Archive for the ‘journalism’ tag

Re: #futureofnews – this much I know

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I’m tempted to say ‘not very much’ since no-one really knows too much about the future of news just now. You know this is true because senior news folk have given up on the doom and gloom stuff and are starting to get all optimistic, talking about ‘the golden age of journalism’, and how it’s a ‘bright dawn’ and that sort of thing. This would make sense if there had been any structural change in the economics of news but there hasn’t, so their optimism has the hollow twang of hope over reason.

Still, the optimists have got it half right. As Stewart Kirkpatrick, founder of Caledonian Mercury, said at a #futureofnews conference a week or so back (I paraphrase):

“This is great time to do journalism. It’s just not a great time to earn your living as a journalist”

But, in these turbulent times, as I earnestly make my way from one #futureofnews conference to another, a few things are starting to become clear. So this much I know:

  • Even if paywalls provide a secure financial future for news organizations – which right now seems unlikely – they will reduce the pool of shared information, and cut those news organizations’ content off from the openness, sharing and linking that characterizes the web. ‘You cannot control distribution or create scarcity’, Alan Rusbridger said in his January Hugh Cudlipp lecture, ‘without becoming isolated from this new networked world’.
  • The paywall is not the only way to sustain the digital newsroom. Advertising – much maligned by many – could yet make online non-paywall newspaper content viable within 5 years. Peter Kirwan does the sums in Wired – calculating that if Guardian News Media manages a 20% annualized growth of digital revenues (it estimates growth will be 30% this year) it will be able to maintain a £100m digital newsroom seven days a week by 2015.
  • There are other revenue models for online news. Ones that allow you to keep your news open, linked and shared, and make money. For example, what I call the ‘carrier pidgeon’ model. In this model you let people share, link to, recommend, search, aggregate, and even re-use you content – you just make sure it’s properly marked up and credited first, so you can keep track of it, and develop revenue models off the back of it. You do this with – excuse the geek terminology – ‘metadata’. Embedded metadata has all sorts of potential benefits we’re only just starting to take advantage of (hence why we’ve spent so much time on hNews and linked data). I call it the ‘carrier pidgeon’ model because the news doesn’t just go out, it comes back.
  • The cost base is still going to have to go down. The cost of producing news will necessarily have to be a lot lower than it has been historically. This doesn’t have to mean cutting journalist’s jobs or getting out of print. There are lots of ways to rethink costs in a digital world. One of the most inventive is Roman Gallo’s Czech model. Gallo opened cafés in the centre of towns across the Czech Republic. He then put his news teams in the cafés. Not only does this mean they have very low office overheads (the café covers basic costs), but it means the journalists are working in amongst the local community and getting readers directly involved in production.
  • There will need to be accessible, re-usable public data provided regularly and in a consistent format. Without this it will be much harder to keeps costs low because of the amount of time it will take to coax information out of public authorities and then to analyse it. This is why the launch of data.gov.uk was such an important development, and why we need to join Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s quest for ‘raw data now’ (as he shouts in his wonderfully quirky TED appearance).
  • Whether or not paywalls work or online news makes money, there will be a public interest gap. Some newsgathering and reporting will almost certainly never again be commercially profitable in an open market. Online news is highly unlikely ever to pay for a journalist to sit in a local court for days on end, for example. This was one of the most important things to come out of Michael Schudson and Leonard Downie’s report ‘The Reconstruction of American Journalism’. Schudson and Downie could not find a market solution to some of the news problems they were exploring, and so settled instead on a mixture of tax breaks, subsidies, foundation grants, and donations.
  • We will rely, for aspects of watchdog journalism, on a combination of journalists, NGOs, and motivated members of the public. Note the use of the word ‘motivated’. News organisations will need to find ways – other than money – to motivate and sustain people to help them scour data, dig through school and healthcare records, and alert them to corruption and injustice.
  • As well as motivating people, news organizations will need to build the tools that help the non-professional journos be watchdogs – tools like whatdotheyknow.com, a site built by MySociety that makes it relatively easy for people to make freedom of information requests, and then share the results of those requests to a wider community. Or the way the Guardian got the public to search through the millions of MPs expenses claims.
  • News organizations and journalists will need to form and re-form partnerships with other organizations, journalism co-operatives, NGOs and members of the public. We’re seeing thi
    s start to happen with sites like The Bay Citizen in San Francisco (see good post by Mallary Jean Tenore on Poynter) and OpenFile – the beta site just launched by Craig Silverman et al in Canada

Even taking all this into account there’s a good chance that, without some tweaking of the market; a few tax breaks here, maybe a start-up fund there, there will be a lot of public interest news blackspots.

So there it is. Not so bleak, but not so rosy either. And take it with a big pinch of salt since the only ones who seem to know about profitable business model for news just now are those running #futureofnews conferences.

