1. Not everyone agrees with his motives, but by bringing Edward Snowden’s accusations about US and UK surveillance to light, The Guardian started a global debate on what states know about our online activity.
The NSA surveillance story was sarcastically dismissed by critics as “spies are spying on us shocker”. Conservative politicians questioned The Guardian’s patriotism. The head of M15 called the leaks “the gift they need to evade us and strike at will”. And a rival paper (guess who!) accused The Guardian of “lethal irresponsibility”.
A 300-page report from the Obama administration released earlier this month in direct response to the leaks took them rather more seriously, pointing out it took the probing and questioning of journalists, including Glenn Greenwald, to bring this issue to light.
2. After exposing how the sexual abuse of girls in the north of England was allowed to continue for years, The Times has set the agenda for child protection reform.
The Times’ investigations editor Andrew Norfolk - winner of the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism - uncovered the scandal of local authority-run care homes effectively ignoring and even condoning sexual abuse of girls as young as 13, with the criminal justice system unwilling to tackle the problem. Last year, nine men from Rochdale, aged between 22 and 59, were jailed for a string of offences related to sexual abuse.
Just last week, a review by the Rochdale Safeguarding Children Board laid bare the failings of local services and child protection agencies, who made “moral judgements” about the vulnerable girls, because of their class and background.
This was a great example of an awful story, which wouldn’t have come to national attention were it not for one reporter asking difficult questions.
3. The Sunday Times’s exposure of David Hunt as the leader of a sophisticated crime network.
In 2010, journalist Michael Gillard reported how Hunt was the head of a criminal network “so vast that Scotland Yard regards him as ‘too big’ to take on”.
That resulted in a fiercely contested libel action in the High Court in which Hunt attempted to defend his reputation. But in July The Sunday Times won, with the judge calling the paper’s work “serious investigative journalism” that had been carried out “fairly and responsibly”. The evidence submitted proved, he ruled, that Hunt was “the head of an organised crime network, implicated in extreme violence and fraud.”
He said: “This was a serious piece of investigative journalism which was expressed in forthright, but not extravagant terms; and without tangential additions to liven up the story.”
Defending a libel suit by justification - by arguing that the original story was true - is made especially hard by the UK’s stringent defamation laws, making this a significant victory for journalism and one of the most hard-fought newspaper stories in recent history.
5. The Daily Mirror found a member of the House of Lords was turning up to Parliament for barely 30 minutes to claim his £300-a-day fee.
According to the Mirror, this earned Lord Hanningfield £5,700 in one month. The transcript of when the paper confronted the peer makes for particularly uncomfortable reading.
6. The Sunday Times won a long-running battle against disgraced cycling champion Lance Armstrong, who finally admitted - as the paper had long alleged - a history of using banned substances.
The Sunday Times’ David Walsh suspected all was not what it seemed with champion cyclist Lance Armstrong as early as the 1999 Tour de France, the first of his unprecedented seven consecutive Tour de France victories.
Walsh wrote of his suspicions and possible links to doping on several occasions, but this landed him in court. In 2006 Armstrong won a £300,000 libel payout.
But Armstrong was doping. In 2012 the US Anti-Doping Agency ruled that he had run “the most sophisticated doping conspiracy”, leaving his reputation in tatters, and in August this year Armstrong was ordered to pay £1 million in returned libel damages and costs to Walsh and the The Sunday Times.
Of the sporting media’s unwillingness to follow up his doping allegations, Walsh said:
“Initially, quite a number of them would have shared my scepticism during that Tour de France, but by the end of it, the Armstrong myth had taken off… This was one of the great comebacks in the history of sport and everybody wanted to believe it so badly, regardless of what doubts they would have had.”
7. The Observer uncovered disturbing allegations of sexual abuse at the Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre.
The paper’s Mark Townsend found evidence alleging that guards promised favours to female detainees in return for sex - since corroborated by more detainees, although the contractor that runs the centre denies the allegations and says sex between staff and the detained is not widespread.
8. The Manchester Evening News found a church selling olive oil and blackcurrant cordial as cures for cancer.
This was from 2012 but this story earned reporter Richard Wheatstone the Young Journalist of the Year prize at this year’s Regional Journalism Awards. The report prompted a swift investigation from local trading standards officers.
9. The Yorkshire Post wrote a string of stories about police payments and perks, involving abuses of power and conflicts of interest.
Reporter Rob Waugh has doggedly exposed dubious spending activities from senior police officers, a process involving sifting through countless official documents and making many requests for data under the Freedom of Information Act.
Waugh revealed that Sir Norman Bettison, former chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, was being paid an annual salary £50,000 more than the legally set maximum, and that Cleveland Police launched legal action to recover hundreds of thousands paid to its former chief constable Sean Price, after he was sacked for gross misconduct.
11. Not an act of journalism, more an act of defiance. The Spectator said in very clear language that it would not be signing up for the government’s press regulation scheme.
The ancient political magazine said it would not sign up to the government’s Royal Charter, inspired by Sir Brian Leveson’s proposals. Failing to sign up could mean punitive charges in the event of a libel action.
Editor Fraser Nelson wrote: “When you consider the principles at stake, it would be hard for any newspaper that expects to survive the next decade to be complicit in whatever the politicians now intend to cook up.”
12. Rob Evans and Paul Lewis of The Guardian lifted the lid on the extent to which undercover police officers have infiltrated dissident groups by using false identities.
From Mark Kennedy/Stone, who spent seven years posing as a serious environmental activist, to the undercover officers who infiltrated supporters of the family of Stephen Lawrence, Evans and Lewis’s reporting showed the staggering scale of undercover police operations - many of which are still on-going.
The book based on their reporting is out now.
13. Exaro uncovered evidence of suspected child abuse stretching back 30 years.
The online investigative journalism startup in February revealed the existence of a police investigation into a suspected “VIP paedophile ring”, with links to Jimmy Saville, and police plans to arrest a former Conservative cabinet member in relation to child abuse.
The dogged reporting from David Hencke and others, often in partnership with newspapers and broadcasters, has continued through the year and broken many stories.
14. Back in January, The Times found that a charity raised £176 million while only giving away £55,000 to good causes.
The Cup Trust, one of the UK’s biggest charities, used international loopholes and the UK’s Gift Aid system on charity donations to allow wealthy donors to avoid £46 million in tax payments.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said of the revelations: “Of all the tax avoidance schemes I have come across, this is perhaps the worst. I thought I was past being shocked, but this genuinely has shocked me.”
15. And finally… It wasn’t entirely serious, but the Metro’s liveblog of the Vatican’s election of a new Pope found a way a funny and entertaining way cover a breaking news story… where there is no breaking news.
There was of course 24-hour rolling news coverage of the Papal Conclave’s election of the new Pope, following the resignation of Benedict XVI. But most of it involved TV reporters standing around in St Peter’s Square making it up and filling time.
At least Metro had a bit of fun waiting for the white smoke with its rolling news blog, telling us how many seagulls were around.