Investigative journalist discloses his formula for success

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JOURNALISM was never a career that Daniel Brett actively pursued in his youth. After gaining a politics degree from Queen Mary College, he went to the School of Oriental African Studies with the hope of acquiring a job in international development and to work for an organisation such as Oxfam. However, after struggling to find vacancies, he decided to carry out some research and analysis on the matter for various companies whilst seeking employment. “It’s just something that I happened to get into,” he told me during a recent interview.

From an early age, the journalist and author of 1984, George Orwell was an influence on Brett, and he recommends his work as a source of inspiration for any budding journalist. “Why is George Orwell so accessible? He doesn’t use cliches but he doesn’t condescend either. With The Sun, it can be condescending as it takes things down to a low level; but Orwell says something intelligently without using complex words or jargon, which he always stood against.”

He tells me that, in order to succeed in the industry, one must have an interest in the world and its current affairs, a desire to understand how things work and what’s going on, and the ability to be very adaptable. “Understanding how to learn quickly and to pay attention has actually put me ahead of others,” he reveals.

Reminiscing on his first ever story, while working for the Herts and Essex Observer in the mid-90s, Daniel discloses that he found it nerve-racking to call people up and ask for their thoughts on the building of mobile phone masts.

“People were afraid of their brains being cooked,” he quips and we note the similarity to the 5G mast controversy taking place even 25 years later, in 2020. He didn’t start carrying a mobile phone, himself, until 2005 and still doesn’t particularly like calling people for interviews.

India, Dubai and the Middle East (where he wouldn’t have considered visiting, previously, but went at the invitation of friends in the Arabic media) are the countries that Daniel’s career has taken him. He has even, impressively, presented a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels; however now believes that, due to the world being ever more interconnected, there is less need to travel.

Now 45 years old and living in Stansted, he admits, “Most of my time is spent sitting in my spare room researching,” and encourages all journalism students to grab every opportunity to write and get published.

“Never snub a subject because it may not be very sexy,” he says with humour. He uses mattress safety as an example and shockingly reveals how he learnt that one in five mattresses in the UK are unsafe after visiting a testing facility for fire hazards in Stevenage for a story.

When asked about the future of freelance journalism, in which Daniel currently works, he answers that he believes it will be the mainstream and doesn’t know whether newspapers will survive in their current form. He doesn’t like clickbait: it worries him and he doesn’t want to see it. He wants to see independent journalism and hopes the public will still have a desire to see something well-researched and independent.

“There’s a danger of believing a pack of lies through fake news,” he feels, and hopes we can maintain standards and integrity for ourselves with original content, rather than being obsessed with commercialism and making money.

He draws inspiration for his investigations, from television reports and reading material where stories have a loose end and more seems to be going on.

“Research skills and background knowledge are very important,” he states and recommends reading material by Pulitzer Prize journalists along with biographies on Donald Trump due to the different constructions of narratives by writers who try to examine and understand him.

“He’s an enigma, he’s ridiculous, bizzare, entertaining, terrifying, and why the hell is he there?” Daniel concludes.

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