Written by Martin Moore

June 4th, 2010 at 3:33 pm

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Michael Foot and reform of the press

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“London ownership has invaded the provinces… and there is a steady growth of the syndicated leading article, the foulest abortion in journalism” [1]

Not the words of a contemporary New Labour ideologue but of the English journalist, politician and radical Michael Foot, who died yesterday aged 96, speaking in the 1940s. Foot spoke with benefit of experience, having already had well over a decade’s experience as a writer, an editor and a pamphleteer before taking his seat in the House in 1945.

Soon after joining parliament Foot lamented the consolidation of the local press under corporate ownership, having seen the number of newspapers shrink by almost a quarter since 1921 (from 169 in 1921 to 128 in 1948). “The process of monopoly is not receding. It is getting worse” he told the House.

One wonders what language he would have used today, when four newspaper groups control three quarters of the local press (Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Newsquest and DMGT).

And given that the Conservatives have made clear their desire to allow more consolidation, it is odd that Michael Foot has no parliamentary successor to rage against the centralisation and corporatisation of local news.

Nor did Foot simply rail from the back benches. So concerned was he at the state of the press that, in 1946, he seconded a motion for a Royal Commission on the Press, to look into the growth of monopolistic tendencies in the control of the newspapers and constrain the influence of proprietors in defence of journalistic freedom (echoes of the 2008 House of Lords report on ownership of news?).

A Royal Commission was then set up in 1947 and its recommendations – made in 1949 – eventually led to the establishment of the General Council of the Press, the precursor to today’s Press Complaints Commission.

Foot’s subsequent relationship with the press was, it has to be said, mixed. He was attacked and lampooned continuously as leader of the Labour party, particularly for his appearance (earning him the nickname ‘Worzel Gummidge’ after the fictional scarecrow of that name). He won a libel case against the Sunday Times, of which he gave part of the proceeds to the Tribune newspaper (which he had previously edited). Yet his heart was, his wife Jill Craigie said, ‘really in newspapers and writing’.

Perhaps he would have had a wry smile as certain newspapers, that previously excoriated him, today hail him as ‘the last link to a more heroic political age’ (The Daily Telegraph) and ‘one of the last great political figures of the wartime generation’ (The Daily Mail).

He was certainly one of those rare things, a journalist who could do politics and a politician who could do journalism.

[1] From Mervyn Jones’ biography of Michael Foot, p.150-151

Written by Martin Moore

March 4th, 2010 at 9:12 am

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The 'TAO of Journalism' seal

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Following my previous blog (‘What are the universal principles that guide journalism‘) John Hamer, Executive Director of the Washington News Council (www.wanewscouncil.org), got in touch.

He has been developing a voluntary, self-affixed seal that individual journalists – bloggers included – and media organizations could put on their sites. It has the natty title, the ‘TAO of Journalism‘, since its three tenets are Transparency, Accountability, and Openness.

Hamer explains how these are defined on his blog:

“TRANSPARENT – We will fully disclose who we are, our journalistic mission and our guiding principles. We will post information on our background and expertise, including education and experience. We will list advertisers, donors, grants, and any other payments that support our work. If affiliated with a political party or special-interest group, we will disclose that. If lobbying for any particular legislation or regulation, we will disclose that. If we are being paid to promote a product or cause, we will disclose that. If other factors could be seen as potential conflicts of interest, we will disclose them.

“ACCOUNTABLE – If we get any facts wrong, we will admit that promptly and publicly. We will post/publish/print/podcast/broadcast a correction or at least a clarification. We will fully explain what happened to cause the error or mistake. We will do a follow-up story if that is appropriate, putting the original material in better context. We will apologize and promise to be more careful next time. We will show a little humility.

“OPEN – If there are credible challenges to our point of view or simply differences of opinion, we will be open to contrary positions. We will give the other side(s) opportunity and space to express their views and engage in open public dialogue through comments or other means. If we are primarily engaged in opinion and commentary, rather than news reporting, we will make that clear – while inviting others to express their opinions through comment and feedback means.”

Some of the other principles of journalism are deliberately excluded since the seal is supposed to be inclusive rather than exclusive. That is not say the seal is not compatible with these, just that the “TAO of Journalism Seal” (a registered trademark) does not require journalists to follow any particular principles. Just to be transparent about what ethics codes or standards they follow, plus accountable for errors and open to other views.

The idea got a good reception, Hamer says, at the University of Washington ‘Journalism That Matters‘ event where it was launched. The News Council has funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pursue this project along with others, in addition to other donations.

There is a website in development at www.taoofjournalism.org. I’ll keep a track of developments on this blog.

Written by Martin Moore

February 9th, 2010 at 10:37 am

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What are the universal principles that guide journalism?

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This blog was first published on the PBS MediaShift Idea Lab.

Defining principles of journalism is difficult. Rewarding, but difficult.

Back in 2005 it took the Los Angeles Times a year of internal discussions to settle on its ethical guidelines for journalists. The Committee for Concerned Journalists took four years, did oodles of research and held 20 public forums, in order to come up with a Statement of Shared Purpose with nine principles (which was subsequently fleshed out in the excellent “The Elements of Journalism” by Kovach and Rosenstiel).

