Investigative journalist who helped break MPs' expenses scandal says it has become 'increasingly hard to get traction' with in-depth reporting

The investigative journalist who helped to break the MPs’ expenses scandal fears the story may not have been as widely seen if it was published in 2018 due in part to so-called “filter bubbles”.

Heather Brooke, professor of journalism at City University, received acclaim for her work on the story, which was published in the Daily Telegraph in 2009.

But she says it has become “increasingly hard to get traction” for investigative reporting as quality news can get lost in the maelstrom of social media chatter and our own “filter bubbles”.

She said: “That’s quite dangerous because as humans we all want to be right. We know how we think the world works and we don’t want to have to rewire ourselves.”

Since the MP expenses story broke, Brooke said the internet has created “micro-attention spans” and a relentlessly fast 24/7 news cycle.

“How do you get it noticed?” she asked. “Because that is the big problem, that when you are working on a story as a journalist you never quite know how it’s going to hit.”

Brooke was speaking at the launch of “slow news” quarterly magazine Delayed Gratification’s latest edition last night (Press Gazette has interviewed the magazine’s founders).

“When I was doing MPs’ expenses, even other journalists were like ‘this is not a story, everybody fiddles their expenses, who cares?’ and I was really determined and angry about it.”

Brooke, who fought for five years for information about MPs’ expenses to be made publicly available through the Freedom of Information Act before The Telegraph obtained the unedited details, encouraged the use of paywalls online to protect investigative journalism.

Earlier this week, Mike Rezendes, an investigative reporter on Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, said online metrics showed investigative reporting was driving subscriptions at the paper.

Brooke said: “We are finally now seeing the consequences of not having good journalism and people are starting to see it has evolved.

“I have always been a proponent of paywalls because news costs money – it has value. If you’re not going to pay for it then the news is going to be of poor quality.”

Brooke added that investigative journalism is the “most essential for a civic society”.

She said part of the job was knowing when not to write a story, saying that sometimes information is just “blasted out” online without corroboration.

She said she teaches her journalism students at City University that the most useful skill to have is a “bulls**t detector”.

“I think we are starting to see the consequences of news that hasn’t been checked out,” she said.

Picture: Paul Clarke / Creative Commons

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