Scoop's #FutureOfNews Challenge & Solution - A "New Scoop"
Presentation to NZ Law Librarians Association
A Speech by Scoop Editor & Publisher Alastair Thompson backgrounding the development of Scoop's new "Ethical Paywall" approach to licensing commercial use of its news content and addressing the current State of the NZ News Media and the challenges being faced news media everywhere.
Delivered at the Chapman Tripp Offices in Wellington, Monday 27th July 2015 & via audio bridge in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin.
For today's meeting I will begin by introducing myself and Scoop. I will then discuss the challenges being faced by the media both broadly and in particular by the NZ media in the past couple of years. And I will conclude with a briefing on what we are doing about that at Scoop, in particular outlining our new Commercial Use licensing model, and what that means for Scoop's users such as yourselves.
INTRODUCING MYSELF AND SCOOP
I am a print journalist by profession. I started out at The Dominion Newspaper in 1989 and spent a decade in print in newspapers and magazines. From the mid 1990s I could see the writing was on the wall for journalism as a career and so began studying law. I got about two thirds of the way through a degree before Scoop was launched in 1999.
Scoop's team began digitising the inbox of the press gallery in 1997 following the first MMP election. The service we established very quickly became a vital part of the professional communications playbook. Up till then this information had been relatively hard to come across - websites containing press releases were just beginning to appear.
Over time our work expanded into digitising the bulk of the inbox of New Zealand's national news organisations, including material from political parties, activists, businesses, NGOs, councils, crown entities, universities, ITPs and cultural groups.
And 18 and half years later we are now part of the furniture. Scoop currently publishes around 200 news items a day and curates the news of the day in the "Scoop way" on the Scoop.co.nz website by assembling links to multiple different perspectives on whatever the current issues of moment are.
Scoop is a small business. We have six full time employees. Four editorial staff including our very experienced Political Editor Gordon Campbell who leads the journalistic output of Scoop and also publishes his own monthly news magazine Werewolf.co.nz with our assistance. The full complement is made up with two and half sales and admin staff including me.
Scoop's approach to content is one which is principled and reflective.
Our objective is to comprehensively cover what happens in NZ in the manner of collectors and curators of news content. Whereas most media select and filter the news, our approach has always been to publish it all. And we would estimate that at least half of the content that we publish never makes it into the mainstream media in any form.
As a result we are a deep resource for researchers. People who are seeking to look back in time at things which perhaps at the time that they happened were not particularly newsworthy - but which subsequently have become so - or in the case of people doing research, things which have become of interest to them sometime after the event.
We are committed to providing public access to this and at search.scoop.co.nz provide public access to a fully-faceted "full text" search engine - the only one which is publicly accessible in NZ. And the reason we do this, have always done this and plan to continue to do so is because we have believed that in doing so we are strengthening NZ's democracy as well as creating the value which will sustain us.
Our Mission Statement reflects this.
On Scoop you can read the news at the same time that the media are reading it. It is all here.. the good oil.. the whole story..the whole speech..what the Prime Minister really said, not what the reporter heard them say. Better yet you get to hear it when the Prime Minister said it. Not tomorrow.
Scoop believes in the power of information to transform lives. It believes in the power of the internet to resolve conflict. And it believes in the power of compelling ideas to propel themselves into political consciousness if they are able to get exposure and be debated. Scoop is, necessarily, a forum that is neither censored through its own prejudices nor controlled by a multinational media conglomerate.
Therefore Scoop's mission is: “To be an agent of positive change.”
When an item is submitted to Scoop.co.nz it is:
• Triaged and Filtered (I.E. we determine if it is a advert, trivial, crazy, hateful or defamatory and thereby determine whether it fits our publication criteria.)
• Tagged (According to our information structure)
• Sourced (Checked that it is from it appears to be from)
• Published (To the website and where relevant emailed to Scoop's newsagent subscribers of which there are several hundred paying and several thousand free subscribers.)
As of today we have been operating for 5887 days. Scoop has maintained a weekend and holidays publishing presence so that is a very long period of continuous publishing. We have around 1 million published pages in our database.
This database is all indexed by Google and all freely publicly accessible. At search.scoop.co.nz we provide a full text faceted search engine which allows you to drill into the content by source, tags and by date ranges.
Our contention is that it is the deepest and richest source of "actionable" news intelligence in the NZ information eco-system for a few reasons.
