Investigative journalism is disappearing in the regions, says Don Hale

By Richard Keeble

Award-winning journalist Don Hale has condemned the “disappearance” of investigative journalism from the regional press.

Speaking to students at Lincoln University’s School of Journalism,
Hale said: “Investigations have almost disappeared without trace in the
regional press and, to a large extent, in the nationals.”

Hale
rose to international fame in 2001 following his successful campaign,
while editor of the Matlock Mercury, to secure the release of Stephen
Downing 27 years after he was jailed for murder.

He said: “True:
journos can still mislead and infiltrate Buckingham Palace, airports or
the police. But what has happened to real-life investigations? Most
journos seem content with sitting ontheir backsides and using email,
the mobile phone, or [searching] the internet for misinformation.

“Gone
are the local contacts built up over years – the personal touch,
knowing the councillors, police contacts and community gossips. And
many papers don’t even bother covering courts, councils or planning
meetings. Have we lost the nose for a good story? Will there ever be
any more miscarriage investigations?”

Journalists need to get out more and know their local communities – and make a nuisance of themselves with editors, he said.

He
advised the students: “To be a good investigative journalist, you need
to develop a thick skin, be able to take abuse and criticism, yet be
determined to push ahead and prove all of your points.

“You unwittingly take on a huge responsibility – and sometimes attract unwelcome publicity by your actions.

But demand to find out what’s happening, and get involved. There are plenty of good stories out there.”

Hale,
who has taken up the post of editor of North Wales Living magazine, is
currently working on the case of Barry George who, he considers, was
wrongly convicted of murdering Jill Dando in April 1999.

Hale’s
dossier on George has been presented to the Criminal Cases Review
Commission, but it has yet to decide whether to refer the matter to the
Court of Appeal.

In 2004, Hale played a role in the release of
Sara Thornton, who was convicted of shooting her husband, and he
advised Sally Clarke, who was cleared of murdering her two baby sons.

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