Traditional local news is in decline. People power is the way to dig into the stories that really matter.
With a nervous sigh of relief, we pressed publish. Six months of digging, talking to nervous sources, and responding to legal threats from expensive lawyers, the Cable finally published our investigation into problems at the Priory Hospital Bristol, the city’s biggest private psychiatric hospital.
We had revealed the closure of two wards for children, struggles to retain and recruit qualified staff, and a gaping hole left in local services. This story mattered, not least because of the harrowing details of self-harm from young people in distress. Despite the millions of pounds of NHS money, some patients and hospital staff felt they’d been failed.
Our story went out on BBC radio and TV. Afterwards, more people came forward to share their experiences. MPs commented on the impact on local services. Councillors and campaigners committed to monitoring the issue and holding local services to account. Thanks to the scrutiny of local bed supply, after the closure of the two Priory wards, we now know that a similar local NHS unit has reopened after refurbishment with more beds.
Unshackled by the need to get clicks, I was given license to become an expert and dig deeper into the world of private mental health services. The six months it took to get this story right was made possible by the Cable’s model – supported by 2,600+ members who value investigative local journalism in the public interest.
But investigations can go even deeper and take even longer. As long as five years. The Cable’s first ever investigation into working conditions in the catering sector led to an important tip off about the famous Lopresti ice cream business in the city. After speaking to current and former workers and going undercover, what Cable reporters found was so shocking that they handed it over to the police.
Salvatore Lopresti, the subject of our investigation, was later charged with Modern Slavery – only escaping a criminal trial for health reasons – and banned by the judge from running a business in future. As reporting restrictions were finally lifted, we revealed there were men living like slaves under Salvatore Lopresti’s control, and a trail of workers and tenants exploited by the Lopresti ice cream and property business.
It took years to bring this award-winning investigation to light. The traditional business model for local news is failing, and with it investigative local journalism. In the era of free online news, people don’t pay for journalism in the same way. When newspapers have to churn out content to bring in enough cash from online advertising, reporters aren’t going to be given the time to dig into the stories that really matter.
That’s why the Cable is different. We know that it’s essential to dedicate time and resources into investigative local reporting. This year, we have uncovered details of what happened at the Avonmouth explosion that left four dead, allegations of sexual assault against a mayoral candidate, and how Kill the Bill protesters being slapped with the charge of riot is really rare in recent British history.
This is all part of a strong tradition of investigative reporting at the Cable. Over the years, we unmasked the head of a local organised crime boss who left local people living in fear, we revealed how the police were using controversial surveillance gear to track thousands of mobile phones in a large area, and how isolation was being used in schools across the city.
These stories took hundreds of hours of work – talking to sources and sifting through reams of documents. It’s difficult, time-consuming and risky, but when done right can root out injustice and change things for the better.
We’ve prioritised investigative reporting since the beginning, when we were run by a team of volunteers. Now we have a small team of journalists who can dig deeper into stories. But there are still so many issues that aren’t getting enough scrutiny.
Reaching our goal of 3,000 members will secure our investigative reporting into the longer term. With your support, we can shine a light on what’s really going on in the city — from City Hall to social care, from environment to education.