Ian Burrell: Holding power to account is Exaro's creed. But is there a readership for it?

 

Despite all that has happened recently, Exaro News takes pride in its Fleet Street address. Even if the editor-in-chief of this groundbreaking initiative in online journalism is the author of a prescient book, The Fleet Street Sewer Rat, which highlighted the dark arts as long ago as 2005.

Mark Watts says he isn't bothered that he did not achieve the fame of Nick Davies of The Guardian after focusing his attention on "bin raiding rather than hacking," even though he was aware of the latter practice. His book was primarily an exposé of the methods of Benjamin "Benji the Binman" Pell, who John McVicar memorably describes in the foreword: "Meeting Pell for the first time is like going to the beach for a swim and being confronted with a tsunami – most people just want to get out the cross and the garlic, and head for the high ground."

Watts and his colleagues at Exaro News believe that journalism can thrive without relying on such characters. "Holding power to account" is its slogan, and at the top of the website it spells out its credo: "Investigations – not spin, not churnalism, not hacking – about what should be transparent but isn't."

The star name in its editorial team of 30 full and part-time staff is David Hencke, the veteran investigative reporter who won numerous awards when working at The Guardian. Exaro is recruiting more staff and Watts says it can benefit from redundancies at News International and the Guardian Media Group.

It is a key moment for Exaro as it moves to a subscription-based model that it hopes will sustain its future. Watts believes subscribers will be "ABs" with an unsatisfied appetite for investigative journalism. Perhaps more significant could be the corporate subscribers who have underpinned the paid-for digital journalism of the Financial Times. Exaro will supply such clients with "all sorts of data resources," says Watts.

After opening its offices last year, Exaro has spent its first months giving a taste of the journalism it hopes to provide on a larger scale. Highlights have included the revelation of a deal between the Foreign Office and Libya's National Transitional Council (picked up by the Sunday Times) and a failing scheme to train Members of Parliament (followed up by the Daily Mail). Hencke has challenged the Treasury's calculation of the national debt and interviewed the Press Complaints Commission chairman Lord Hunt. Mark Lewis, lawyer for Milly Dowler's family, wrote a counter-intuitive piece saying phone hacking could be justified in the public interest.

It is high-minded stuff. Exaro will need this to establish its news credibility, partly because its founder Tim Pendry is a public relations man. Watts has a strong record as a freelance investigative journalist but worked as a presenter for Iran-backed Press TV ("I ensured my programme had complete editorial integrity"). Associate editor Keith Perry is a Fleet Street veteran who recently worked on the news desk at the News of the World. "It's wrong to assume that everyone at the News of the World was up to no good, because that's rubbish," Watts points out. Exaro's lack of political agenda is crucial. "It's not ideological," Watts says. "It's very much straight reporting of the data and the documents we uncover. It's about holding government – in the broadest sense, with a lower case 'g' – to account."

Making Exaro financially secure is largely the responsibility of David Baxter, its chief executive. Watts is convinced the market is there. "The media industry has lost its way when it thinks all the public wants is celebrity news," he says. "As traditional media has ignored subjects that should be given more attention, or has been unwilling to put resources into long-form investigative journalism, the demand for that sort of thing has not gone away."

Twitter: @iburrell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer / Front-End Designer - City of London

£27000 - £33000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End Devel...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Junior PHP Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Guru Careers: Front End Web Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: Our client help leading creative agencies ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable