Part of my job involves delivering Freedom of Information Act training sessions at various newspaper offices around the Trinity Mirror group.
Every now and again someone will suggest that, good as FOI might be for getting information out of public bodies might be, it’s not substitute for ‘real’ investigations.
The reference to ‘real’ tends to mean investigations which involve stake outs, meeting secret contacts, getting hold of stuff we shouldn’t have and so on – in short, all the types of stuff many journalists consider to be sexy about the job.
Compared to that, I can understand why receiving bundles of information via email or post at your desk might not sound so exciting.
But one of the points I try and put across is that FOI is very rarely the whole story – and perhaps this story from the Derby Telegraph is the best possible example of that.
Hold the Front Page reports that what began as an FOI request to the local police, asking for details of all registered sex offenders in the area whose whereabouts weren’t known, ended up with a reporter and photographer team from the Telegraph and the Nottingham Evening Post going to Switzerland to track one of the on the run offenders down.
The papers did this by combining their FOI information with another newish form of investigative journalism – interrogation of social networks. Quite why a convicted sex offender on the run was using Facebook when he should have known he needed to keep a low profile has yet to be explained. But stupidity probably covers it!
From there, reports Hold the Front Page, the newspapers sent their team across to Switzerland to confront the man involved.
Proof, hopefully, that while FOI requests can be the whole story, they can also be a handy trigger for old school investigations too.