Time spent thinking can then translate into a lot of principles. The BBC’s editorial guidelines — which include guidance about more than just journalism — run to 228 pages. The New York Times’ policy on ethics in journalism has more than 10,000 words. Principles needn’t be so wordy. The National Union of Journalists (U.K.) code of conduct, first drafted in 1936, has 12 principles adding up to barely more than 200 words.

But, once defined, these principles serve multiple functions. They act as a spur to good journalism, as well as a constraint on bad. They provide protection for freedom of speech and of the press — particularly from threats or intimidation by the government or commercial organizations. And they protect the public by preventing undue intrusion and providing a means of response or redress.

Principles in the Online World

In an online world, principles can serve another function. They can help to differentiate journalism from other content published on the web, whether that be government information, advertising, promotion, or institutional or personal information.

One of the key elements of hNews — the draft microformat the Media Standards Trust developed with the AP to make news more transparent — is rel-principles. This is a line of code that embeds a link within each article to the news principles to which it adheres. It doesn’t specify what those principles should be, just that the article should link to some.

Now that lots of news sites are implementing hNews (over 200 sites implemented the microformat in January), we’re getting some pushback on this. News sites, and bloggers, generally recognize that transparent principles are a good idea but, having not previously made them explicit online, many of them aren’t entirely sure what they should be.

When we started working with OpenDemocracy, for example, they realized they had not made their principles explicit. As a result of integrating hNews, they now have. Similarly, the information architect and blogger Martin Belam, who blogs at currybet.net and integrated hNews in January 2010, wrote: “it turned out that what I thought would be a technical implementation task actually generated a lot of questions addressing the fundamentals of what the site is about… It meant that for the first time I had to articulate my blogging principles.”

So, in an effort to help those who haven’t yet defined their principles, we’re in the process of gathering together as many as we can find, and pulling out the key themes.

This is where you can help.

Asking for Feedback

We’ve identified 10 themes that we think characterize many journalism statements of principle. This is a result of reviewing dozens of different (English language) principles statements available on the web. The statements were accessed via the very useful journalism ethics page on Wikipedia; via links provided by the Project for Excellence in Journalism; and from the Media Accountability Systems listed on the website of Donald W. Reynolds Institute of Journalism.

These themes are by no means comprehensive — nor are they intended to be. They are a starting point for those, be they news organizations or bloggers, who are drawing up their own principles and need a place to start.

We’d really like some feedback on whether these are right, if ten is too many, if there are any big themes missing, and which ones have most relevance to the web.

Ten Themes

Our 10 themes are:

  1. Public interest Example: “… to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time” (American Society of Newspaper Editors)
  2. Truth and accuracy Example: “[The journalist] strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair” (National Union of Journalists, UK)
  3. Verification Example: “Seeking out multiple witnesses, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment… [The] discipline of verification is what separates journalism from other modes of communication, such as propaganda, fiction or entertainment” (Principles of Journalism, from Project for Excellence in Journalism)
  4. Fairness Example: “… our goal is to cover the news impartially and to treat readers, news sources, advertisers and all parts of our society fairly and openly, and to be seen as doing so” (New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism)
  5. Distinguishing fact and comment Example: “… whilst free to be partisan, [the press] must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact” (Editors Code of Practice, PCC, U.K.)
  6. Accountability Example: “The journalist shall do the utmost to rectify any published information which is found to be harmfully inaccurate” (International Federation of Journalists, Principles on the Conduct of Journalists)
  7. Independence Example: “Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know… [and] Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” (Society of Professional Journalists)
  8. Transparency (regarding sources) Example: “Aim to attribute all information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative, attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances” (Australian Journalists Code)
  9. Restraint (around harassment and intrusion) Example: “The public has a right to know about its institutions and the people who are elected
    or hired to serve its interests. People also have a right to privacy and those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial. There are inevitable conflicts between the right to privacy, the public good and the public’s right to be informed. Each situation should be judged in the light of common sense, humanity and the public’s rights to know” (Canadian Association of Journalists)
  10. Originality (i.e. not plagiarizing) Example: “An AP staffer who reports and writes a story must use original content, language and phrasing. We do not plagiarise, meaning that we do not take the work of others and pass it off as our own” (Associated Press Statement of news values and principles)

There are, of course, many excluded from here. We could, for example, have gone into much more depth in the area of “limitation from harm,” which is only briefly referred to in number nine. Principles to inform newsgathering could form another whole section in itself.

There is also the growing area of commercial influence. In the U.S., the FTC has become pretty animated about bloggers taking money to promote goods while appearing to be impartial. In the online world, the line between editorial and commercial content can get pretty blurred. Right now this is just covered by number five, independence. Should there be a separate principle around independence from commercial influence?

Any and all responses are much appreciated, so please leave them in the comments. Also feel free to get in touch directly if you’d like to continue the discussion (I’m at martin DOT moore AT mediastandardstrust DOT org).

Written by Martin Moore

February 3rd, 2010 at 6:03 am

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