Rebecca strikes again!

A famous name in investigative journalism has been resurrected by the man who launched ‘a radical magazine for Wales’ almost 40 years ago. In its new incarnation, Rebecca is published on a website which includes a 20-minute television documentary made to professional standards.

The return of Rebecca will be welcomed by those who believe there is a deficit in the field of investigative journalism in Wales. It’s billed as ‘Britain’s first investigative website’, but its use of the web purely as a publishing platform will be seen by some as a missed opportunity. Visitors can reply, comment or correct via e-mail, but there is no interactivity and no scope for the creation of an online community of interest.

Paddy French launched Rebecca in Cardiff in 1973 with few resources. It took its name from the 19th century rioters in west Wales. Publishing sporadically up to 1981, he had a considerable impact – especially in exposing corruption in public life. The magazine built a loyal readership and – more importantly – an informal network of supporters and informants across Wales. Surely the web is the place to replicate that network on an even wider scale.

The new Rebecca reflects many of the strengths of the original – solid research, attention to detail, clear story-telling and a hunger for the truth. Many of the themes will be familiar to former readers – especially freemasonry, police corruption (and connections between the two).

It has not been produced on the cheap. According to the site, each ‘edition’ costs £25,000. Visitors are asked to pay £1.50 to read the content and view the TV programme. French says he will not take advertising, but does not reveal how the project is funded (it will take a lot of paying visitors to cover the cost of one edition).

He explains that the use of television on the site allows viewers to hear people give their side of the story and, especially, to witness the behaviour of those who are ‘door-stepped’. But is the pod-casting of a 20-minute programme the only way to achieve this on the web? It would be equally effective (and cheaper) to combine video of interviews with text to tell the story (especially in the case of investigations which require a lot of detailed explanation in voice-over and where visual interest is limited).

Earlier re-incarnations of Rebecca have not succeeded – a monthly edition launched in 1981 with a full staff was forced to cease publication because of the costs. Later subscription models fizzled out. If this latest Rebecca survives, it will certainly provide a public service. Whether it is financially viable, remains to be seen. Whether it will thrive in this form on the web is a bigger question.

About James Stewart

Senior Lecturer in Radio Journalism.
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