This is our first annual report, where we present our latest financials and give an overview of the work we've done over the last year and the change we've been involved in achieving.
Here are our selected highlights from a busy year at the Bureau.
Foreword from the Managing Editor, Rachel Oldroyd
The Bureau is changing: our ambition is growing, as is the team that produces it. We are reporting more, having more impact and reaching bigger audiences.
In 2017, we undertook 10 major investigations resulting in 80 stories, the majority of which were co-published with influential global media outlets. Our work appeared in The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Le Monde, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Daily Beast, Buzzfeed, the BBC, Channel 4 News, NBC and ITV’s News at Ten.
Our reporting on issues from counter terrorism to fake news increased awareness of hidden wrongdoing, sparked parliamentary debates, and led to a change in the law.
Major stories included our exposé of a botched US raid on Yemen, which revealed that nine children had been killed, and challenged the official line of ‘success’. Our reporting on the corporatisation of some UK farming prompted a ministerial response; and our demonstration of the link between pharmaceutical industry pollution and superbugs influenced European Commission policy.
In a year when trust in the media came under pressure, we exposed “fake news”, misinformation, and damaging PR and spin. We also held two events that explored the importance of independent, investigative journalism for a functioning democracy, and promoted discussion of how to support it.
We launched The Bureau Local, a core team of journalists and data experts who support a network of local reporters to tell the stories that matter to communities in the UK. We were delighted that in its first year The Bureau Local won the Innovation prize at the British Journalism Awards. This came on top of its Director, Megan Lucero, being awarded the top prize at MHP Communications Young Journalists Awards, and our new website winning best relaunch at the Drum Online Media Awards.
We couldn’t have done any of this without the generous support of all of our donors, as well as the sources, publishing partners, and collaborators who worked with us through the year. We are extremely grateful for their partnership.
2017 was a big year but we’re not content with this level of achievement. In 2018 we want to produce stories of greater significance, broaden the number of themes we cover, increase our output overall, reach a wider and deeper audience, and increase the impact of the work we do.
This will mean we need to raise more money, and grow the number of people and publishing partners we work with. We want to do this because we believe quality investigative journalism is vital for democracy, and is a key tool in the ongoing fight against misinformation, wrongdoing and injustice.
The Bureau started 2017 by reporting that President Obama had authorised ten times more air strikes than his predecessor George Bush, and that up to 800 civilians had died as a result.
We ended the year reporting that under President Trump strikes on Yemen had tripled, and on Somalia had doubled, in 2017. In Trump’s first 100 days he authorised nearly one strike a day on Yemen alone.
Our investigation into a botched US Special Forces raid in Yemen in February revealed how, contrary to official reports of a “successful mission”, nine children under thirteen had been accidentally killed. Our story – verified by sources on the ground – changed the narrative around Trump’s first military action and led the Pentagon to admit our statistics were correct. In November, we broke our own record for citations of our drones data – with more than 1,700 pieces appearing in international media in one month alone.
The Bureau’s comprehensive reporting on civilian deaths from US drone strikes and other covert actions in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia has highlighted the scale and consequences of the war on terror. Our repeated requests for data have resulted in increased transparency from the US military.
In November 2017, we were unable for the first time in over a year to get information on strikes in Afghanistan. This is particularly concerning as it comes at a time when the US air war is escalating.
PR AND SPIN
In a year when trust in the media came under assault, and the phrase “fake news” was used frequently by politicians and commentators, the Bureau increased its reporting on the manipulation of information in the social media age and the groups and technology making it happen.
In February, we revealed that a map purporting to show incidents of refugee and migrant crime in Germany, which was popular on social media, was based on flawed methodology and skewed statistics. Our report was co- published with the Daily Beast and had lots of pick up. The map was taken down following our reporting.
In December, we reported on the rise of fake grassroots activity on social media – known as “astroturfing”. This feature linked back to our work on the PR firm Bell Pottinger, whose underhand tactics finally caught up with them in September when their involvement in a South African political scandal led to the firm’s collapse.
In the story, later linked to by The New York Times, we looked at how automated twitter accounts – or bots – can be used to promote political campaigns or candidates, or boost a brand’s popularity or credibility.
Antimicrobial resistance is one of the biggest public health threats facing the world. But many are unaware of the scale and nature of the problem, in part due to under-reporting of this issue.
Throughout 2017 the Bureau showed how overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine has led to the rise of untreatable superbugs.
Our reporting showed how doctors in UK hospitals are being forced to use older, more toxic drugs to treat new drug-resistant bacteria, which kill 40-50% of all people whose bloodstreams they enter. This increased pressure on Public Health England for better surveillance and reporting by hospitals.
