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Fixing Britain?
Investigative Journalism


The growth in programs based on investigative journalism has been high in recent years. Programs like the BBC's Rogue Traders are highly entertaining in a somewhat bewildering way. They show us some of the dreadful things that go on. We see plumbers on video, peeing in the water tank, or car mechanics wiping instead of replacing key engine components.

On a larger scale, programs like the BBC's Watchdog or BBC Radio Four's You and Yours and Face the Facts expose wrong-doing from larger companies perpetrated nation-wide. Still other programs, like BBC's Radio Four program File on 4 have been tackling an ambitiously diverse set of major problems for twenty five years.

So, is investigative journalism a Good Thing? Absolutely. Are investigative journalists courageous, pioneering types? I imagine so. But is investigative journalism a major force for positive change in the UK - for fixing Britain? I don't think so, and here's why.

The primary output of investigative journalism is information. Journalists expose problems to the world. We might hope that, once the world knows about those problems, it would do the right thing and fix it. But that's often not the way it works.

Let's first look inside the faulty organisation. If it has been exposed in a poor light by journalists, then it is by definition, incompetent to a significant degree. So the standards of professionalism and integrity within it are likely to be low. Complacent incompetence is often endemic. Leadership will be weak or corrupt. Internal systems will be ineffective. The dominant motivation is likely to be to cover up, make excuses, avoid consequences, avoid spending money and get back to the stinking status quo.

Now let's look outside these failing organisations to those public service bodies - the regulators, fair trading offices, etc. which we finance. Do they pick up the bad tidings and sprint towards a solution? Depressingly, our regulatory bodies are also sometimes ineffective - either structurally or through under-resourcing.

And at the very top of our public support systems, where the highest standards in the land might be thought to apply, we see a steady stream of public enquiries crippled by inappropriately narrow terms of reference, whitewashes, long delays, bewilderingly high cost and more.

So, finding a problem often doesn't get it fixed, and that's one reason why we need more than world-class journalists to fix Britain.

But here's another reason; journalists choose their targets in a variety of ways. They build contacts, they exchange information, they have personal interests, professional interests and bosses with interests. They cherry pick, to get the "best" stories (however that's defined). They operate independently and to their own agendas. Nothing wrong with that - no hint of evil in here - but this strategy does not necessarily drive limited resources to the best places for our society.

So not only is finding a problem not the same as fixing it, but we only find a small set of them, as determined by privately funded and independently motivated journalists.

There's yet another problem. When our systems work - heads are demanded, and resignations occur. So we're sorted, aren't we? Not necessarily. A sneaky peek a few months later often reveals those same heads back in office. Alternatively, if too few heads roll, or if the wrong heads roll, then the fundamental problem remains and the organisation will continue to spread the by-products of its illness over us all. Fundamentally, any change isn't necessarily permanent nor for the better - these have to be watched and verified.

Any good Britain-Fixing-Machine needs to do several things well:

  1. Expose a large proportion of Britain's problems to the public and the regulatory bodies we finance.

  2. Cause these regulatory bodies to instigate structural changes which remove the root causes of the problems & re-builds new systems which work better than old ones.

  3. Monitor performance of the new systems to ensure that changes are effective and permanent.

  4. Act recursively to take action if any of these elements do not fulfil their function well.

We can operate this strategy through Let's Fix Britain members.

It's many members can report the problems they find in their lives to the relevant bodies. Members can then monitor those bodies in their actions. If that body doesn't do a good job, then we can list a new problem - but this time it's the regulatory body itself being exposed. That body will be regulated by another, so you'll be climbing up a chain of command and repeating the process. Along the way, use LFB resources (forums, members directory of expertise, etc.) to cross-fertilize ideas, to collect information and to grow expertise. Through these steps, and as membership grows, we increase the coverage and the effectiveness of our Britain Fixing Machine.

If you're a journalist, then you have my admiration, and we'd love to have you as a member. Through articles and training you can help us to be far more effective. You can also feed us with issues to work on - so you write the killer article exposing a key issue, then LFB members take over the drawn-out process of moving a problem towards a solution via the untidy complexities of our societal components.

If you're not a member, then please join us! And if you are already a member, then why not start today on an issue near you and let's get that mountain moving.

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