Archive for the ‘report’ tag
This post was first published at mediastandardstrust.org on 10th December 2010
Richard Sambrook’s report – ‘Are foreign correspondents redundant?’, published this week by the Reuters Institute in Oxford, is a road map for news organisations and journalists who want to navigate the future of foreign news
The news popped into my twitter feed between 8 and 9pm on Wednesday evening. ‘#wikileaks hackers have brought down visa.com’. Wow! was my first reaction, that sounds important. Is it true? – was my second thought. A quick attempt to log into visa.com suggested it might be. If it is, what does it mean? – was my third response. Visa’s corporate website was down but did that mean I couldn’t make visa transactions? If I tried to make a visa transaction – say to pay for that basket of Amazon Christmas presents I’d just filled – was there a danger my card details would be lost, or stolen?
I relate this experience not to give a glimpse of how I spend Wednesday evenings and my various neuroses, but because it captures – in microcosm – the challenges facing journalism today, especially international journalism.
News travels fast. Very fast. Normally now in headlines of fewer than 140 characters. The race to be first – which used to be won by journalists and news organisations – is now won by whoever is closest to the action and has the fastest opposable thumbs. That may be a journalist but chances are, especially with international news, it might not be.
News can come from anyone, anywhere. The first tweet I saw about visa.com was not from someone I knew (it had been re-tweeted). Hence why I wasn’t sure about its veracity. Here the journalist can help (though they first have to overcome the urge to re-tweet without verifying).
And news initially tends to come unencumbered by context or explanation. It comes as a bald statement of fact. Visa.com has shut down. North Korea has just fired rockets at South Korea. The first Chilean miner is out. The journalist then has to work out what this means and explain its importance to his/her audience.
Speed. Verification. Context.
But if news organisations are losing the race to be first, in international news they also risk losing their lead doing the second and third.
This struck me reading Richard Sambrook’s excellent study, published this week, on the future of foreign correspondence.
To be able to verify something quickly you have to have some background knowledge. If possible you should have been on the ground (wherever the ground is) for a decent length of time so you can not only verify something but establish its importance and set it in context. This is hard to do from a standing start.
As Sambrook writes: ‘There are no substitutes for a prolonged process of first hand engagement to understand and report what is being witnessed. This may be the most valuable element of foreign reporting at risk from the changes underway.’
It is at risk because there are fewer staff foreign correspondents on the ground. Many news organisations have scaled back or removed their foreign desks. And most have closed or reduced their foreign bureaux.
This is not to say this is the only way to do foreign news coverage. There are alternatives to having your own staff on the ground, as Sambrook indicates. Technology now provides enormous potential for new methods of news gathering, and provides access to a much greater number of news sources.
The report cites a number of people and organisations who have taken up this potential, for example Global Voices, which ‘surfaces opinion and reporting in blogs around the world’; Demotix, a sort of 21st century international picture agency; and Ushahidi, a distributed mapping platform started from Kenya. Even the Foreign Office, not necessarily known for online innovation, has experimented with news aggregation and discussion. For the G20 meeting in London the FCO ‘built a website offering information in 40 languages but also decided to make it a digital hub to aggregate content and discussion about the summit’s themes’.
Yet ‘[i]t is notable’, Sambrook writes, ‘that most of this innovation comes from new start-ups rather than from within established media organisations’. Philip Balboni, CEO of Global Post, puts it more brutally: ‘The innovation in journalism is pathetic’.
Indeed, despite the opportunity to provide more international news, more cheaply than ever, before many mainstream UK and US news organisations are reducing their international coverage. The Media Standards Trust report published last month – Shrinking World – showed how coverage of international news in the UK print press (4 newspapers) has dropped by 40% since 1979. This is in the context of newspaper pagination exploding over the same period.
This is a shame because these organisations have the experience, the people, and the motivation to innovate, as we suggest in our report.
Still, Sambrook’s report not only provides a perspective on where international news has come from, it also points the way to where it could go. The question is, will news organisations read it and take action?
It’s good to be pleasantly surprised. I confess I was pretty sceptical about the ‘independent governance review’ of the PCC (whose report is published today). I wasn’t sure how ‘independent’ it actually was, and was concerned by the very limited publicity for written submissions and that oral evidence was taken in secret.
But it turns out to be a carefully thought out and reasonable response to the many calls for reform over the last 18 months. This includes, of course, the calls by the Media Standards Trust since February 2009 (‘A More Accountable Press’).
It’s clear from the report that they’ve been listening. By my count the review appears to have accepted, in whole or in part, 19 of the 28 recommendations we made in our submission earlier this year (‘Can independent self-regulation keep standards high and preserve press freedom’) in addition to those of others like Peter Preston and MediaWise. The real challenge now is to see if the PCC and the newspapers embrace the recommendations and use this as an opportunity to revitalise self-regulation, or ignore them and leave the current system frozen in aspic.
The recommendations are detailed (I think I counted about 75 in all) though mostly in plain English. They include:
- Greater openness about the system – for example, being open about funding (it still seems remarkable that an industry that recognises the importance of knowing where the money comes from doesn’t make clear how its own self-regulation is funded), making sure the PCC statistics are ‘consistent and clear’, and providing more information about complaints
- Codifying the sanctions and telling people about them – this could mean providing a clear ladder of remedies so people understand what the penalties for breaching the code are and have a better idea about the seriousness of a breach
- Making the PCC more proactive – emphasising the importance of taking action where there is a clear sign of public concern
- Introducing more ways to judge the effectiveness of the PCC – including targets for the year, and polls that measure not only confidence in the PCC but also in the press (this way hopefully we won’t get the Commission claiming success each year whether complaints go up or down)
- Clarifying the purpose of the PCC – including making plain ‘how it considers standards issues’ and ‘what it means by – and what it wants to achieve through – proactivity’.
