Using Help Me Investigate if you’re a journalist

If you’re a journalist, Help Me Investigate can be a useful resource – on the surface for simple leads and content – but if you explore more deeply you’ll find it goes beyond that.

Here are a few ways you can use Help Me Investigate most effectively:

Add a link to your articles – and raw material

If you write up a story from the material in an investigation, please come back to the investigation and at the very least post a link to the story you published. This should lead to more people clicking through to the story, which is what you want.

If you’ve added something to that material – for example, a reaction from the council press office or a Google map – then post that material too so that others in the investigation can add to it or pick out the reality beneath the PR spin.

Seed an investigation with useful material

Investigations are most successful when people are active and contributing stuff. If you’re only writing up near-finished investigations then you’re not going to get that much from the site. If, however, you see an investigation where you can contribute something, that will spur others into further action, and increase the likelihood of there being something in the future to write up.

Even if all you do is suggest a key person to invite – or invite them yourself – you’ll be doing something useful.

Not only that, but you’ll be creating goodwill towards yourself for when you need to ask the community for help…

Start an investigation yourself

If you:

  • have a lead but no time to pursue it, or
  • raw material that you need someone to go through, or
  • you’ve published a story but there’s more digging to be done,

Then call for help by starting an investigation. You’ll need to bear in mind the points above – invite people, and add what you can. Birmingham Post journalist Tom Scotney described it as being part of “An investigative team that’s bigger, more diverse and more skilled than any newsroom could ever be.”

Don’t ruin it

These are early days for Help Me Investigate and we are continually adding features based on how people use – and abuse – the site. It’s not clear yet how ‘private’ or public investigations will become, whether users will want to restrict how their work is used by news organisations, and how news organisations will support investigations in formal ways. At some point we will be introducing a feature to ‘flag’ users as not contributing to the community (among other things). The point of the site is to make it easier to investigate the powerful by allowing journalists and non-journalists to collaborate and play to their own strengths. The more positively journalists use the site, the more positively everyone else will.

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