“Win-win”: Investigative Bureau moves closer to home

New location strengthens ties and opens up intern opportunities

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) has strengthened its ties with City after moving into a new office only a corridor away from the journalism department.

Until February, the Bureau was situated several streets away from the student body in City’s Myddelton Building.

As a not-for-profit organisation, part of the bureau’s remit is to foster investigative journalism. Since its founding in 2010 it has given City students priority for internships and sent senior staff to guest lecture.

However, from its new vantage point in the College Building the bureau hopes to play an even larger role in students’ work.

Rachel Oldroyd, managing editor, said: “If we manage to encourage two or three more people who’ve gone through the journalism school to move into investigative journalism, that’s a job well done.

Geoge Brock, a trustee of the bureau and the former head of City’s journalism department, said: “It’s a win-win situation. The bureau has access to bright, inquisitive, enthusiastic young journalists, and City students get real-world experience in a challenging but ultimately very rewarding area of journalism.”

Suzanne Franks, who heads the undergraduate programme, said: “We are hoping that the BIJ will provide meaningful and interesting workplace opportunities for our students, and give them a taste of what serious investigative journalism involves.”
The bureau currently has three recent City graduates in their team of 11. Vic Parsons and Jack Serle did the Science MA, while XCity Award nominee Tom Warren came from the Investigative MA.

Vic Parsons, who interned one day a week at the bureau while she was a student, said: “I came with a project that I wanted to work on and found it’s a very supportive, nourishing environment.”
In the past, the bureau has acted as a stepping stone for City alumni to gain jobs in larger organisations. James Ball worked there after graduating from the Magazine MA, before becoming special projects editor of The Guardian.

The bureau has been talking to not-for-profit investigative journalism organisations in the US, where they are more common, to learn about how they operate.

Joaquin Alvarado, CEO at the Center for Investigative Reporting in California, which works with the journalism school at the University of California, Berkeley and the Knight Fellowship at Stanford, said: We have a really special dynamic that is only possible if you work closely with universities. Having an intergenerational newsroom allows new ideas to circulate.”

The bureau is especially keen to mentor students in specific areas, such as video, podcast, data journalism, animation and infographics, to find new ways to tell stories.

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Homeless in the United States of America

On an all-American road trip this summer, I arrived in San Francisco, a city of bright lights, trendy hippies, shopping malls that sell jumbo jets and streets peopled by the homeless. A breed of homeless completely unlike any I had seen before. Walking through the wealthy gay district I received cheeky smiles from tramps with signs saying ‘I’m sexy and I’m homeless’, ‘Kisses for a $’, and my personal favourite,  ‘My wife had a better lawyer’. These people weren’t apologetic for begging, didn’t seem hopeless, nor to have been living this way for long. Many of them were happy, even.

But then I hit downtown. Now the homeless I saw were more decrepit, and there was no sense that their lives might ever change. On closer inspection, I realised I was looking at an entire population of the mentally ill, with illnesses like I had never seen before – people babbling to themselves, crying, obsessively tapping every fourth paving stone, a man in a wheelchair which was older than me with a sticker on the back of it which said ‘Not to be removed from St. Francis Memorial Hospital’. A couple lay down and embraced in the street; one of them had no arms. As I walked down an incredibly long straight street, a man, roughly in his 30s, had been loudly talking to himself beside me in what sounded, with its scatterings of trendy slang, like the voice of someone who used to have a whole bunch of friends. He turned around ahead of me and started screaming right at me. At first I was terrified, but then I realised he didn’t even see me. I stole round a corner and took a breather. Where was I? Apparently in a caricature of a mental asylum. Where had America gone? And how had this happened in the land of the free?

I later discovered that what I had witnessed was in part due to America’s ‘deinstitutionalisation’ – a policy that began in 1955, of closing down long-stay psychiatric hospitals, with the (unfulfilled) intention of treating people in community mental health services. The objective, as defined by President Carter’s Commision on Mental Health, was ‘to maintain the greatest degree of freedom, self-determination, autonomy, dignity, and integrity of body, mind, and spirit for the individual while he or she participates in treatment’. Instead, many severely ill schizophrenics, manic-depressives and others with major, incurable dysfunctions were discharged without ensuring that they had any long-term form of help. As a result, much of the severely mentally ill population has simply been relocated to the streets and jails, where ‘self-determination’ amounts to a choice of soup kitchens, and any so-called ‘dignity’ or ‘integrity of body, mind and spirit’ is long gone.

America seems to be conducting not so much a war on poverty as a war on the poor. New Orleans, for example, is known to do clean-up acts, in which police take all the homeless off the street and dump them in jail – an ill-conceived pretence which merely sweeps the problem under the rug. There seems to be a misguided attitude to these people – as though the country believes it has no responsibilities.

