Investigative journalist by day and musical theatre performer by night, 26-year-old Emma Slater was recognised earlier this month when she scooped the title New Journalist of the Year at Press Gazette’s first British Journalism Awards.
“I thought I had absolutely no chance. I was very honoured to be nominated and not expecting to win at all. It was a complete and utter surprise,” she said.
Slater’s investigation into ‘supergrasses’ – convicted criminals whose prison sentences are slashed in return for giving evidence against their co-defendants – was singled out for praise by judges.
Slater’s legal background sparked her interest in this area. She had studied Law as her BA and volunteered with the London Innocence Project, which looks at miscarriages of justice.
“Some of my findings were sent off to the Criminal Case Review Commission to use as evidence that someone was wrongly imprisoned, partly based on an informant’s evidence. This gave me the idea to investigate the role of criminal informants, and how the system is open to corruption.”
Another of Slater’s submissions to the BJA was an investigation into the Iranian broadcaster Press TV. She discovered that they had been fabricating their reports about daily drone strikes in Somalia by the US.
Slater found that there was no evidence of the reported incidents – rather, the reports may have been part of an anti-US propaganda campaign by the Iranian state-controlled broadcaster.
“It was all about constantly building up information and making sure I had as many independent sources as possible. I was talking to the UN, to NGOs, to local news organisations on the ground, and I was able to decipher what was really going on,” she said.
Following her investigation for The Guardian, Press TV ceased its questionable reporting and was later taken off UK airwaves.
Slater’s talents are not limited to investigative journalism. She is a member of City Academy’s musical theatre company and has landed starring roles as Cinderella at a recent Sadler’s Wells production, and as Charity in ‘Sweet Charity’ at the Shaw Theatre last June.
“I’m the sort of person that likes a break from each thing,” she said. “My musical theatre rehearsals are only one night a week, so do not interfere too much with my journalism.”
Slater worked at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) for two years and remains optimistic about its future, following the McAlpine debacle.
She said: “Every organisation has had low points and what happened was very regrettable. But I think the Bureau is an excellent organisation and I really hope it continues.
“They were really great to me, as a young journalist. They gave me the space and freedom to research my Supergrass story. The journalists I worked with were so dedicated, so hard working and so concerned with getting to the truth.”
Since completing her MA in Investigative Journalism, Slater has worked at Many Rivers Films, TBIJ and BBC’s Panorama. She is now at October Films, making films for Channel Four’s Dispatches.
Slater’s advice to aspiring young journalists was simple: “If you think a story is important, if you think it is worth the time and effort – I worked on my supergrass story for two years – then go with it and be dedicated. You do get the result.”