Investigations & Analysis - Northern Ireland
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27 FEBRUARY 2011

The Detail aims to help put investigative journalism at the core of the news industry in Northern Ireland. It aims not to challenge existing news outlets, broadcasters or newspaper, but to supplement them.

The site is run and the content produced by Belfast-based independent TV and online production company Below the Radar. It is funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and Northern Ireland Screen, and it has five full-time journalists.

Why The Detail ?

The technological revolution of the past 10 years and recession have produced a widely-identified lack of funding for local investigative journalism – in Britain, Ireland and America where local newspapers, TV and other forms of media have faced challenges to their business models. Investigative journalists have come to lack a fundamental resource: time to follow the story.

There are also some specific circumstances here in Northern Ireland.

The new political dispensation realised in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought with it a new dynamic. Some felt that “the story” in Northern Ireland was over; the world had moved on and so, perhaps, should local journalists.

One view which emerged was that enquiring journalism would damage the political institutions formed in the peace process years; that public-spirited probing would even unravel the peace itself.

Since 1998, politicians governing Northern Ireland have stated their desire to create a stable society. To their credit, they’ve largely succeeded. But investigative journalism has yet to find its feet in this new order.

Media management is firmly established, sometimes providing a further challenge to journalistic endeavour. Structures like the lobby system at Stormont can muffle some talented journalists. There are now said to be more press officers working for government departments and agencies in Belfast than there are journalists in newsrooms. Within government and its agencies, the Freedom of Information Act is used to frustrate those asking the questions.

What is The Detail ?

Against this political and journalistic backdrop comes The Detail. It’s the idea of Trevor Birney and Ruth O’Reilly, both award winning journalists with experience in print and broadcast, who set up the independent production company, Below The Radar in 2006.

To launch The Detail, we have brought together a mix of philanthropic and public finance. In June, 2010, Atlantic Philanthropies awarded us £640,000 to fund a new online current affairs and analysis platform focused solely on Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Screen later awarded a further £150,000. This money is being used to fund The Detail.

We have an editor and four full-time journalists on our staff as well as a dedicated video editor. They are a mix of well-known, experienced reporters and those new to current affairs who are nonetheless full of ambition and enthusiasm.

Their stories are being delivered in text, audio and video. Investigations include pieces examining poor accountability in the healthcare system; compromised investigations at the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman’s office; the realities of regulation at Stormont and Northern Ireland’s malfunctioning tribunal system.

We have no intention of diluting the increasingly difficult newspaper sector and do not sell advertising. Instead we have published investigations in partnership with longer-established newsrooms.

Models elsewhere

We draw inspiration from across the Atlantic where platforms such as are creating high-quality public interest journalism. ProPublica publishes stories to its website but also works along with broadcasters and newspapers who are able to draw on their work without cost. In 2009, the site worked with 38 partners across America.

In London, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism is similarly funded to The Detail, and is also building relationships with the major UK brands in news and current affairs. In Dublin, Storyful .com cuts the wheat from the chaff on web coverage of the big international stories of the day.

And in Scotland, The Scottish Review challenges the established views of the mainstream media.

We are looking to build relationships with news colleagues in Northern Ireland and beyond. Our focus will always be on matters of public interest, be they contemporary or historic.