|Scoop editor and general manager Alastair Thompson (left) |
and Pacific Media Centre’s director Professor David Robie
at the Scoop Foundation launch. Image: Del Abcede/PMC
By Alastair Thompson
In a push to offer new support and momentum for public interest journalism, New Zealand's leading independent news provider, Scoop Media, is lending its weight to two initiatives being announced for the first time.
The first initiative, the Scoop Foundation Project, brings Scoop.co.nz together with a group of New Zealand’s leading practitioners of public interest journalism to create a charitable trust to fund investigative journalistic work.
This coincides with the launch by Scoop of a $5000 Pacific Scoop internship being awarded in conjunction with AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre (PMC). The first recipient, Danish radio journalist Daniel Drageset, was named at the School of Communication Studies Awards event held at the newly opened Sir Paul Reeves Building at AUT last week.
The name for Scoop's "Scoop Foundation Project" plays on the associated ideas of "foundation" and "construction". It is clear that we now need to build a new journalism.
The one that we have has been struggling for some time, and a key component of it - print - is now on life support.
And to build a new journalism we need to start by (re)constructing some foundations. And that is what the Scoop Foundation project will do.
The first important thing to understand about the Scoop Foundation Project is that it is a completely separate entity from Scoop Media Limited, publisher of the Scoop.co.nz.
Media 3 segment broadcast on TV3.
The foundation will be a completely separate entity, governed by a trust with its editorial decisions separated from its fund raising activities by an independent editorial board.
In this respect it will be similar to many organisations which are starting to emerge in the United States such as Pro-Publica and the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Scoop's initial role in the Scoop Foundation Project will be to drive its creation.
Scoop Media Limited will be providing $100,000 of annual support - committed initially for two years - towards setting up the foundation. This support will be provided "in kind" in the form of hosting, publication, promotion, coordination, public relations and fund-raising services.
And in doing this we will be extending and formalising some of the work that Scoop already undertakes.
Over the past 13 and a bit years, Scoop has provided a foundation for independent internet news production.
Scoop has employed journalists and run a professional digital newsroom supported entirely by online revenues. And throughout our 13 years of existence we have also encouraged and supported numerous other online start-up "news" providers including:
- Gordon Campbell's magnificent example of what a truly free and intelligent press looks like a Werewolf.co.nz
- Pattrick Smellie and Jonathan Underhill's BusinessDesk.co.nz news service;
- the news blogs which make up the Scoop Media Cartel - cartel.scoop.co.nz - (Public Address, Pundit, The Standard, Spareroom, LiveNews, Theatreview (and till recently Kiwiblog);
- our own collaborative projects such as Pacific.Scoop.co.nz (with the Pacific Media Centre), Community.Scoop.co.nz and Gaza.scoop.ps ;
- and external initiatives such as StickNZ, The Science Media Centre, Sciblogs, TEDx and Nethui.
Scoop now sees its role both at Scoop and via its support of the Scoop Foundation Project as trying to help the emerging new world of online news content in New Zealand to survive and prosper.
"Journalism" as we have known it in New Zealand is under very significant threat.
Last July, I wrote about this in the Scoop Nethui editorial. The dire predictions made then have proved eerily accurate particularly around the sale of Trademe.
And I would be not at all surprised if we see Fairfax taking over APN sometime in the next few months. If this happens the engine of competition in the news space will be effectively knobbled.
Further layoffs will follow and the limited experience pool which remains in our newsrooms will be even further eroded. And this erosion is reaching critical levels.
As I travelled to Auckland to prepare for this launch, I received a call from former North & South staff writer, Christchurch-based freelancer Amanda Cropp.
Amanda is perhaps NZ's most accomplished long form investigative feature writer. She wrote the book on investigative journalism in NZ.
She rang me to inform me that she was on the verge of giving up working as a journalist altogether after working for six weeks on an epic tale of intrigue about the Christchurch Cathedral for somewhat less than a living wage.
She asked if I knew of any paying journalism gigs she might stick her hand up for. I didn't, and instead told her about the Scoop Foundation Project.
She immediately volunteered to be involved and we immediately accepted.
Also new on board the project team this past Friday, the Science Media Centre's Peter Griffin volunteered to help in the Scoop Foundation Project's set up phase.
Peter has just returned from a Fullbright tour of new-journalism projects and research in the United States. The Science Media Centre - supported by the Royal Society - is the only example we have in New Zealand so far of independently/philanthropically funded journalism in New Zealand.
Amanda and Peter join a core group of Scoop collaborators who have been talking about this project for several months. The combined group of names is ( new names will be added to the list here ) is already - we think - fairly impressive.
Over the next two months, we plan to engage with both the public and the journalism community to discuss further how the Foundation will work - and perhaps equally importantly why it is needed.
At the outset of this exercise, helping NZ civil society understand that the nature of the crisis facing the news industry - and why it effects them - will be a key objective of our efforts.
We would very much like to hear from you and you can get involved by visiting scoopfoundation.org and filling in the feedback form.
We are also in the process of finalising the arrangements of significant second partner for the set-up phase of the foundation so please watch out for that announcement in the next few weeks.
We decided to launch the Scoop Foundation Project today to coincide with the award of the first Pacific Scoop Internship at AUT Communications School's Pacific Media Centre. We did so for several important reasons.
The scholarship - which is currently funded from syndication revenues earned by the Pacific.Scoop.co.nz website - is a very concrete example of the sort of thing that we hope that the Scoop Foundation project will be able to do.
Pacific Media Center professor David Robie is legendary in the world of Pacific journalism.
Formerly based at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, he has trained many of the journalists who work in the region and now networks this output together on a platform provided, promoted and partially populated by Scoop - Pacific.Scoop.co.nz.
Dr Robie is the perfect partner for such an exercise as he is one of those journalism educators who has never been content to be simply a teacher of journalism. For as long as Scoop has been around, David has been doing real online and offline journalism in a variety of different guises.
That he seems to be particularly proud of what he has achieved with Pacific Scoop is something that makes us at Scoop proud also.
Recently a study about coverage of the West Papua conflict and independence struggle found that Pacific.Scoop.co.nz provides far and away the most comprehensive coverage of the Pacific region's dirty secret war for all publications in New Zealand in terms of breadth of story coverage.
For several years now a team has been assembled by the Pacific Media Center to comprehensively cover the annual Pacific Islands Forum, the annual regional political summit meeting.
These journalism student staffed coverage teams have deservedly received acclaim for their work and have also provided more in depth coverage of the events than any of the mainstream news providers are now able to achieve.
And so Pacific Scoop is a success. But yet it is under serious threat.
And as such it serves as a very good example of the wider problem that journalism is now facing.
News projects such as Pacific Scoop effectively have almost nowhere to go to seek funding to enable even a subsistence level of support.
And while Pacific Scoop is very useful, well read and widely respected - it shows very little potential for ever being economically viable via advertising or subscription support.
In news content markets of the Pacific Island scale, the traditional market assumption that advertising revenue should be able support content production simply doesn't work. And sitting in my seat where I am engaged in commercialising niche content on a daily basis - I cannot see that it ever will.
There are no institutions in NZ which see funding of online "news" projects as their primary responsibility, neither government, corporate nor philanthropic. Guidelines for the NZ On Air digital content funding grants schemes specifically exclude news - for good reasons which I will not take the time to explain now.
However this needs to change.
And for change to happen, someone needs to lead the way.
And so that is why we are today launching the Scoop Foundation Project.
We have identified a need for a new foundation to support public interest journalism.
And now we are going to go ahead and build it.
We hope we have your support (and if we do please go to scoopfoundation.org and say so.)