Investigative news blog for Northern Ireland The Muckraker is to follow long-form digital journalism project Matter in publishing a digital magazine where each issue is a single in-depth feature.
The Muckraker Report will publish a digital edition every three months, charging £3 per issue, with investigations covering government and the public sector in Northern Ireland.
There will not be any advertisements as the publication will be 100 per cent reader-funded. "The only people we are accountable to is our readers," founder of The Muckracker Lyra McKee told Journalism.co.uk.
By keeping the title ad-free there will be no conflicts between advertisers and editorial from a publication which plans to expose corruption and uncover stories, McKee explained.
As a young journalist who grew up "during the tail end of the troubles in Northern Ireland", McKee found she could not get stories into the press as "even if they were backed up by reams of documentation, they were too controversial".
By being reader-funded "we can go after these big stories", she explained.
It is just over 18 months since McKee, then 21, launched The Muckraker as an investigative news blog for Northern Ireland. "It just took off," she said. "People really liked it and bought into it as a watchdog".
Initially McKee was working alone as "a David versus a Goliath". There are now three journalists and McKee has stepped down as editor to bring in an "actual, real editor who knows what she is doing".The web is great – but it's not the right platform for investigative journalismLyra McKee
McKee said there is a real need for investigative journalism in Northern Ireland, and that a digital magazine which can be read on a tablet has advantages over web publishing.
"The web is great – but it's not the right platform for investigative journalism. The web is a beast, it has to be fed constantly."
The web demands "lots of small hits, quick turn around stories", she said. "With a magazine it is different. We can do the really, really, really big stories."
The Muckraker team opted for a digital magazine, with the advantages of low production costs.
"Tablets and e-reading devices fascinate me because they take us back to slow journalism," McKee said. "You can sit down and lean back and read a story. And that works better for investigative journalism."
Each article will be between 2,000 and 30,000 words in length – "as long as it takes", McKee said.
And is she prepared for possible negative reactions to the in-depth investigations? "I'm not looking forward to the libel suits," she said. "I know there will be someone out there that no matter how much evidence we have will just try and run us into the ground, lift us up by the ankle and shake us and see what money falls out. "That's the unfortunate downside of dealing with the powerful."
The first issue is expected to be published at the end of the next month. It is a story McKee first tried to get published five years ago. "Not one newspaper here would take it even though we had all the documentation to back it up".
Another story the team is working on, which they hope will form an issue of The Muckraker Report later this year, is a "scoop" on the Kincora boys' home in east Belfast, which in the 1980s was exposed as the scene of a horrific sex abuse scandal.
Making it pay
If The Muckracker Report attracts 3,000 subscribers, the income will cover the costs of the three journalists involved. And if they don't? They will keep publishing regardless. "Even if we don't break even we will just carry on, it's just too important not to do it," McKee said.
"We've run for 19 months doing fairly big stories on nothing," she said, explaining that those involved have funded their own investigations.
"We have got this far with no money. But if we are going to do something as ambitious as this we are going to need the help of our readers, we need to ask them to dig into their pockets and pay for each issue, and that will help us really push the boat out on it."
And using this model of journalism as an example, McKee is challenging the commonly held belief that investigative journalism is expensive.
"The costs of micro-publishing are low," McKee argues, with the biggest expense being the time it takes to investigate.
'Every time I don't break a story, a little part of me inside breaks'
From experience, McKee knows investigative reporting is tough, particularly those stories that you know are true but cannot gather sufficient evidence to publish.
"I always feel like every time I don't break a story, a little part of me inside breaks," she said. "You know that something bad has happened, you know that people got screwed over, you see the injustice, and you can't fix it."I'm trying to create the newsroom I wanted to be part ofLyra McKee
But despite the frustrations and the challenges of funding such a project, McKee urges other journalists to do the same. "Don't go and work for the content factory," she says, suggesting going it alone.
"I'm trying to create the newsroom I wanted to be part of," she said, adding that by doing so she hopes that might help Northern Ireland. "We need investigative journalism. It's the only way of addressing all the wrongs that have happened."
And she is ambitious in exposing those wrongs. "We really want to set the record straight and be an absolute pain the ass of the guys in Stormont. We want them to know we are watching their every move and that we will hold them to account no matter what.
"We are fully ready to kick ass."
The first edition of The Muckraker Report is expected to be published at the end of June. It will be available via a link on The Muckraker blog. It is being published using technology from Beacon Mags, a Belfast start-up.
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