Country/area: Ireland

Organisation: Noteworthy (Journal Media)

Organisation size: Small

Cover letter:

A community-led investigative journalism platform

Noteworthy launched in April 2019 as an online crowdfunded investigative platform that invites submissions from the Irish public for investigations and issues that have not received media attention. The public can submit story ideas via our website, social media or email, which are then assessed by the team. If suitable, a public proposal is launched to crowdfund the investigation. 

We wanted to create a new platform for supporting important journalism, one where reporters and members of the public can team up to deliver the stories that matter. We were inspired in part by the emergence of similar community-engaged and/or funded platforms such as The Bureau Local in the UK, De Correspondent in the Netherlands and Revista 5W in Spain. 

The Noteworthy team consists of five staff employees but collaborates and commissions freelance journalists, data analysts and other experts as appropriate to a project.

With clear warnings of an increasing lack of trust for the media among the Irish public, we thought that it was vital to initiate a media platform that essentially acts as a large-scale listening post for the Irish public’s concerns that allows the audience to help shape the news agenda and motivates them to contribute to seeing that journalism delivered. 

Since launching, we have received hundreds of ideas from the public, launched over 125 investigative proposals, and completed 29 investigations, tackling everything from under-regulation in care homes and for-profit DNA collection to digging into Airbnb landlord data and uncovering the negative impacts of plantation forestry. 

Data is integral to our investigations

The use of data has formed a bedrock of a large proportion of our work, often acting as a catalyst for potential investigative ideas or as a visual aid to support key findings of our investigations in a digestible form for our audience. In many cases, it has been key to both.

In many cases, for example, drilling down into available public datasets or data released through information requests acts as the springboard for the team to be able to hone in on topics or areas of interest that we decided required a deeper dive or further investigation. 

Data has also proven to be a key ally in helping us to confirm or disprove subjects of attention during investigations, with data analysis revealing cold, hard facts and figures to support hypotheses developed or to indicate to us that there was a need to reshift focus. 

The journalists who completed the below submitted projects are: 

Maria Delaney is an investigative journalist who is a health specialist with experience in the pharmaceutical industry. She was shortlisted for the prestigious Mary Raftery Prize in 2020 for a Noteworthy investigation into a local council development. Previously, she won the Association of British Science Writers Newcomer Award for Britain and Ireland for an investigation she undertook on how Irish hospitals were not complying with infection control guidelines.

Niall Sargent is a multimedia investigative reporter with investigative experience in two national media outlets, is the former editor of an online climate change news website, and has a background in intelligence and data analysis for Interpol. He has previously received funding from projects from the Simon Cumbers Media Fund and an investigative bursary from the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund.

Peter McGuire is a freelance reporter who regularly undertakes projects for Noteworthy. His recent Noteworthy investigation into lack of support of sexual crime survivors won the Mental Health Content award at the Headline Mental Health Media Awards 2020. 

Description of portfolio:

Bicycle Blackspots

Noteworthy mapped the most dangerous roads and junctions for cyclists across Ireland, spending two months scrapping, cleaning and analysing data from the Road Safety Authority and other sources. 

Cyclist injuries had grown substantially but few had documented this. Our project was the most in-depth investigation on this subject in Ireland which revealed – through data and visualisation – the areas worst affected and questioned local councils about their plans. The series picked up over 105,000 views.

We mapped thousands of data points of collisions in an easy to use format so that our audience could zoom in to their local area to locate potential bicycle blackspots near to them.

Following publication, local authorities rolled out new bicycle safety measures including the installment of wands. A number of these were installed on sections of roads and junctions that were highlighted as blackspots in our articles. Our analysis, maps and videos are used by cycling campaigners to advocate for safer infrastructure. 

Spruced Up 

In this investigation on State forestry policy, we pieced together data on over 30,000 forestry licences to reveal the Forest Service was granting licences for plantation forests in biodiversity-rich areas without proper environmental assessments. 

A major challenge was the lack of any forestry licence database in Ireland, with the Forest Service releasing sporadic and sparse details in PDF format. We used our skills in scraping to pull down data and Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) requests to collect 10 years of licence data.

Another problem was that data was in various formats (excel, pdf, word) with numerous spelling errors. We used Tabula and OpenRefine to collate, correct, confirm and analyse the large datasets. 

The series was read over 120,000 times. The Environment Minister praised the work as “excellent investigative journalism” and the Forest Service published forestry appeals data within days of publication of our investigation. 

Academic Uncertainty 

In this investigation, we examined the casualisation of third-level sector education and exposed the harsh reality facing thousands of workers unable to afford housing and other essentials. 

The series was read over 135,000 times. The impact was immediate after publication, with members of the Irish Parliament raising our findings on multiple occasions through statements, debates and parliamentary questions, as well as at cabinet committee level. In December 2020, for example, the Minister for Higher Education stated: “I acknowledge the work of Noteworthy on this issue.”

Our investigation took six months due to the extent of data gathering involved. We communicated with over 30 people in temporary or short-term jobs in higher education. We submitted numerous Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to every university and institute of technology.

This huge amount of work produced new findings not compiled in Ireland previously. One of the main revelations was that an average of 11,200 lecturers were working on a temporary or casual basis across Irish universities and ITs.

Caring for Carers 

Our investigation into the home care sector – which found poor pay in a profitable sector – analysed financial statements over three years to reveal the top five companies contracted by the public health service. This analysis shaped our investigation and revealed these companies received over 70% of all revenue allocated to private home care providers in 2019.

Cut Down to Size

Data analysis was a key part of this investigation into urban tree-felling that allowed us to reveal 10,000 trees were cut down by local authorities since 2015. We sent AIE requests to all 33 authorities from which we collated data, using charts and maps to present findings in a location-based and searchable format.

Project links: