my team’s job at Buzzfeed is to get impact,” she said.
“We are definitely not being told: ‘You have to get a certain number of people to read your articles and if you don’t get a certain number of clicks it isn’t a success’.
“We kind of measure success a little bit differently, it’s more about ‘what change did this article make?’.”
Buzzfeed recently split its operations in two creating entertainment and news divisions, but Blake said the same values that made readers share an entertainment piece existed for an investigative piece.
“People share what moves them,” she said.
“So if you read something and you have an emotional response to that – whether it’s that you are amazed by it or you are shocked by it or it makes you sad or it makes you happy or you find it uplifting or it makes you furious – whatever it is people tend to experience situations and then want their friends to experience what they have experienced and so they will share it.
“Investigative journalism at its best really should provide those strong human emotive reactions; so we are fascinated by that and that definitely shapes how we think about forming stories and how we tell them and pitch them to the reader.”
While Buzzfeed’s investigation into tennis match-fixing was based on data analysis, Blake believes more traditional methods also still have a role to play.
“I think a lot of the time you get your tips by just going out and talking to people and it might be taxi drivers, maybe it’s your friends down the pub.
“A big part of our job is going out and cultivating networks of contacts and sources who will give you information and being on the lookout for people who are in interesting positions with interesting documents and information coming across their desks who might be able to tell us something, and you kind of have to let them know that you are there and that your job is to investigate anything that might give them cause for concern.
“Most of the tips we get come to nothing and sometimes that’s because we have a really good crack at proving it and we can see that there’s something there but we just don’t have any evidence quite hard enough to stand it up.
“A lot of times you get people coming to you with information and then you quickly realise they aren’t very well or that they have an axe to grind. There are all sorts of reasons why stories don’t necessarily stand up.”