The Johnston Press Investigations Unit was established with the aim of pooling resources and talents across the company to deliver quality and exclusive content on important issues that affect and are of importance to our readers and communities.
The team was set up in recognition of the importance of holding those in authority to account and shining a light on matters that some would prefer to stay hidden.
The Johnston Press Investigations Unit consists of a team of reporters from across the group who work “virtually” keeping in contact through e-mails and the Internet as well as holding regular group telephone conferences when working on projects together.
The network of reporters work on long-form investigation and data-driven material to disclose topics of public interest.
For their Knife Crime In Our Schools investigation, the Johnston Press Investigations Team filed Freedom of Information requests with all UK police forces and education authorities to establish the truth behind the headlines of knife crime in our schools.
As well as challenging and re-submitting Freedom of Information requests to any organisations who failed to reveal the information, the team collated all the data and analysed it to give a full national picture of the issue as well as breaking it down to a national and regional level.
The alarming findings included the fact that children as young as four had been caught with knives and other weapons in UK schools.
Through their findings, the team also discovered that over the last five years, there had been 3,094 knife-related crimes in schools – as well as a 42.2 per cent rise in children found in possession of a knife or other weapon in the last two years.
Other shockings findings made by the team included a list of weapons seized at schools including prison style ‘shanks’, foot-long carving knives, jagged-edged hunting knives, axes, homemade Tasers, smoke grenades, stun guns and an array of firearms including air rifles.
Cases identified by the investigations included a four-year-old caught with a knife or blade; a primary school pupil threatening a teacher with a pair of scissors and a school staff member suffering Post Traumatic Stress after being threatened with a knife.
An analysis of NHS data also carried out by the team revealed that dozens of children under 10 had been admitted to hospital after being stabbed in the past five years.
The team’s findings showed that there are 36 different local authority areas in the UK where a child under 10 has been admitted to hospital with a stab wound in the last five years.
The investigation also raised concerns about systems for recording knife crimes in schools after more than 90 local schools who responded said they held no information – signalling a worrying lack of coordination in tackling the issue.
As part of this investigations, a specially-commissioned survey was produced in partnership with Google Surveys, to look at parents’ attitudes to knife crime and what they feel should be done to prevent this issue.
The Johnston Press Investigations Team did a sterling job of using a mixture of hard-hitting data, graphics and visual images together with powerful and emotional human interest stories to raise awareness of an important issue in a powerful way.
As well as speaking to head teachers, teaching unions and a number of exclusive interviews with victims of knife crime and their families, the team’s work featured the views of the police and former criminals now fighting against knife crime.
The Knife Crime In Our Schools series achieved its goals of raising awareness and highlighting the issue of knife crime at the heart of the UK’s education system. It also dispelled the myth that knife crime is only an issue in big cities as the figures and findings by the team showed it is an issue that affects many quieter and more rural areas too.
This investigation was of aimed at a print and online audience and was of interest to families and anyone who cares for the future and safety of children in schools by exploring the situation as it is through the use of data as well as looking at possible solutions.
What makes this project innovative?
Data was depicted in a visual way through infographics, graphs and maps to bring the figures to life in an interesting way and human interest stories and powerful case studies backed up the findings by looking at the cause and effect.
The work of the Johnston Press Investigations Team is particularly innovative and worthy as the team are all journalists who work on investigations on top of their normal jobs. The team has no extra resources and are not data journalists but work hard to unearth fresh and new data through sheer hard work to bring important matters to light.
They use a mixture of finding new data through Freedom of Information requests, digging through existing data and analysing it to make new and startling revelations and carrying out many interviews in their pursuit of finding out the truth of the issue they are exploring.
The work of the Johnston Press Investigations Team is special as it a small team of journalists carry it out and produce a huge amount of work which is shared across Johnston Press' national, regional and local papers across the country.
The findings are localised and tailored to each title so there are many unique pieces and findings relevant to the readers of that particular title rather than generic one-size fits all pieces.
The thing that makes the work of Johnston Press Investigations Team stand out is the unique way they combine data and human interest stories to make for powerful pieces of journalism.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
The impact of the series was to raise awareness and highlight how this is an issue that affects everyone and not just a problem for inner-city areas.
The investigation also explored some of the reasons behind the rise of knife crime and carried out many interviews looking at ways to tackle the problem as an issue affecting society.
The Knife Crime series was used in print and online in Johnston Press titles across the country and invited interaction from readers through comments on social media on individual titles' pages.
The investigation sparked a lot of interest on Twitter and a number of knife crime campaigners and organisations praised the team's work for raising awareness of an important issue.
Source and methodology
All the Local Education Authorities and Police forces in the UK were contacted and chased up for information as required.
Once Freedom of Information request information started coming back, a spreadsheet was created and all the information was inputted and then analysed and broken down to a granular level and main findings were pulled out for a national perspective while other data was broken down to fit individual titles and geographical areas.
The team also spent time looking for data that was already out there and examined it closely to find any patterns as well as calculating the rise in knife crime over different periods.
The specially commissioned Google survey gave a fresh insight to the investigation by giving the views of readers and their thoughts on knife crime in schools and how they would like to see the issue tackled.
This led to some fresh, new and shocking data being revealed and this was presented is a visual and interesting way to make it easier to absorb by readers.