Homelessness is often considered as a problem of the 80s, since the media is now looking elsewhere, but the effects of deinstitutionalisation are still very apparent. Council housing does not exist in the way that we know it in the UK. Instead there are ‘the projects’ in some cities, often referred to as ‘the housing of last resort’ because of endemic problems of ostracisation and violence, and there are also homeless shelters, avoided by many who would rather be out on the streets because of the extreme violence, rape, theft and murder that haunt these places. For the disabled homeless there are highly unlikely ways to claim money, involving lawyers and large amounts of paperwork. Without benefits, mentally ill children are known to have been left out on the streets by parents who cannot care for them. With almost no safety net to catch the fallen, these vulnerable people are in an abyss out of which they can never climb.

I thought about getting on a bus, before somebody noticed me as the odd (sane) one out, and after a brief moment considering whether the people on the street or on the bus looked the least distant from my level of reality, I hopped on. The bus driver, perhaps sensing my wide-eyed shock, began to speak about what I had witnessed, from his perspective: ‘I have seen the worst of what can happen to a man pass in front of my bus. If I had known what I would have seen I never would have taken this job.’ The insane-o next to him nodded knowingly.

Originally published by Epigram.

Thinking through Israel

As a girl from a Jewish family, I had visited Israel often. In recent years, though, I had grown uneasy at how little I knew about the tensions in the region, especially regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.  My resolution: a trip through Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories in order to gain some insight into the issues for myself.

Before entering Lebanon I had to obtain a new passport, as evidence of my previous visits to Israel would have been enough to send me home before I left the ground. All evidence that we were going onwards to Israel had to be removed, and as a land crossing through Syria was out of the question, we flew via Jordan.

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Arab Israeli children playing football by The Temple on the Mount. Photo by Milla Lupton.

With neighboring Syria on the verge of civil war, the sight of lost limbs and bullet-pocked buildings in Lebanon were a poignant reminder; not only of previous wars with Israel, but also of the 15 year civil war caused in part by hostility towards the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who immigrated there after the creation of Israel. Unable to talk openly to the people we met, I started to become aware of a growing unease at our connection to Israel and of my own Jewish identity. One friend we could speak openly with – a Brit with Lebanese ties – asked, ‘Do you feel bad visiting Israel, considering how Palestinians are forced to live?’ It wouldn’t be until we reached the West Bank that I could find an answer.

In Israel we met an Arab girl named Laila.* She lives in Nazareth and attends the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Still getting to grips with the history of the conflict, Laila clarified for me that ‘Palestinians are from those areas which didn’t agree to be part of Israel in the ‘48 agreement. Arabs who live in Israel are those who did and they are called Israeli Palestinians – it appears on their passports but not on their ID cards. Palestinians cannot enter Israel without special permission, like a medical issue. Whereas Israeli-Palestinians such as myself can move around wherever but we get more questions.’

What were her feelings on the Israel-Palestine situation I wondered? ‘We don’t like to think about it, otherwise we wouldn’t know where we are. My own grandparents lived in Palestine and it was their home. If I was back in ‘48, I would be only for Palestine, but it’s different now. They [the Jews] have been here for 3 generations. This is their home now too.’

On the question of Palestinian animosity and violence, Laila pointed quite simply towards their treatment: ‘We buy what we’re sold. People begin to behave how they’re expected to’, meaning if someone is treated with hostility as a security threat, they will react violently and so continue the cycle.

The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem. Photo by Grace Regan.
The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem. Photo by Grace Regan.

A few days later Laila joined us on an attempted trip to Jericho in the West Bank, during which our car broke down. With no insurance and the borders closing soon for evening, we were forced to take refuge with an impoverished but incredibly generous Palestinian family. One older woman told Laila, who translated, of how she had not been able to visit her daughter for 17 years, though her daughter is free to visit her. I began to realize that fraught links such as these exist all across Israel and the Palestinian territories; countless families divided by the category of their identity cards. In meeting this one Palestinian family I became aware of the inevitable strain on any kind of solidarity between a people divided. Able to live in relative freedom and prosperity, Arab Israelis have imitated to survive in a place with Western ideals, and as such are rejected by many Palestinians.

As I open my eyes for the first time to all the soldiers in Israel’s streets, an image comes to mind – of Israel as an unnatural insertion into a land determined to repel it, its borders held in place only by the security of occupation. And as I thought about the question posed by my Lebanese friend, I really grasped the magnitude of the problem. Neither in Israel nor in the territories are Arabs allowed to live as they should, but Israel is no longer so new that its disappearance would solve the problem. This is a country now home to Jews just as it is Arabs, and it is on such an understanding that progress towards peace must be made.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.