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Scoop and public interest journalism - OS//OS speech

Presentation in answer to a question posed at the conference session on journalism and open society at the 2016 OS//OS Open Source // Open Society conference

What does an "open" society mean, in the context of thinking about the media and public interest journalism? What is the relationship between 'quality journalism' and 'an open NZ society'?

Jan Rivers, Trustee of the Scoop Foundation 23/8/2016

First of all there are two noteworthy announcements before I start. I’ve just been given an advance copy of Don’t dream its over : the Freerange Press book on journalism in New Zealand. It will be launched in Christchurch this Sunday. Secondly today also marks the launch of the Scoop Foundation’s website.

I’m a trustee of the Scoop Foundation for public interest journalism. The Foundation’s purpose is to support the publication of trustworthy, relevant, public interest information, freely accessible to all New Zealanders, so that they can participate in democratic processes. To explain more about Scoop I’d like to

• Builds on some foundations from yesterday.
• Briefly describe Scoop as an open news and research resource
• Describe Scoop’s funding model – and our path to sustainability

But first why is quality independent locally owned journalism important?

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At OS//OS yesterday we heard Twitter co-founder Evan Henshaw-Plath say yesterday that in the physical world the kind of architecture and infrastructure we live in determines the culture and the connections that we can make and in the virtual world software engineering has the same effect in the online world.

We also heard from programmer and democracy activist Audrey Tang how in Taiwan information and facts that allow for deliberation and co-creation are effective inoculating against memes, hype, and spin.

Scoop’s publishing model is about 15% of its own, mostly investigative journalism including weekly coverage of the post- cabinet press conference and Gordon Campbell’s in-depth coverage of issues like trade, international relations and domestic politics. The balance is press releases and their presentation involves organization using metadata tagging – against multiple encoded metadata fields –by-line, topic, keywords and so on. I like to think of Scoop’s metadata as beneficent metadata (or at least benign) compared with many uses of metadata. Scoop publishes press releases from civil society, business, government and local government, academia and elsewhere (and including links to the related source material). These are added at the rate of about 1,000/ week which gives wider NZ a voice that it does not get through the mainstream media. Scoop has an awesome search engine that can take advantage of the metadata and content of the 750,000 articles it contains. So it’s a research repository as well as a news site. In our best estimates only about 40% of Scoop overlaps with other NZ media. The rest is coverage unique to Scoop. Robert Kelly, one of our Scoop team wrote an article about this and what I remember he said is that the process is one where “We sit at the coal face of public of information and chip, chip, chip away.”

This makes it possible to read around an issue from multiple directions and perspectives and to track issues overtime. Given the lower number of specialist journalists this is important. Multiple viewpoints are a key to quality decision making. In contrast main stream journalism acts as a filter to making information available and its filtering capabilities create a narrowness of focus. Journalists can take only a very small proportion of the story ideas they are offered.

As Enspiral’s Joshua Vial said yesterday there is a tension with open. Open models, no matter how desirable, still need time, money and expertise and of course that is currently a conundrum for the media NZ and world-wide.

Scoop Publishing is a wholly owned company of the Scoop Foundation with an editorial board that guarantees editorial independence.
Scoop last year came out of the considerable financial challenges the company was facing. Scoop was turned into a not-for-profit foundation of which Scoop Publishing is a wholly owned company. I should mention that Scoop is part of the Enspiral Network and supported by them as part of their kaupapa of working on “stuff that matters” and we benefit from their developing perspective on social enterprise business models.

We have more than 1000 individual financial supporters. Another Part of Scoop’s funding model, and an important part of its path to financial sustainability is an ethical firewall. Institutional users, who benefit from Scoop as a research tool, become licence holders licenced to use Scoop in their business. In 11 months almost 130 law firms, government and local government, commercial and civil society organisations have become licenced users. New licence holders are joining at about 10 each month. Meanwhile individuals can use Scoop at no cost.

I’d like to give a vivid example of Scoop’s reach. On 20 June 2014 there was a Wikileaks release of information about the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) which, if passed, will mandate that certain public services are outsourced to the private sector. The day before I had received an email describing TISA from Public Services International – a federation of public sector trade unions. I was surprised because I hadn’t heard of TISA even though I followed the campaign against the TPPA closely. I searched all of NZ media websites. There was nothing in any NZ website except for a passing mention in the Otago Daily Times. However Scoop’s coverage already included 7 articles - 4 local and 3 from overseas.

Our in-depth coverage and our ethical paywall are important parts of the model that the Scoop Foundation believes provides a path forward for Scoop Publishing and its news and research services for NZ.


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