For starters it is clear who they are from. You can also be certain that the person who is quoted in them will stand by what they are saying (i.e. they haven't been trapped into saying something silly, what they put in a press statement it is their considered opinion, and not just the first two paragraphs but in all likelihood every word carries some meaning otherwise it wouldn't be there.) And, most probably, anything in a press release has not only been signed off by the people quoted in it, but also by a range of other stakeholders and governance people involved in the announcement.
From an economic perspective Press Releases often have a team involved in their preparation including often the CEO of the organisation. They are therefore expensive to produce.
Yes press releases are a subjective view of reality from a perspective of a particular organisation or person, but they are one which can be relied upon in most cases to be an accurate and often nuanced reflection of that subjective view.
By contrast these days if you read something in a news article that has been written by a journalist there is a transformation process involved. Facts and assertions are interpreted, supplemented, checked and sometimes critiqued. This is also useful but in a different way.
What Scoop's professional users tell us consistently is that what they value about Scoop is the fact that they are able to read all the information from the source and draw their own conclusion about what is important and what it means.
And from the perspective of a legal profession which deals in facts. Press releases are of course particularly useful, there is little danger that remarks contained in a press release will be later disavowed.
- Influential Professional Users At
Scoop's audience is remarkably large given that the content on Scoop is by and large pretty serious . We reach roughly 20,000 people per day, 100,000 per week and 300,000 per month. Scoop is used predominately 9am to 5pm, at work by people who are working.
Firstly Scoop does not publish very much sports or celebrity news. Most of what is on Scoop is pretty serious. And we can also see from use patterns that a lot of Scoop usage is research based. Last week for example 30,000 different items were read by roughly 120,000 users. In the same week we would have published around 1000 items - so it is clear that use of historical material is significant.
In addition 5000 different search queries were run on the search.scoop.co.nz search engine in the week, and Google Webmaster Tools shows us that Scoop results appeared in Google search queries between 300,000 and 500,000 times each day.
We have extensive research into Scoop's audience which shows that it is particularly strong among the Media, Finance and Public Administration sectors. This research also shows it includes a lot of CEOs, directors, managers and decision makers. Scoop's audience is particularly strong in both news-makers and those who are paying close attention to what is going on.
Many Voices Informing Influencers
Recently as we were trying to figure out how we should evolve to survive we came up with the catch phrase "Many Voices Informing Influencers" to describe what Scoop does.
Scoop provides a voice to all-comers across the political spectrum to debate business, social and cultural issues and we allow the community to respond in real time. Media commentator and Scoop collaborator Russell Brown has described us as "the home of the national argument", another way of saying roughly the same thing.
When people send material to Scoop they know they can reach an influential audience - including the media. As a result Scoop acts as a magnet to content from people who are seeking to be heard. And as mentioned earlier, for many of these would-be news-makers Scoop's publication of their contribution to the debate is often the most high profile and important outlet for their material .
When an item is published in Scoop it is almost instantaneously indexed by Google. And because of Scoop's high level of authority the Scoop page results features high when people are searching for news about specific things. This enables people and organisations to ensure that their version of what is happening to them can be found alongside the interpreted views relayed via the media.
In Summary then Scoop is a piece of much used information infrastructure which has reliable served the NZ information system for a generation - and for that reason we think it is worthwhile making some effort to keep it alive and kicking and informing the people of New Zealand.
The State of NZ News Media
News media in NZ and indeed everywhere is in disarray.
Like the music industry, the news industry has had its business model completely disrupted by the Internet. But what has been happening to news has been happening for much longer than that. In January I wrote a lengthy essay on this subject to kick off a "Public Conversation" about the State of NZ News Media which I called "Reinventing News as a Public Right".
As you may have noticed I am a passionate advocate for the role of transparency and journalism in protecting the institutions that protect us from barbarism - i.e. democracy and the rule of law. And what I have seen happen in the news media in NZ lately I find deeply disturbing.
My essay sets out the theoretical role of the news media, what has happened to it and the forces which are shaping the process going forward. Unfortunately because News Media have always sought to be seen as a strong and powerful force in society, reporting on the degradation of the news media is something which is generally lacking from mainstream news discourse.
In summary the past four decades have seen:
1. Fragmentation (Radio, TV de-regulation, Desktop Publishing)
2. Advertising fragmentation and a growth in marketing sophistication
3. Since 1992, the birth of the internet and since around 2000 the growth in digital advertising
Media usage has now completely changed online time is pretty much equal to TV watching time at around 14 hours per week (often at the same time). And roughly speaking 50% of time spent online is on Facebook.
