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

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform