In My Opinion: Billy Briggs: The Ferret’s first journalism conference

THE first journalism conference hosted by The Ferret took place at the weekend – at Strathclyde University.

To the uninitiated, The Ferret is a new website based in Scotland dedicated to public-interest journalism, a multi-media platform launched last summer with high aims but still in its early stages of development.

Politically neutral, we’re a not-for-profit media now registered as a co-operative.

The idea behind our spring conference was to offer a range of interesting speakers, raise some funds for a ‘mini-investigation’ and – importantly – give our supporters the opportunity to engage with The Ferret team.

Subscribe to The Ferret and you become a part-owner of the project with the opportunity to have a say in how we develop.

Feedback from Saturday’s event has been positive. Delegates at the conference helped choose our next investigation (state surveillance) and speakers included Nicole Kleeman, creative director of Firecrest Films, an award-winning production company in Glasgow that produces documentaries for BBC Panorama and Channel 4 Dispatches, among others.

Attendees also heard from Tom King, of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an organisation pivotal to one of the biggest leaks in journalistic history, aka the Panama Papers.

King spoke about how 400 reporters at more than 100 media outlets in almost 80 countries, stayed schtum for a year and collaborated to pull off a sensational scoop.

International media reporting the Panama Papers included The Guardian and the BBC but – as far as we are aware – no Scottish media were involved, which was disappointing as The Ferret believes that Scotland has some of the best investigative journalists anywhere in Europe.

King explained that OCCRP’s cross-border network of investigative journalists covers more than 20 countries in Europe and Eurasia and an aim of The Ferret is to become involved in any such future collaborations.

Since our launch last June, we’ve already worked closely with other media, including the BBC, The Guardian, The Times, Daily Record, Sunday Mail, Sunday Herald, The Herald and The National.

We are grateful for the support of our colleagues and collaborating with the mainstream press is, we feel, mutually beneficial, as financial pressures generally means that the traditional press now struggles to fund long-term investigations.

To date, The Ferret has been able to undertake two lengthy investigations – on fracking and asylum seekers – thanks to funds raised via a mix of crowdfunding, donations and subscriptions.

We’ve already been shortlisted for a British Journalism Award and as a new type of independent media – focused on building a community of people interested in holding power to account – we hope to build on our success and pioneer digital story-telling.

Two days before our conference, for example, we published a major investigation exposing how foreign women – mostly female refugees and asylum seekers – suffering domestic violence are denied support by the British state.

This was a five month-long project at a UK-wide level involving three reporters and a team of editors, and The Ferret’s findings – some 7,000 words in total – have put pressure on the UK Government to change policy to protect rape victims and other women suffering horrendous violence at the hands pf partners.

We’ve more to come on issues facing asylum seekers and we’ll be discussing our investigations – and more – at our second conference to be held later this year.

So, sign up to The Ferret and become part of the project, and help us continue to report in the public interest – #nosingupthetrousersofpower

Billy Briggs is co-founder of The Ferret.