The Bureau is delighted to announce a new major grant from global philanthropic organisation Luminate which will allow us to move into a new phase of growth. Here, our managing editor Rachel Oldroyd reflects on the Bureau’s journey from its beginnings to where it is today, and outlines how we will use the money.
Nine years ago our founders Elaine and David Potter had the idea of setting up a non-profit investigative journalism organisation in the UK. They had seen the steady decline of investigative public interest journalism in the mainstream press and were worried. “Democracy itself is imperilled in the absence of honest information and a robust watchdog to hold government and the powerful to account,” Elaine wrote at the time. And so, with an initial grant of £2 million from the Potters, the Bureau launched in April 2010.
I joined later that year, becoming only the third member of a team which at the time worked with talented freelancers, pursuing multiple investigations which from the very beginning proved the value of this new type of journalistic organisation.
It’s been an amazing journey, working on issues from drone warfare to the care system, political lobbying to superbugs, European structural funds to NHS whistleblowers - stories varying wildly in content and scope but all with one thing thing in common: they revealed systemic wrongs that were not being investigated elsewhere.
Digging deep into these types of stories takes a lot of time and effort, but time and time again we’ve seen how much good it can do. Over the years we have seen our work influence big improvements in US military transparency, potentially saving hundreds of lives; we’ve seen it lead to changes in the law both at home and abroad; we’ve seen it put issues such as food safety and homelessness at the top of the news agenda, forcing policymakers and institutions to respond.
Today the need for independent journalism that benefits the public has arguably never been greater. There are so many more stories we want to investigate and so much more we want to do with our work - which is why we are thrilled that Luminate has awarded us a major grant of $900,000 over two years.
Established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, Luminate is a long-term supporter and funder of independent and investigative media, alongside organisations working in data and digital rights, civic empowerment and financial transparency. It says it wants to ensure people have the opportunity to participate in and influence the issues affecting their societies and to make government, corporations, media and others in positions of power more responsive and more accountable. And that’s what we want here at the Bureau - to help empower citizens, increase transparency and be a watchdog of the people and institutions which wield power.
This grant is very significant for us - our budget this year is £1.5 million - and it comes at a crucial moment. We’ve grown very rapidly in the last two years, in terms of our size, the number of stories we put out and the number of publishing partners we collaborate with. The launch and fantastic success of the Bureau Local, a collaborative hub for regional journalism across the UK, has been a major undertaking which has taken us down totally new paths.
We now want to put a structure in place that can propel our journalism and its impact to a new level. We are going to expand our management team to allow us to give more support to our reporters, work with more freelancers and undertake more collaborative projects. We are going to bring in more fundraising support, and we are going to develop and implement a strategy to involve and engage our audiences more deeply in our work.
Finally, we are going to create the role of impact producer, whose sole focus will be maximising the positive change that the Bureau and its work make to society. This role is common in the world of documentary film-making, but it is new in the field of written journalism, and we’re excited to be able to do this. The Bureau cannot bring about societal change on its own - but we can be a key part of a wider movement to do so if our stories reach the right audiences in the right ways, and if we forge deeper partnerships with people and groups working on the issues we cover. The impact producer will work to understand these processes better and implement them here at the Bureau.
Many journalists enter the profession because they want to make a positive difference to the world but it is rare that they are able to work for an organisation which exists explicitly and solely for that purpose. I and the rest of the Bureau team feel extremely privileged to be in such a position, thanks to the continued support of the Potters and the organisations like Luminate and others which believe in what we’re doing. We will do our utmost to make the absolute most out of this new opportunity and are hugely excited to see what the next two years will bring. If you have any ideas or thoughts about the Bureau and its future please get in touch - we are always keen to talk to people who follow our work.
There are also local issues that can make for good case studies - thinking particularly of land use and planning where a local campaign can help advise others more widely. Many people have no idea where to start as they see their parks and open spaces come increasingly under threat, for example. Very good to hear about your funding - richly deserved.
Delighted with your work, expecially on the drone program. Keep up the great work. Thanks.