Here in NZ advertising revenue for digital/interactive will this year overtake that for Television. It overtook newspapers about 2 years ago and radio a year before that. However the important factoid when it comes to news is that this revenue is not going to online news publishers. Roughly half of the global revenue is currently thought to be going to Facebook and Google alone. In Q1 2015 the Huffington Post and New York Times made USD$14 million a month. To put that in perspective it is considerably less than NZ media minnow Fairfax's print advertising revenues over the same period.
News organisations have responded by thinking that they can build new revenue models based around new kinds of advertising product suites, but reality seems to have a different view. While people unquestionably want strong news media that speak truth to power it appears they don't want to devote large amounts of their time (or money) to viewing or reading that news media, instead preferring to use their online time to socially network, argue about the news and pursue their niche interests within a globalised community.
The public conversation about this which we began in January appears to have been well timed. Since we started the discussion the Campbell Live closure happened. During this period Mediaworks Chairman Rob McGeoch's said this about news's role in his company:
"We put news on, but only because it rates. And we sell advertising around news. This is what this is all about."
Campbell's closure was soon followed by massive upheavals at Fairfax, the gutting of Maori TV's journalistic talent at Native Affairs and NZME. losing its old-school "gentleman editor" Tim Murphy" and moving to a "single newsroom" model which it is appears is following a similar business path to Mediaworks and Fairfax in pursuit of click bait ahead of news value.
At which point it is perhaps useful to explain how
all this disruption affected
In bullet points.
• Scoop's Advertising Revenue peaked in calendar 2007, our best year. The onset of the great financial crisis saw it fall by a third in 2008 and then steadily decline thereafter
• In 2009 Scoop refactored its premium professional news user product Newsagent. And in 2013 we launched Infopages as the anchor of our "Native Advertising" offering.
• 2014 saw a closely contested election and that benefitted Scoop greatly and kept some advertising revenue flowing during a period when the rest of the market was dying.
• After the 2014 election advertising sales fell off a cliff. We have subsequently wondered whether this was hastened by an unexpected consequence of Dirty Politics, namely was a perception that news media in general and internet media in particular were implicated in something that made us all feel bad.
Scoop then went back to the drawing board. We knew that if we were to survive we would need to rapidly change. And on December 19th 2014 we launched "Operation Chrysalis"
NOW - WHERE IS SCOOP GOING AND HOW
Scoop's owners very strongly consider that a strong democracy and strong economy needs a functioning media. We need to know what is going on around us so we can act.
We also believe that Scoop is part of the solution to this challenge. We provide a reliable source of news information which enables society to transact the business of politics, commerce and culture. This information flow is the nervous system of both economy and society, and as our news institutions degrade many of us can clearly see the damage a weak and poorly resourced news media is doing to numerous aspects of NZ society.
And so Scoop set out on 19th December to try to secure it's own future - i.e. of the website Scoop.co.nz and the journalists who publish it. And we also dared to think that if we could make Scoop sustainable it might be able to become a platform upon which we can collectively build a new kind of news ecosystem to provide a future for news in New Zealand when the newspapers are gone.
Our plan had three legs:
• Truth - We wanted to break the complacency and silence around the state of NZ News Media as a first step towards getting NZ Society to work together to solve the problems facing the media. First we need to identify and understand the nature of the problem that we face.
• Trust - The loss of trust in news media has created a vicious cycle of value destruction which we believe needed to be addressed in a positive way;
• Sustainability - We came to a clear conclusion that at NZ scale, the advertising revenue based business models of news which are being developed elsewhere in the world are simply not applicable in NZ, and for that reason we needed to introduce a new sustainable business model.
And so "Operation Chrysalis" also has three aspects:
TRUST - Addressing the trust issue the announcement on December 19th of Operation Chrysalis led off on our plan to convert Scoop into a not-for-profit. We hope that by doing this - our target date to complete this is now mid September- we can start to create a news organisation that people feel a sense of ownership of, and one which they feel able to invest some trust and faith in. In February and March we ran a crowd-funding campaign "to facilitate the gift of Scoop to a new structure". We are currently working on publicly releasing the legal structure of New Scoop for public consultation.
TRUTH - With regards to the "Truth"challenge we started our public conversation about the State of the NZ News Media in January. Our timing proved to be good and the conversation is definitely bearing fruit in terms of sparking a debate inside the media about its future. The Save Campbell Live controversy - which Scoop built a "Campaign for Advertiser Responsibility" around has been followed by what we think is an increasing level of reporting about the challenges the news industry is facing in NZ.
