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Exaro: the value of investigative journalism

Exaro: the value of investigative journalism

In the wake of the events that lead to the on-going Leveson inquiry into press practices, one news organisation is attempting to prove that investigative journalism can be both ethical and capable of generating a profit. Conceived by Mark Watts, current Editor-in-Chief, PR executive Tim Pendry and media finance specialist David Baxter, is a subscription-based site that aims to eschew the “churnalism” that it claims dominates mainstream media outlets in favour of the rigorous investigative practices used by journalists of old. In the relatively short amount of time that has passed since the site’s launch in October 2011, Exaro has uncovered numerous scandals, including the widespread tax avoidance practiced by civil servants, which have subsequently been picked up by larger titles, including the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail.

The organisation makes no bones about its desire to turn the site into an economically viable business model, in contrast with other investigative titles such as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Exaro’s founders put forward the rather convincing argument that good journalism and rigorous investigation require a lot of time and a lot of money, but as a result the information unearthed is far more valuable than the content usually reported in the news. By paying a subscription fee the reader is able to access the exclusive information and articles that have been painstakingly investigated over a long period of time.

Despite this emphasis on the value of reliable information, Exaro demonstrates a certain unwillingness to place much faith in the average reader’s desire to pay for it. Such reluctance is perhaps understandable in an age where consumers are enticed by free online news articles at every turn. Professionals from the world of business and the City are the site’s target audience, as Exaro hopes to appeal to a readership that has already proven to be far more willing to pay for information than the general public. The organisation’s business model certainly convinced Jerome Booth, the hedge fund founder who has funded the entire project, in a move that seems to indicate that members of the business and economic world recognise the financial potential of well-researched information. Corporate subscriptions, of the kind that the Financial Times was able to attract, are more important to the financial success of the enterprise than those of individuals from the other demographic targeted by the Watts and his team, namely broadsheet readers tired of celebrity-based reporting and uncritical journalism.

The marriage of old and new, rigorous research and online data, could be the future of investigative journalism, and an attempt to produce a financially viable news outlet in the digital age is laudable. That said, Exaro’s desire to “investigate issues that are important to business in particular and to the public in general“ could be hampered by the organisation’s desire to court corporate interest. Should it begin to be seen as too niche, or as not engaging enough with the "ordinary" reader, then its claims to be providing socially valuable news could be compromised. As things stand, the organisation seems to have so far succeeded in its desire to apply the dogged determination of detective journalism to the vast amounts of data that remains ignored by mainstream media outlets. The question remains whether the wider public will show an interest in the project, and if the project will be able to continue to produce content that simultaneously attracts a specific, corporate audience and a more general readership, whilst achieving its goal of turning a profit within the next three years.

Sources: PressGazette, The Independent,, ExaroNews


Amy Hadfield


2012-06-25 17:10


Wed, 2012-06-27 11:30 — Tim Pendry (not verified)


For the record, the original conception was mine with two others who later dropped out of the executive process. Initial research and planning lasted several years with the time never quite right (until late 2010) for the level of risk. The concern (at that time) was the rise of dossier journalism and of ‘churnalism’ and the creators were much influenced by the analysis of Nick Davies and specific experiences of international affairs and of the confusion between the State and journalism through various ‘soft’ forms of influence. The vision was of an outlet that would be evidence-based and independent of official influence and that would use online techniques in order to develop a new business model that could finance investigations. The creators were never naïve about the difficulties.

David and Mark were invited into the project and this team, supported by Jenina Bas, developed it first to the point of investment and then through the start-up phase, initially under my guidance and then independently. They are now the executive team as the original source makes clear. By agreement, because of the potential (though never actuality) of conflict of interest, my and Jenina’s executive involvement (we were never involved in editorial) ended on March 31st of this year but I remain a non-executive director (with Jenina as alternate) and I have a significant passive minority shareholding (in a wholly personal capacity).

Having kick-started an important social experiment (and with considerable thanks to the investor who took on the financial risk out of a similar commitment to some unfashionable notions of truth-telling), I have now stood back entirely and allowed the executive and editorial team to get on with it. I have now returned entirely to my primary business of reputation management and will be re-launching the two businesses in that area (TPPR and PendryWhite) over the summer.


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