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Ten reasons to have hope for a better Media in the future

Last week, I wrote about the news crisis in 2018 and why there is hope for journalism despite of (or perhaps because of) this dire situation. This piece will explore what exactly gives us at Scoop hope and will outline some tangible projects and approaches to dealing with this crisis that Scoop is looking to explore in the coming months - years.

TLDR summary: Part 1 outlines how the news crisis continues to impact the ability of newsrooms and journalists to fulfil the public service role required of them in a thriving democratic society in 2018. The dominance of the digital platform monopoly giants Facebook and Google shows no signs of slowing down. This, and new developments such as Artificial Intelligence, are contributing to disrupt the industry, render old ad-based financial models unviable and reshape the way we consume news. This situation has also contributed to a crisis of Trust, with the media now being one of the least trusted professions globally and here in New Zealand.

The opportunity - The News is dead, long live the News!

However, in all this crisis we see a clear opportunity to create a new, more resilient and more decentralised future for independent news media harnessing cutting edge technology. The clear failure of the digital advertising model and the broken and abusive relationship between the news and social media platforms, means more than ever, people are realising the need for quality trustworthy journalism again. It appears the public are also more aware than ever of the need for a new approach, new models and new technologies to support journalism. Scoop is among a pioneering groups of global newsrooms working to solve this many faceted problem.

So, here are ten reasons to have hope for a better media in 2018 and beyond:

1. The return of funding for real journalism

It appears the growing awareness of the fake news crisis means consumers are once again increasingly inclined to pay for high-quality journalism and trust in good journalism is slowly beginning to improve.

It appears that New Zealand advertisers are willing to invest as sponsors to be associated with serious news publishers such as Newsroom and The Spinoff.

Scoop is now among a group of organisations using local media fundraising platform PressPatron to receive reader donations. In 2017, Scoop also crowdfunded an investigative journalism series around the Kaikoura and Wellington earthquakes.

Internationally research indicates that publishers are also seeing increased engagement, and the number of subscriptions to quality news providers has reportedly grown significantly.

2. Increased collaboration between newsrooms

for 125 years newspapers in New Zealand shared content through the NZPA cooperative. Gavin Ellis notes in his essay The Media We Want by 2020 that this was an advantage providing for more efficient newsgathering in spite of limited financial resources.

There are positive signs collaboration is slowly returning and we hope to see it accelerated in the future. Independent investigative outfits such as the ICIJ are collaborating internationally to great effect as in the Panama papers and Paradise Papers investigations.

In New Zealand, RNZ has forged re-publishing partnerships with a number of news media organisations including Scoop allowing a certain amount of content to be published daily (see the curated RNZ InfoPage and feed on Scoop here.) Stuff announced in June 2017 that it would carry selected items from Māori Television.

Ellis believes it is ‘more than possible’ for the mainstream media organisations to forge permanent relationships with local digital enterprises (eg BusinessDesk) to fill specific and neglected areas of editorial coverage and make a meaningful contribution to society. He points out that this model already exists with non-profit ProPublica in the United States, which provides ground-breaking public interest journalism in collaboration with a host of MSM organisations from ABC News to Yahoo.

In the United Kingdom, the BBC is now paying the salaries of 150 “local democracy reporters” who are embedded at newspapers, radio stations, online sites and other local media organisations. These journalists cover local political and civic news and their stories are shared with more than 700 media outlets that have signed onto the Local News Partnerships Program.

Facet is a news startup aiming to provide an infrastructure that supports and manages effective newsroom collaboration and hopes to make such collaboration commonplace again.

Scoop has a goal of promoting such approaches and technology to increase potential for collaboration with other organisations and freelance journalists in New Zealand.

3. Blockchain - a possible solution to fake news and the trust crisis

News media has continuously been disrupted by new technological innovations allowing for more efficient flows of information, from the invention of writing, to the printing press, to the internet and the smartphone. There remains a real and persistent problem around trust, truth and verifiable facts in the Media industry created by the disruption of the transition to the digital era. Many are predicting that the blockchain will be the next major innovation to reshape this sector and go some way to correcting the damage done by the internet era.

