Supporting independent investigative journalism: fund my book on Beacon Reader

Folks, I need your help.

For nearly 2 and a half years, I’ve been blogging here. I’ve posted stories about corruption and incompetence in government and public bodies. When expenses have cropped up – travel, lunches with sources, equipment costs – I’ve covered them myself.

Today, I’m launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds so I can continue my reporting. Specifically, the money will help me finish my latest investigative project, a book about the last weeks of Robert Bradford, a Northern Irish politician murdered in November 1981.

The Story

On 14th November 1981, Robert J. Bradford was sitting behind his desk in Finaghy Community Centre. Every month, he would attend an “advice surgery”, a chance for local voters to meet him and air their problems. For seven years, he’d represented South Belfast as a Member of Parliament (MP) at Westminster. This was a routine part of the job.

It made him vulnerable. Northern Ireland’s civil war, The Troubles, had been raging for 12 years. Politicians – like soldiers, police officers and judges – were seen as part of the British ‘Establishment’. Consequently, the IRA seen them as “legitimate” targets. Thanks to advice surgeries, they knew exactly where and when an MP would be on a certain day each month. Even with a police bodyguard, it was dangerous. Yet as Bradford’s wife told a local newspaper, 30 years later:

“Do you stop living your life? Do you allow them to stop you? When you are an MP you are there to serve the people. It defeats the purpose if you stop going out to see the people.”

It happened just after 11.30.

The local area was being painted. When the gunmen approached, carrying a plank of wood and dressed in boiler suits, Bradford’s bodyguard – chatting to the centre’s caretaker in the doorway – thought nothing of it until they produced their guns. They ordered him and the caretaker, Ken Campbell, to lie on the ground.

Moments later, six or seven shots rang out. Bradford was dead. Campbell was also shot. The bodyguard was left unharmed.

32 years later

As I say in the video for my crowdfunding campaign: “For years, there’s been a rumour.”

Before he died, Bradford was said to have been “asking questions” about something sensitive. A politician with a history of asking awkward questions, it wouldn’t have been unlike him. In 1976, he accused a Loyalist (Protestant) terrorist group of colluding with the IRA (more than a decade later, he was proven correct). He frequently used Parliament and the media to reveal his latest findings.

This story has appeared in local newspapers before but it’s always been attributed to anonymous sources – and, consequently, never taken seriously. For the last year and a half, I’ve been tracking down Bradford’s friends and colleagues. I’ve spent hundreds of hours interviewing them and trawling through government and library archives. Using (mostly) on the record sources and documents, I’m trying to piece together what happened in the last weeks of his life. Is there some truth to the rumour? If not, where did it come from? What was he doing before his murder?

The Funding Problem – and a crazy new idea

News outlets don’t fund investigative reporting anymore (very few do, anyways). The industry is in financial trouble. Editors can’t invest time in stories that take months or years to uncover.

I found this out a long time ago. It shattered my idealistic delusions about what it would be like to work in a newsroom. Ever since then, I’ve figured out other ways of funding and publishing my work – publishing on this blog, working with another news site and generally digging into my own pockets.

Now, however, I need your help.

To continue my reporting, I need to raise some funds. I’m working with Beacon Reader – a crowdfunding site for journalists – to make this happen

Here’s how it works: if you’ve enjoyed my hellraising over the last couple of years, you can back me for as little as $5 a month. In exchange, you’ll get access to the book as it’s being written. Each month, I’ll be publishing a short chapter, detailing my latest findings. The book itself won’t be published until 2016 so you will literally see the story as it unravels. We’ll be finding answers together.

To my knowledge, this is the first time this has been done – at least within investigative journalism. I’ve always blogged and tweeted about the stories I was working on (though I’ve been a little more closed with the Bradford story simply because I had no idea if I’d find anything).

Want to support my reporting and independent investigative journalism in general?

Then please – back my campaign. The money will be used to:

• Fund regular research trips to the National Archives in London to comb through their material on Northern Ireland

• Cover travel costs so I can visit sources and interviewees living outside Northern Ireland

• Allow me to cut down on freelance assignments and get on with writing the story.

The campaign will run for 21 days until 31st March which also happens to be my 24th birthday.

Here’s hoping there’ll be double cause for celebration.

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