Unfortunately though this reporting is showing a very clear trend towards further cost-cutting and alignment of news resources towards production of click-bait advertising delivery content solutions. In a recent interview Simon Tong the CEO of Fairfax media said Fairfax was planning on increasing the quantity of material published on Stuff.co.nz from 400 items a day to 1600! Stoppress.co.nz, who ran that interview is running a series of features about changes in the news media called "Future Tense". In their latest reporting on the subject they have revealed that 30 jobs are due to be restructured in TVNZ's digital content area.
SUSTAINABILITY - The most important aspect of Scoop's transformation was for Scoop to find a new sustainable way to fund itself. And that is where Scoop's Invisible - or Ethical - Paywall came in. And this is also the reason I was invited to talk to you today.
Scoop's Ethical Paywall
NLA vs Meltwater
Meltwater is a global technology based media monitoring company which originated out of Scandinavia. They scrape the world wide web - find news that is of interest to their clients and send them reports.
issue in the Meltwater case was fairly simple and explained in our 2012
The primary issue is whether ‘end users’ of copyright material could be required to obtain a licence for use of that material from the copyright holder, subject to the terms and conditions set out by the copyright holder – in circumstances where a media tracking company had provided those End Users with URL’s, titles, and content summaries.
It was held that end users are bound to obtain licence by virtue of the terms and conditions imposed by the plaintiff publishers on their respective websites, so long as those terms and conditions are consistent with copyright law. The Court of Appeal unequivocally confirmed that online content is copyright protected.
The ruling gave a clear declaration that most (if not all) businesses subscribing to a media monitoring service that contains content from online newspapers requires a licence.
Although rulings of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales are not directly binding precedent in New Zealand it seems that the New Zealand courts would take a similar stance. New Zealand and UK copyright legislation is not materially different in respect of any ability to restrict online usage of content to non-commercial users, the issue is unprecedented in New Zealand common law, and it appears that NLA v Meltwater would be authoritative in any New Zealand court if the matter arose here.
Scoop's application of the principles in the case is new, we think. But the principle is the same and is not without precedent. There are for example lots of software distributors who have free public versions of software but who assert the right to be paid for commercial use.
The Challenge Of Introducing Scoop’s Ethical Paywall To Our Readers
It is of course one thing to figure out a new method of making a news organisation sustainable and quite another to get people to agree to it.
Telling people that they have to pay to read a publicly accessible website is something which on the face of it runs contrary to - as some of them have said to us - "the principle of the thing".
And so our experience of introducing it over the past seven months has been a challenging learning experience.
What we have learned is that people tend to be willing to accept what we are doing once they understand :
a) the full context of why we are instituting the model - and how it benefits them; and
b) the nature of their staff's usage of Scoop for work purposes
Copyright Law has arguably always been about utility.
In order to encourage the publication of useful and enlightening books and music there needs to be protection of the creative rights of those who create the work. Collectively that is something that is pretty easy to understand.
Scoop adds value to the content that it collects and curates and then makes available to everybody as a resource. Some people derive non-business benefits from that activity, whereas others obtain direct business benefits, we enable them to do their jobs more efficiently in the knowledge that they are at least as well informed about the background to something as everybody else.
Moreover as we explain in the Scoop Content Licensing pages on Scoop:
services are more valuable to the businesses and
organisations who routinely use them, because they are
• If Scoop were to charge for the publication of releases we wouldn’t have a comprehensive set of all the day’s press releases.
• And if Scoop were to charge for access to the Scoop.co.nz website it would reduce the visibility of the releases.
On reflection Scoop's so far successful introduction of this new idea rests very strongly on the matters I raised in the introduction to this. It is coming to understand the context of our reinterpretation of the law around news content copyright that Scoop's readers have been able to get their heads around the "principle of the thing".
And it is also because when professional usage of Scoop is fully understood, our clients can understand that Scoop's approach to news is useful to them.
Scoop provides above all else a very useful set of news content. This is why it has a large audience.
What's more the fact that we have done so consistently for so long has created a large pool of users who rely on us to do what we do. They would miss it if it wasn't available.
And finally the depth and richness of our database provides we think a touchpoint for purchasers of Scoop licences to compare what we provide with other commercial products which they purchase.
I hope you also find these arguments compelling and I would be happy to now answer any questions you may have.