Blockchain encryption allows for greater decentralisation, authentication, verification and traceability. Perhaps most importantly, the technology allows for permanent archiving and prevents censorship or manipulation by a State or other actor. This combination of qualities means blockchain is set to radically change how we create, store and consume media information.

Coin telegraph reports that a handful of blockchain-driven media startups are aspiring to revolutionise the news economy in 2018. They say these projects use the versatile incentive-building tools made available by crypto economy, combined with game-theoretic behavioral modelling and principles of decentralized governance. The projects aim to create comprehensive community-powered marketplaces for production, distribution, and verification of news and use the ‘token economy’ to provide readers with economic incentives to contribute their efforts to sustaining the ecosystem for substantive news. These projects all explicitly address some problematic institutional aspects of the current news media system, and offer fixes designed to produce a better informed public.

Civil Ecosystem Structure

From my perspective, New York based startup Civil appears most aligned with Scoop’s goals as it encourages existing newsrooms to participate and even to connect their own platforms to Civil. Civil, is utilising the blockchain to create a better ecosystem for original journalism in two key ways:

1) Publishing stories on the blockchain will allow them to be permanently archived and protected from censorship or attacks;

2) The blockchain will facilitate a governance structure that rewards quality journalism and holds newsrooms accountable solely to readers. This is made possible by the Civil protocol, which enforces the ethical journalism standards set forth in the Civil Constitution.

Another innovation in the blockchain space specifically aiming to combat fake news is Trusted News - a blockchain-based chrome extension from the company behind AdBlock Plus.

4. Media Literacy Innovation

Another reason we like Civil is that it seeks to provide an intuitive reading experience by including specific features designed to increase media literacy. One such feature is the use of Credibility Indicators. These are simple visual cues that represent different elements that went into the reporting of a given story and how trustworthy it is. (e.g. on-the-ground reporting, stories containing original reporting, whether the reporter is a subject matter expert).

This media literacy focused approach aims to start conditioning citizens to ask critical questions about how and why a given story was reported and educating citizens about what goes into creating the news.

Successful U.S. news site Axios is an innovator in the media literacy space with an efficient and effective information hierarchy encouraging readers to go deeper into stories.

Scoop aims to implement a new design with a cutting edge information hierarchy to enhance media literacy and to make information on Scoop more accessible for all. This approach could involve credibility indicators and a design which makes it easier to deep dive into an issue by following ‘axioms’ or topic threads to similar stories or press releases.

Example of the Axios information hierarchy

5. The resurgence of citizen journalism participation in news creation.

The 7/7 London bombings marked a pivotal moment in the history of journalism as much of what we know of the event is through citizens’ eyewitness accounts and mobile phone images. Since then, citizens have become an integral part of telling any major news story across the world, including most major New Zealand news media outlets.

Before the rise of the digital giants there was great hope for a greater role for citizen journalism, and increased participation in the news process by non-professionals. The crisis of trust and fake news has put this on the backburner somewhat. However, new innovations such as blockchain and enhanced media literacy tools may once again open up greater possibilities for citizens to contribute to the news by contributing information or feedback into truthfulness or accuracy.

Scoop has been experimenting with increased reader engagement through our AI enabled HiveMind collective intelligence and problem solving tool. We aim to expand this approach and to try to identify other ways to involve our readers more in the process of finding shared solutions to important problems in the future.

Scoop's HiveMind on Housing Affordability

6. News organisations are addressing the trust deficit

One other way newsrooms are seeking to ensure their trustworthiness is by signing on to initiatives such as the Pro-Truth pledge. Over 70 Media organisations globally have signed this pledge which sets out their intention to share, honour and encourage truth with their reporting and provides a clear pathway to ensure they do so. Scoop plans on becoming the first New Zealand news organisations to sign this pledge.

7. Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for good journalism

As mentioned in part 1 of this series RNZ Mediawatch recently covered the pending AI disruption of the news industry. We believe that despite the dangers of AI being put to use in extractive and divisive ways, there are also positive elements to the technology. We are keen to explore how AI can be put to use for positive means to enhance good quality human centred journalism in the public interest.

A number of startups are doing interesting things in this space. For example, London-based news agency Urbs Mediais using automation to strengthen local newsrooms. Through mining large and largely ignored open datasets, the agency uncovers localised news stories that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day. Human reporters write stories using natural language generation technology (NLG) to produce many versions of a story, which are then adapted to different localities.

Vigilant is another AI startup that enables journalists to search and monitor thousands of public records databases in real time. This allows reporters to carry out investigative work more easily and it can form the backbone of news alerting and news automation products.

UK project Full Fact attempts to fight fake news by using AI to analyse media across platforms in order to catch the entire life cycle of every falsehood and countering them with facts.

8. VR Journalism and Immersive Storytelling

Virtual Reality is heading for the mainstream and, although it may sound like sci-fi, immersive journalism, using 3D space to reimagine news, is becoming reality. Nonny de la Peña has been working since 2014 on combining traditional reporting with virtual reality technology to put the audience inside stories on social issues. She explains in a TED talk:

Eighty-seven thousand Google Cardboard headsets were distributed with printed Guardian papers in the UK in October 2017 and could then be used to view a series of immersive VR stories on mobile phones.

The possibilities for journalism in this space are endless as the form is perhaps more capable of any so far of invoking positive human emotions such as empathy and compassion. However, ethical issues abound as it could also quite easily be misused. The literature exploring the ethical, technological and commercial issues of virtual reality journalism already includes reports from the Reuters Institute, Tow Center for Digital Journalism and Knight Foundation.

One of the most innovative and well-respected companies in the sector right now is based in New Zealand. Reality Virtual are using VR for far more than just gaming, instead their focus is on preserving cultural heritage by mapping important historical sites. They are also reportedly mapping NZ’s Parliament with an eye to providing a live feed in the future. Imagine a future where you could walk into parliament during a session and observe democracy in action, and perhaps even participate in the process.

9. A growing focus on ‘Solutions Journalism’

There is a growing awareness amongst progressive news organisations of the need for ‘Solutions Journalism’ or journalism focusing in-depth on a response to a problem and how the response works in meaningful detail. This type of journalism involves ensuring journalists are working to a solutions journalism framework. This framework ensures journalism focuses on effectiveness and presents available evidence of results and discusses the limitations of the approach in an effort to provide insight that others can use.

Scoop may also explore options for collaborating more closely with NGOs and direct action organisations on solutions focused journalism. This may involve linking from stories to issue related campaigns and hopefully, eventually even to civic forums for e-voting and direct democracy. We believe independent journalism organisations such as Scoop must play an important role in informing democracy and should provide opportunities for readers to find opportunities to take real action on issues and problems they care about.

This is an important gap for independent journalism to fill in today’s society as due to the failure of the media, there is an increasing trend of advocacy organisations performing journalism. Columbia Journalism Review’s Mathew Ingram questions whether this is a good thing:

“As the media landscape continues to fragment and many outlets struggle to afford more ambitious reporting projects, non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are increasingly taking on the role of reporter,... But even those leading the new NGO-as-muckraker efforts acknowledge that they’re no replacement for traditional news organizations.”

10. Last but most important - Community Media Ownership

“the crisis in the media is a moment of opportunity to bring co-operative structures and business models to the sector, and in so doing, better shore up the social and democratic role of the media through a business model based on using commercial success to provide social benefit.”

- Dave Boyle. Good News Report Coops UK

One of the most important innovations in the media sector is the systemic intervention of cooperative and community news ownership. Dave Boyle, who coordinated the Co-ops UK and Carnegie initiative Make Your Local News Work, published a report entitled Good News calling for an appraisal of co-operative alternatives in the News media.

