Scoop Turns 17; Has Party
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Today Scoop, 10 June 2016, turns 17 years old. Scoop's first post was made on 10 June 1999.
On Wednesday night a well-attended birthday celebration was held at St John’s in the City, featuring a speech by Nicky Hager on the Panama Papers. [Event report here.]
Scoop Foundation trustee Margaret Thompson welcomed visitors and reflected on the state of the media during a year in which Scoop formed its new structure.
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Welcome speech 8 June 2016 – Scoop 17th Birthday - Margaret Thompson
Hi everyone, welcome, wonderful to see you - even if you have really come to hear Nicky. Scoop is 17 years old today - well on Friday actually! It's quite an achievement - worth having a party. Many of you have been our supporters in recent years – thank you very much indeed – this is for you.
I am a Trustee of the Scoop Foundation for Public Interest Journalism, one of 4 trustees. I'm going to give you a quick romp through why we're still going, still committed to the founding principles of Scoop. This is very topical as we watch the upheaval in some elections underway right now – and in the interests of keeping it topical, my romp draws on US media history.
Here is a quote from the early twentieth-century, which some of you may recognize:
"A newspaper is an institution developed by modern civilization to present the news of the day, to foster commerce and industry, to inform and lead public opinion, and to furnish that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide."
Must be a liberal thinker do you think? American? Yes, Colonel Robert R McCormick was one of the giants of the newspaper industry at its zenith in the States, born in 1880 and editor of the Chicago Tribune from the age of 30 in 1910. He died in 1955.
Of course in that heyday of capitalism, he inherited the newspaper, but he vastly increased its reach and power. Liberal thinker? Not really. He did lead crusades against gangsters and racketeers, prohibition, government corruption, Wall Street, New York. But he also led crusades against the New Deal, the United Nations, British imperialism, socialism, communism, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt!
Yet the quote I just read out - to inform and lead public opinion, and to furnish that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide - is engraved on the Chicago Tribune building. And in 1928 McCormick underwrote a case that went through the Supreme Court and defeated a gag law, a case that still shapes press freedom for journalists in the States today.
If alive today, McCormick might well align with Trump on “America First”, the Republican Party and capitalism. Yet he still understood the independent role of journalism and said, "The newspaper publisher who hangs around clubs or becomes a crony to sundry business men cannot run a good newspaper”.
Was he actually just another autocrat? Maybe, yet I claim him as firmly in the tradition of Milton, who in 1644 defended the right of freedom of speech against government censorship - "Give me liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to my conscience, above all liberties."
Different times have shaped freedom of speech in different ways and to serve different ends, and different sections of society. Sometimes paradoxically. But the right to freedom of speech and the need to be heard is fundamental to balancing and resolving competing public interests. And that has been recognised for four centuries.
We may think the world of news media is so much more complex now - new technology, new political realities, cultural diversity, diverse entertainment options, advertorials, more spin, spin, spin about everything. And most importantly - who pays?
The New York Times' Michael Grynbaum recently noted that while cable networks "are seeking novel ways to maintain balance, the presence of Mr. Trump can be irresistible" due to possibly getting “tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue for an industry threatened by digital competition." The comparative failure of media coverage for Bernie Sanders in the States is obvious.
To return to McCormick - about a century ago he also said "the soundest way to judge any new policy proposal is to determine whether it harmonized with the fundamental ideas upon which the United States was established." According to one biographer - if a new idea did not square with these basics, no opposition could move his rock-like determination to oppose it. One of his fundamentals is also engraved on the Chicago Tribune building - "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost" – Thomas Jefferson.
Times change, but are the fundamentals really different today? Who pays for the news and what they do with that power is critical. In New Zealand there are many journalists fighting to retain integrity and independence, including us in Scoop and Werewolf. Of course we adapt to social changes and move with the times, but as the Colonel said we should also test new policies against those ideals.
I think it is that simple and that idealistic - democracy is one of our shared ideals with the US and many other peoples of the world - and accessible, independent journalism is one of the fundamentals. It enables free speech and empowers citizens. That is the founding idea of the Scoop Foundation, and we need to be as determined as McCormick in pursuing it, even if perhaps today he would vote for Trump and I would vote for Sanders – if he were standing.
So now to this 17th birthday - Scoop is still maintaining that mission, but we are also renewing. Scoop offers new opportunities in our evolving media landscape, a fresh model for independent public interest journalism. I hope you read our editor Gordon Campbell’s story on the website about future plans. He will speak later.
We know where we want to go - the butterfly is out of the chrysalis (that’s what this is). The butterfly is fragile but hey - it could fly high. There is a journey ahead and we do still need your help. As you know, we're running a PledgeMe campaign for members, which closes next Monday 13/6. On this 17th birthday, membership of Scoop costs $17.
We are a serious bunch, so is Nicky, but tonight is also for fun! I hope you enjoy our celebration. Please lift a glass to the committed, hard working, idealistic people who have kept Scoop alive for 17 years, including Alastair, who sends greetings and congratulations from Europe.