A new investigative journalism website that aims to give more power to the public has been awarded funding from Channel 4, it was announced today.
The project, Help Me Investigate, is focused on the community and will allow any member of the public to submit a question they would like answering.
Channel 4’s Innovation for the Public fund, 4ip, has partnered with Screen West Midlands to fund the collaborative site.
Paul Bradshaw, creator of the site and online journalism lecturer at Birmingham City University, said he sees Help Me Investigate as a toolkit for people.
He said: “People can contribute their expertise to answer specific questions, and journalists with no resources could use the site to call on the community for help.”
Bradshaw believes that the site will be hugely beneficial to journalists, and is already talking to media organisations in the UK and overseas who are interested in using the model.
The site will launch this month in test mode, inviting users to ask questions about local issues such as hospital parking charges, the expenses of local councillors and how much councils spend on PR.
Freedom of Information campaigner Heather Brooke is also involved with the project and will support the site by giving advice and ideas to users.
Bradshaw said the group behind the site wanted to test it carefully before the official launch.
He told Press Gazette: “We didn’t want go to in all guns blazing and mess it up. We want to build the culture around the website first and give users a chance to play with it first.”
The team hopes that Help Me Investigate will be one part of a “slow journalism” movement, joining even more sites that open government data and processes to the public such as They Work For You and Fix My Street.
Bradshaw told the Guardian he was glad that Channel 4 had decided to back his idea.
“Companies need to find the next business model and it’s not enough just to throw money at possible solutions,” he said.
There are hopes that the model may be a step in the right direction to save old style investigative journalism, such as the freedom of information requests that sparked the MPs expenses story.
Bradshaw added: “While its competitors dwindle and cut costs, if Channel 4 strikes lucky it could find itself extremely well-positioned.”