The cooperative community ownership approach gives news media organisations inbuilt resilience against further media consolidation and takeovers by large global players (such as Sinclair). As Boyle said in an interview with The Guardian in 2013, "The last thing you want are local media being part of very distant groups, often global media companies."

A group of former Denver Post reporters and editors plan to launch a local state online newspaper on the blockchain using Civil - The Colorado Sun. A Kickstarter campaign for the newsroom aims to raise USD$75,000 over the next month. Newsroom layoffs and deteriorating morale at the Post following a change in the newspaper’s ownership were made famous by a searing editorial in the paper featuring the iconic photograph above with missing staff redacted. This new approach is a potential solution for journalists in precarious jobs seeking to regain some control over their livelihoods.

However, perhaps an even more exciting example of this approach is the case of New Internationalist which in 2017, launched the largest media industry community share offer to date. After selling shares for a minimum of 1GBP, the esteemed magazine publisher is now the world’s largest co-owned media company with shares held collectively by its staff and more than 3,000 of its readers and supporters.

Scoop 3.0 - A Global Vision

In light of these hopeful new possibilities the coming year will be a critical new phase in Scoop’s development. From now until August, we will are running a new campaign called ‘Scoop 3.0.’

Independent news media organisations such as Scoop now have two options as we see it:

1. We can fail to adapt to the new realities of AI, and news in the social media era and be gobbled up by the digital giants, or

2. We can be part of the coming new wave in information and news enabled by AI and the blockchain and make the most of this unique opportunity to involve our community in shaping a new model, or what we are calling Scoop 3.0.

This initial three month Scoop 3.0 campaign is the start of a process of ultimately transitioning Scoop towards a new business model and technology suite fit for the modern era of News.

This process will involve the most comprehensive overhaul to date of the Scoop technology infrastructure. This will include upgrades to the software stack behind the scoop.co.nz website and associated sites to a modern platform capable of making better use of video, audio, advanced analytics and new technologies such as blockchain, AI and VR.

This transition will involve upgrading the ScoopPro professional information tools and services:

(InfoPages and Newsagent newsletters and custom news intelligence features.) We will also seek to make these features available in simplified forms for non-professional readers.

A new model - The Citizens Newsroom

“The media crisis is producing novel thinking, ideas and priorities. The stakes are high. The future depends as much on the readers, viewers and listeners of news media, as the practitioners.”

- Vanessa Baird. A Better Media Is Possible. The New Internationalist

The most important changes in this Scoop3.0 transition, however, will be those we make to our business model and revenue strategy.

Scoop already has an innovative model as outlined in part 1 of this series, we are a social enterprise, owned by a Foundation and have been pioneering the innovative ScoopPro model backed by an ‘ethical paywall’.

However we are not stopping there. The evolution of Scoop 3.0 will include giving our community members the opportunity to become owners of NZs first truly decentralised newsroom.

This will mean that our staff, readers and commercial users will be able to own shares in the Scoop Publishing social enterprise as with New Internationalist in the UK and thereby co-own a vital part of the news industry. We believe this will go a long way to ensuring that Scoop is here for the long-term and that the public continues to have a strong voice in our continued development.

The End Game - Open Sourcing and Expanding the Scoop Model

We believe Scoop’s underlying model is innovative and provides a potential solution to the news crisis that is globally applicable. We now aim to expand the model by building a custom fit-for-purpose open source tech stack that can support other newsroom operations.

This tech and the underlying IP of the ethical paywall business model will then be made open to all NZ news media organisations, with a focus on small local organisations such as community newspapers that are struggling to stay alive.

This work will help us to support local and niche news services in NZ and eventually even expand globally under a Software as a service (SaaS) model to help make Scoop financially sustainable.

Look out for Part 3 for more detail and a detailed roadmap for the Scoop 3.0 transition.

If you are interested in partnering in this grand vision as either a tech partner, sponsor or ScoopPro client, please get in touch on joe@scoop.co.nz


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