We also revealed how pollution of water sources in India by factories producing drugs for the global market is creating deadly superbugs. Following our revelations, the European Commission changed its processes for tracing drugs back to the factory where they were made.
FOOD AND FARMING
The way food is produced is changing, with big corporations increasingly dominating supply chains, and the rise of mega-farms leading to public health risks and threats to animal welfare.
A Bureau investigation in February revealed that one in four UK abattoirs failed to meet basic hygiene standards, and that Food Standards Agency records had been falsified to conceal true levels of meat contamination.
Another story showed how vets and meat hygiene inspectors in abattoirs were regularly facing abuse, bullying and harassment, and that this was hampering food safety and animal welfare checks. Our reporting helped make the case for compulsory installation of CCTV in slaughterhouses.
In July, we revealed there were nearly 1,700 intensive poultry and pig farms in the UK in 2017, an increase of 26% over six years. Questioned by MPs, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove told Parliament: “I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country.”
THE BUREAU LOCAL
Local journalists are crucial in holding power to account. But their ability to do this is being threatened as newsrooms cut budgets and staff alongside the time and resources given to investigative reporting.
The Bureau Local aims to reinvigorate local public interest journalism in the UK by supporting a network of local journalists and other interested citizens to combine traditional investigative techniques with technology. More than 200 people joined the network in the first week, and by the end of the year more than 450 regional reporters, bloggers, civic tech workers and others, in over 80 cities, had signed up.
One of the Bureau Local’s first big projects focused on the UK General Election. By building a database of the UK electorate, working with statisticians, and holding a collaborative hack day, the team revealed that new voters and those without their previous party standing had the power to swing 71 seats. The results were published two days before the election. Despite the widely assumed belief that Mrs May would not lose her majority, nearly half the seats identified by the Bureau swung from the Conservatives, leaving the UK with a hung parliament.
The team also looked at the influence of political ads on Facebook and the access offered by party leaders to local reporters.
Later in the year, the network reported on the impact of cuts to domestic violence refuges. More than 20 reporters and volunteers from across England produced our series No Refuge, with stories published in more than 30 outlets. MPs and top police chiefs spoke out.
SPACE TO DEBATE
The Bureau doesn’t just publish stories, we also aim to foster debate and create a space in which the importance and value of journalism can be explored, and strategies shared for how to defend it.
In February at Regent’s University in London, Lord Clive Hollick chaired a panel debate featuring former Sunday Times editor Sir Harry Evans, the Bureau’s managing editor Rachel Oldroyd, Cardiff University’s Centre of Journalism director Richard Sambrook, and the chairperson of the Independent Press Standards Organisation Sir Alan Moses. Speaking to the title. ‘Investigative journalism in a post- truth world', the panellists discussed the value of genuine edited, curated journalism and how to protect it.
At the end of the year, at the Frontline Club in Paddington, another eminent panel explored “reasons to be cheerful” about the future of journalism. The panel and invited guests discussed collaboration, the potential of data to reveal stories and drive transparency, the cross over between campaigning and journalism, and the potential and actual role of culture and fiction in driving change. The conclusions were broadly optimistic: there are inevitably challenges, commercial and otherwise, but there are also examples of fantastic innovation and impact that give cause for hope.
The Bureau’s new Friends scheme, whereby donors who give £100 a month get privileged and advance notice of stories and events, was launched at the December event.
As a non-profit organisation, the Bureau relies on donations from foundations and individuals who recognise the value of investigative journalism in a fast-changing world. David and Elaine Potter founded the Bureau in 2010 and remain deeply committed to its work. With their backgrounds in media and computing, David and Elaine understand the importance of information for free and thriving societies.
We are extremely grateful to every individual and organisation that supports us – it is because of those listed below that we are able to tell the stories that matter.
In 2017 our supporters were:
- Adessium Foundation
- Bertha Foundation
- Changing Markets
- David and Elaine Potter
- Sir Donald and Elizabeth Cruickshank
- European Journalism Centre
- Google Digital News Initiative
- Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust
- Open Society Foundations
- Pears Foundation
- Reva and David Logan Foundation
- The Evan Cornish Foundation
In addition, Journalismfund.eu provided support for individual journalists and NCTJ Diversity Fund and Google sponsored fellowships for new journalists at the Bureau. In 2017 we also received in-kind donations or pro-bono services from Google, Gorkana, Shutterstock, and Simons Muirhead & Burton Solicitors.
A growing number of individuals also give generously to the Bureau and we are delighted to have them as our supporters. Find out how you can support the Bureau.
Header image, of managing editor Rachel Oldroyd speaking at a Bureau event on the importance of local journalism, by Rob Stothard.