This is the second part of a four-part series. Read the first installment here

True Crime News Weekly was partly inspired by publisher Serkan Ozturk’s former fiancee’s love of true crime documentaries. When he started the site — which he says is “deliberately hokey” — 18 months ago, he mainly wanted it to be about crime, but it’s politics that’s brought him the most traffic so far.

Ozturk was the first outside social media to publish the fleshed-out rumour that Barnaby Joyce was having an affair with a staffer, shortly after The Daily Telegraph alluded to trouble in the deputy PM’s personal life. Though the Tele has been attributed with breaking the story in February, Ozturk points out that The New York Times, Meanjin and Independent Australia acknowledged him as having broken the story.

“My reaction to the likes of News Corp, Fairfax and the ABC pretending that the Daily Tele got the exclusive on the Barnaby story is that it’s just another falsity peddled by corporate media organisations who consistently steal the work of independent and freelance journos,” he told Crikey.

[Media roundtable: was it ethical of the Tele to publish its Barnaby Joyce story?]

Ozturk described his role as an independent journalist, filling a role the mainstream media wasn’t. “The corporate media has their own agenda. They’re not going to follow up things if it doesn’t fit their commercial realities that work. For me that’s opened up the potential to publish what the media self-censors. I can write stuff that other journos can’t.”

Some of that stuff he can write, though, might only be because his site isn’t big enough to be noticed. He’s received 10 defamation concerns notices, but he’s only taken one story down because of such a letter.

“Most come before the story is published, and I have written it, and there is nothing they can pursue anyway … [But] it’s the sort of stuff you can’t publish in the newspaper and it’s what people are interested in.”

The one story Ozturk has taken down got the most traffic of any of his published stories after it was widely circulated on Twitter. He said it was offered to The Age, and turned down.

“That’s why we exist. There’s a gap where people are like, mainstream’s ignoring me. Who needs mainstream anymore?” he said.

His sources vary, but he says his independence gives him an opportunity. “I don’t have to sidle up to politicians or powerful types. I catch Ubers and talk to cleaners and that’s where the stories are. They’re the type of sources I have.”

He’s since republished an edited version of the story he took down, with an editor’s note accusing the person who sent the letter of making “demeaning and perhaps criminal remarks” in a call to Ozturk. He told Crikey that he stood by the original version, but took it down because he wasn’t certain his source would stand by it in court.

“I just don’t have the money and energy to get in a battle … [the person who sent the letter] wasn’t my main target and I didn’t want to get bogged down by [them].” He said the article got 60,000 views — it’s hard for him to give an average because it varies so widely, but most of his “big investigations” get more than 7000 views.

Ozturk said he was discerning with the articles he runs, he only publishes stories with two sources (preferably documentary), and he runs things that might be legally tricky by one of his lawyer friends.

“I don’t do these articles lightly. I don’t just decide to ruin people’s lives — they’re important stories,” he said.

He also thinks the style of the website will give him some reprieve against any defamation action, referencing the legal test of a ‘reasonable person’ in determining whether published material is defamatory: “What protects me from most things is some people think it’s fake news. I’ve a bit of protection there. The reasonable person thinks we’re fake news,” he said.

Ozturk writes and edits stories and runs the site in his spare time from his PR company and freelance technical writing jobs. He studied PR and creative writing at university, with some journalism classes, and said he would be taking a media law course through the journalists’ union, the MEAA, in coming months.

He’s worked in community radio, LGBT media and business media, and hopes that recent attention and a recent increase in donations and advertising will mean he can run the site as a part-time job.

“It’s become a proper independent news website … We’re speaking for the people — I understand what the people want, not what middle managers want. That’s why I left the corporate media.”