Credit: Screengrab from The Ferret
"Investigative journalism is suffering in the digital age," believes Rob Edwards, one of the journalists behind The Ferret, Scotland's first investigative journalism platform, which launched earlier this week.

With newspapers currently in decline as advertising revenues collapse, investigative journalism "could wither" due to high demands on time and money, according to Edwards.

"We did this because, looking forward, it was hard for us to see how good, fact-based, non-aligned investigative journalism would be funded," he said.

Previously known as The Scottish Enquirer, a team of four Scotland-based journalists and a web developer have spent the last two years developing the platform to "nose up the trousers of power".

The Ferret's first investigation will be crowdfunded, and the team have given the public a choice of topics to vote on: asylum seekers, NHS cuts or fracking. Since it went live, over 500 people have had their say.

For the health of a democracy, there should be a questioning, independent media beholden to no oneRob Edwards, The Ferret
"We chose these topics because of their potential to uncover things in the public interest and because perhaps they are not covered as well as they ought to be in other media," Edwards explained.

And people have already started suggesting further topics for investigation, he added, such as the case of a man who recently died in police custody in Scotland.

"After the first topic is chosen for investigation, we will crowdfund and see if we can raise the money to do it," Edwards said.

Apart from crowdfunding, The Ferret operates a metered paywall system similar to the Financial Times: all readers must register, with three articles made available for free before a £3 monthly subscription comes into play to let readers suggest topics and read further.

The Ferret's promise to its readers is to be "totally transparent", so "wherever we get our money and however we spend it, we will publish details of how we did it on our website", he added.

The platform joins a revival in local, investigative journalism across the UK in recent years as traditional media houses have been forced to scale back.

The Northern Correspondent and The Bristol Cable both launched in 2014 as a crowdfunded alternative, and sites like Contributoria and Beacon Reader allow individual journalists to put their ideas forward to be supported by readers.

Elsewhere, Dutch startup De Correspondent broke a world record in crowdfunded journalism in 2013 when it raised $1.7 million to focus on specific topics, involving readers in the process.

As The Ferret expands, Edwards wants to bring in more people with investigative and multimedia skills, as well as those with knowledge of specific areas.

"If someone comes to us with a brilliant idea and we judge it could result in a significant story in the public interest, obviously we will do it," Edwards noted.

The format of the investigations will include different elements, from text to data, video and sound, but also undercover footage or interviews with key people.

The Ferret will aim to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortableRob Edwards, The Ferret
Regardless of their topic, each projects' source documentation will be made available to readers, as well as any Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the public.

More than providing in-depth reporting on its website, The Ferret will also strive to build a community passionate about investigative storytelling.

"If there are community groups with particular concerns or they think something is potentially scandalous and needs investigating, we want to talk to them," Edwards said.

He also mentioned that people have already started a conversation on the website, contributing their own resources to a list of e-mail addresses helpful when making FOI requests.

"For the health of a democracy, there should be a questioning, independent media beholden to no one, prepared to ask uncomfortable questions of those in power," said Edwards.

"The Ferret will aim to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It will try to help the powerless by challenging the powerful."

Because the team behind The Ferret is based in Scotland, the initial focus will be on issues that affect Scotland, but they are also considering investigating stories with a national and international focus later on.

"It's important that investigative journalism is given a future," Edwards told Journalism.co.uk, "and hopefully over the next few months and years we will see if our faith that people want independent, questioning journalism, is justified."

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