Inside Track: Investigators' web-first revolution

Computer Weekly executive editor Tony Collins, who last week won the digital journalist of the year title at Press Gazette’s Magazine Journalism Awards, believes web-first publishing is changing the work of investigative journalists.

Collins, pictured right, who won the award for his reporting on the public sector IT projects which appeared on Computerweekly.com, said working online has allowed him to reach a broader audience overseas and break important stories without having to worry about being scooped before a weekly publication date.

But he has also found that the infinite space of the web forces investigative journalists, who have traditionally been used to writing a few in-depth stories, to rethink the way they work.

‘I’ve spent several months grappling with the way it changes the way I work,’says Collins, a former print journalist taken on by Computer Weekly as an investigative journalist.

‘In investigative journalism, you get lots of leads and you have to decide which you are going to pursue. But when you have a blog, it’s hard to discount anything. Snippets and odd exchanges with Government departments can make an interesting blog entry, therefore the demand on your time is much greater.

‘It’s much harder to prioritise, because you don’t rule things out, so there’s a danger you spend your time doing lots of minor entries and not concentrating on the major ones.”

Collins says the blog has been a useful way of publishing stories that wouldn’t have appeared in the print edition for lack of space.

‘Some of the mechanics of journalism are quite interesting. For example, the way Government press offices don’t sometimes pass on correct information – not because they’re being deceptive but because they’ve been given wrong information. We can now publish the exchanges – I can publish the answers that I get so that the readers can see sometimes how inaccurate those answers sometimes are.”

But sources still prefer more discrete private emails to leaving public comments on his blog.

‘The way that its set up isn’t, they fear, anonymous – whereas they can send me an anonymous email. I’ve had email correspondences for months with contacts telling me things that they wouldn’t possibly post on-the-record.”

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