Investigative journalism now

Alan Clawley regrets the departure of Paul Dale from The Birmingham Post and wonders what the future holds.

There’s a tendency for organisations to push out its ‘senior’ employees regardless of the law against age discrimination, perhaps because they know or cost more than their juniors. Having left the organisation many realise that their prospects of applying for another job are slim, and out of necessity or otherwise, become ‘freelance consultants’ to sell their undoubted knowledge and expertise while working from the comfort of their own homes.

For an investigative journalist of the calibre of Paul Dale, leaving the Birmingham Post and Mail after ten years must have been a wrench, but at least he will be free from the pressure of working for a paper that has a weekly circulation of a few thousand and which must rely increasingly on income from advertising to pay its staff. In such a climate editors are not keen to have their journalists criticising their paying customers.

I first met Paul Dale in 2002 at the Council House where he was reporting on a council Cabinet meeting. I introduced myself as the author of a single letter to the Post about the Central Library. His advice, ‘Keep writing the letters’, kept me going for the next ten years, but I had no idea at the time that it would lead to my getting an award from Adrian Goldberg’s STIRRER website, the citation for which read, ‘STIRRER OF THE YEAR 2009; Alan Clawley for his persistence, eloquence and intelligent use of The Stirrer as a platform for citizen journalism. The symbolic wooden spoon is richly deserved.

It’s not too fanciful to imagine that the Stirrer and other digital news sites played a part in the decline of the Post from a daily to a weekly and from an independent investigative newspaper to what is now a largely uncritical propaganda sheet for Birmingham’s establishment. Whilst Post editorials loyally and uncritically supported the council’s plans to demolish the Central Library and build a new one Paul Dale often took his own line.

Birmingham's new Central Library under construction

Birmingham's new Central Library under construction

In November 2007 he reported ‘Alastair Dow (LibDem Selly Oak) wants the Cabinet to explain why it has rejected the far cheaper option of modernising and extending the Central Library.’ In February 2008 he reported that the national architects’ magazine Building Design had awarded Whitby ‘two turkeys’ in its annual round-up of local authority architecture. On 6 April 2009 he slammed the design of the new library with, ‘…why on earth lump six glass blocks of varying sizes on top of each other and then encase the bizarre edifice with a cage if steel circles?…the new library will be an unwelcome, dominant presence detracting from Baskerville House, the Hall of Memory , the Rep and the ICC. It is, presumably, meant to be an imposing statement – but to my mind it is simply an ugly, hideous intrusion into an important public space at the heart of the city centre.’

There was also one famous occasion when the Post hi-jacked a Stirrer scoop about the release of a report that showed that the Central Library did not have ‘concrete cancer’ and that the council had known and kept quiet about it for some years. Against a long and honourable record of probing the council’s affairs I can forgive Paul Dale for not wanting to miss that story, but now he is not at the Post any longer, I hope that his legacy will live on some other way.