On some of the big issues – particularly the all-important one of sanctions – the review pushes most of the responsibility back to the PCC and the industry. This makes sense from the perspective that the industry would balk at any ‘outside’ pressure on them to introduce new penalties for breaching the code. However, if this becomes an excuse neither to strengthen existing sanctions nor to explore new ones then people will still not take the PCC seriously as an independent self-regulator – as it aspires to be.
It should also be said that this review leaves a lot of room for manoeuvre. The Commission could, if it wanted, do not much more than publish minutes of its meetings, and alter the appointments and compliance process. Equally, the industry could ignore recommendations to divulge their contributions, and fail to become more involved in the promotion and discussion of standards. Hence why this review is a good start, but certainly not an end point.
One subject on which the review didn’t go into much detail is funding. The PCC has a much smaller budget than organisations like the Advertising Standards Authority or Ofcom. Taking on the additional responsibilities recommended in the review will cost more. Though the review takes note of this it thinks costs can be kept down. This could be tricky and other funding mechanisms ought to be explored. In our submission we suggested the PCC start charging for investigations – like the Financial Services Ombudsman. Alternatively the industry could throw more money in the pot, though given the parlous state of news organisations this seems unlikely at present.
The ball is now squarely in the PCC and the industry’s court. The PCC has made positive noises about the review and has already made some commitments – for example around transparency (it said in its annual report it would adhere to the principles of the Freedom of Information Act). PressBoF, which has been fantastically opaque to date, seems to be raising its head slightly above the parapet. We await the response of the Editorial Code Committee. But it remains to be seen what the Commission, the Board of Finance, the Code Committee – and most importantly the industry – will actually do.
If a newspaper or magazine publishes something inaccurate, misrepresentative, or unfairly intrusive about you, then there ought to be someone independent and effective that you can go to for redress.
Today we (the Media Standards Trust) are publishing a report – A More Accountable Press – that assesses the current system of press self-regulation, as led by the Press Complaints Commission. It concludes that, as it stands, this system is neither independent nor effective.
The current system is paid for by the newspaper industry, its rules are written by working newspaper editors, and almost half the Commission itself is made up of newspaper and magazine editors.
You would be forgiven, as a member of the public, for thinking that the system was geared more towards protecting the interests of the press than the public.
And, were you to look into it further, you’d become even more convinced of its partiality. Right now, if you make a complaint, you have about a 250:1 chance of getting an adjudication in your favour (based on the 16 successful adjudications out of 4,340 in 2007, Annual Report). Those are pretty terrible odds. Not surprising then that many people are now choosing to go to court instead.
The failure of the current system to offer the public fair redress is not only bad for the public, it’s bad for journalists. It undermines people’s trust in journalism. A couple of weeks ago an international poll found the UK media was amongst the least trusted in the world (Edelman poll, results publishing in PR Week).
A national survey commissioned by the Media Standards Trust in December, and conducted by YouGov, was similarly depressing. It found that 75% of the public think newspapers publish stories they know to be inaccurate. 70% of people believe there are far too many instances in which newspapers invade people’s privacy (full results can be found at the back of the report).
Nor does a poor system of self-regulation provide journalists with an adequate defence from the State, from the law (in the case of public interest journalism) – or even from their own proprietors.
This report – ‘A More Accountable Press’ – analyses what’s wrong with the current system. Now we plan to think about how to make it better.
From today we’ll be asking news organisations, regulators, journalists and the public how to address the problems we’ve identified. If you have any thoughts as to how things can be improved, please get in touch.
It’s pretty rare you can say an OFCOM report is a page turner, but The Communications Market 2007 is just that – thanks to some gobsmacking statistics about UK media consumption, some audacious predictions of how our media use is changing, and some wizard diagrams.
In the press today, the Guardian stressed the report’s finding that women (of a certain age) now use the internet more than men, the Independent led on how internet usage is now cannibalising traditional media, the Telegraph focused on the huge increase in web use by ‘silver surfers’, while The Sun was (like me) most astonished by the news that we now spend, on average, 7 hours a day watching TV, listening to the radio, surfing the net and talking on the phone. Seven hours a day (and yes – here I am).
But even outside these headline stories there are masses of stats and statements in this report that show not only how addicted to media we’ve become, but how quickly our use of it is evolving.
Take the stuff about Web 2.0.
542 hours of video are loaded onto YouTube – the equivalent of more than 22 television channels broadcasting continuously
3.74 million photographs are uploaded to Flickr – meaning, that even if you only looked at each photo for a second, it would still take you more than 6 weeks constant viewing to look at one day’s photographs
…and 1,845 new articles appear on Wikipedia – equal to about 22 UK broadsheets worth
Unique audiences to websites like YouTube are now reaching terrestrial TV levels. YouTube has a unique UK user base of 6.5million – although the average user only watches it for three-four minutes a day.
And what about storage (not normally a subject to get the heart racing):
Only 7 years ago a hard disk that could store 80 hours of TV would have cost you £1,500. Now it’ll cost £25.
There’s more, lots more. If you didn’t think we were going through a media revolution before, you will do after you read this. (This last sentence is for the back cover – if OFCOM ever decide to publish the report in paperback).