Prime Minister David Cameron announced details of his government's two-pronged investigation into the News of the World phone hacking fiasco on Wednesday afternoon. Lord Justice Brian Leveson will begin the probe with a review of British media regulations, and another inquiry into those involved in the scandal will follow at some point in the future, depending on criminal proceedings. The London Metropolitan Police are also investigating, but it looks like it's going to take them a while. According to Cameron, police are "looking through 11,000 pages containing 3,870 names, including around 4,000 mobile and 5,000 landline phone numbers. They have contacted 170 people so far -- and they will contact every single person named in those documents."
This sounds like a job for crowdsourcing! Not for the police investigation, of course, but perhaps more informally. It's actually already begun. Around the same time as Cameron's announcement about the investigation, The Telegraph released a database of News of the World articles that mention private phone conversations, voicemails and emails that may have been obtained by the newspaper illegally. So far they only have about a dozen stories, but we'd imagine they'll expand the database as the story develops.
The Guardian meanwhile has crowdsourced its coverage of the phone hacking scandal since it flared up in 2006. Guardian reporter Nick Davies has followed the story aggressively and, with the blessing of editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, has helped The Guardian build out its own database of the phone hacking victims (currently offline for review). The paper has invited readers to crosscheck the list against News of the World coverage, and should The Telegraph build out its list of suspect articles, this could make the investigative work easier for gumshoe readers. On Wednesday, The Guardian released a database of meetings between News International, News Corp.'s newspaper arm, and Metropolitan Police officers. Reporter Helene Mulholland made the data available for download and asked readers what they could do with the information.
This kind of distributed reporting has taken the world of British journalism by storm lately, and The Guardian has led the charge. A primary example is The Guardian's "Investigate your MP's expenses project," wherein the newspaper released a simple application that let readers review nearly half a million expense reports from Members of Parliament and point out shady line items. The paper has also, as some U.S. publications have done, made public their massive database of WikiLeaks cables, over 250,000 dispatches and nearly 200,000 pages of documents acquired by Julian Assange's watchdog group. They were also one of the publications to go to the public with the Sarah Palin emails, building a tool to let readers go through the documents. The challenge posed then is the same as the one they pose now: "What can you do with the data?"
The Atlantic's Peter Osnos and Clive Priddle say that The Guardian "is making journalism history" with their ongoing phone hacking investigation. They draw a comparison to past coverage of WikiLeaks information and give credit to Davies and Rusbridger for forging ahead even when their claims have been denied. In what's being called Rupert Murdoch's Watergate, continuing to crowdsource could let the public join Davies and Rusbridger in a 21st-century Woodward and Bernstein role. After all, the police could use all the help they can get.