Bureau Lo­cal

A col­lab­o­ra­tive in­ves­tiga­tive net­work re­viv­ing lo­cal jour­nal­ism

The Observer - The New Review - - Cover story -

Megan Lucero, di­rec­tor of the Bureau Lo­cal, is a bun­dle of en­ergy. She barely pauses for breath as she de­scribes her team’s “mis­sion”, which is, in essence, to re­verse the de­cline of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism at a lo­cal level across the UK.

A tall or­der, then, but it is a mis­sion that Lucero, 30, be­lieves can suc­ceed. Born and raised in California, she came to the UK to take a master’s in in­ter­na­tional jour­nal­ism at City Univer­sity and landed a job as the first ever data editor at the Times and Sun­day Times straight af­ter­wards. She left to join the Bureau Lo­cal when it opened in March 2017 and you get the feel­ing that if any­one can make it work, it is her.

The Bureau Lo­cal was set up by the non­profit Bureau of In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism, with fund­ing from Google’s dig­i­tal news ini­tia­tive to try to com­bat the demise of lo­cal news­rooms all over the UK. A to­tal of 228 lo­cal news­pa­pers have closed since 2005, 40 of them last year alone. In those that re­main open, bud­gets are be­ing cut, leav­ing re­porters se­verely stretched. The Bureau Lo­cal’s aim is to work with those re­porters to help them dig into data and tell sto­ries that might other­wise go un­re­ported.

“We want to find and tell the sto­ries that mat­ter in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and hold power to ac­count,” says Lucero, who ad­mits to be­ing in­spired by the re­port­ing model of the Panama Pa­pers.

“There, you had a cen­tral team that did the heavy lift­ing of the data pro­cess­ing but then brought in news out­lets from around the world to work to­gether to break the story in a way that would have greater im­pact. We wanted to ap­ply that idea just to the UK, bring­ing re­porters to­gether from pa­pers like the York­shire Post and the Liver­pool Echo to hy­per­locals [smaller lo­cal ti­tles] and na­tion­als. Rather than each pa­per try­ing to make sense of the same set of fig­ures, mem­bers work to­gether to sift through vast data sets, build­ing new data­bases and re­sources that all can use, un­earthing pat­terns that of­ten tell a much big­ger story.”

Eigh­teen months on, the Bureau Lo­cal has 800 peo­ple on board from all walks of life. “We have teach­ers, lawyers, de­sign­ers, as well as jour­nal­ists – peo­ple with all kinds of ex­per­tise and knowl­edge par­tic­i­pat­ing in com­mit­ting what we call acts of jour­nal­ism,” Lucero says. So far, the net­work has bro­ken 35 ex­clu­sive sto­ries, in­clud­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into fund­ing for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence refuges and an­other into coun­cil fi­nances, which re­vealed four county coun­cils showed signs of fi­nan­cial cri­sis and half of the coun­cils in Eng­land planned to cut chil­dren’s ser­vices.

Last year, the Bureau Lo­cal won the in­no­va­tion prize at the Bri­tish Jour­nal­ism Awards, and in March, it landed a Euro­pean Press prize for in­no­va­tion. It is now ad­vis­ing a non­profit startup in Ger­many, which plans to adopt the same model. What next?

“We want to ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent forms of jour­nal­ism,” Lucero says, point­ing to a live jour­nal­ism event, Refuge Woman, that’s come out of the bureau’s do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “One of the sources in the re­port, Cash Car­raway, is an in­cred­i­ble sto­ry­teller so we’ve funded her to de­velop a spo­ken-word standup com­edy piece about her life. We’ve taken that and toured it all over the coun­try to where lo­cal Bureau Lo­cal jour­nal­ists have dug into this is­sue.”

Refuge Woman fin­ishes its cur­rent tour in London on 8 Novem­ber. L’OK the­bu­reauin­ves­ti­gates.com

‘We want to hold power to ac­count’: di­rec­tor Megan Lucero, front left, with col­leagues at Bureau Lo­cal. Rob Stothard

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