The Scoop Foundation — an open model for New Zealand media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition. The emergence of Web 2.0 and ‘peer-to-peer’ computing represents a new information revolution arguably as important as the invention of the printing press. Traditional information institutions, channels, roles and assumptions are being simultaneously disrupted and re-imagined, which presents very real dangers as well as exciting opportunities to create a more open and transparent society.

Our ability as a society to exploit these opportunities will depend on the extent to which we can collectively reimagine the information sector in more open, inclusive and participatory ways.

In this increasingly complex new information environment, we must find new ways to ensure we have a trustworthy, independent and well resourced media to make sense of the information overload and explain it meaningfully for the rest of us.

The value of stories

The media plays a vital role in modern society as a storyteller. Stories allow us to reflect with clarity on ourselves and our society and can help us to see our shared existence from diverse angles exposing underlying truths. The value of good media can thus be seen as exposing the underlying ‘code’ of our complex system by hacking through the spin and the symbols and influence of power to interpret the raw data of our world.

Democracy is built on people making smart choices, but that requires citizens to be well informed. Good media enables citizens to better understand and evaluate the world around them and to make well informed choices accordingly. This openness enhances innovation and economic development as well as political engagement. However, this requires a media that is independent and free to investigate and question everything — which can only exist when media professionals and channels are free from the influence of those in power and from the dictates of the commercial market.

Media disrupted

The disruption and decentralisation created by the digital age has created a proliferation of media channels and information sources such as social media feeds and blogs. It is no secret that this has wreaked havoc on the traditional advertising revenue based media model and has seriously affected all existing media organisations. The dominance of large media platform monopolies like Facebook and Google in the new algorithm based revenue model tends to favour the consolidated media players such as Fairfax more than smaller independent providers.

However this model forces the larger players to increasingly focus on ‘clickbait’ or dumbed down human-interest content and ‘native advertising’ which blurs the line between news and advertising. Many independent media organisations have been swallowed or simply disappeared and those remaining do not have the reach or control of the established media. Journalists across the sector are increasingly poorly resourced in what should be their core task of exposing information in the ‘public interest’. The upshot is quality and consistency of content has suffered and trust in the professional media as a source of real information is at a historic low.

Independent information still exists — there is perhaps more available to us now than ever before with an explosion of bloggers, citizen journalists and peer based communities like Twitter and Reddit. The problems now are discerning accuracy and truth and finding the information we need in the first place. This becomes ever harder as content disappears behind paywalls and consolidation and control by ‘big media’ and ‘aggregating’ platforms and algorithms means that what we see in our news feeds or searches can potentially be heavily controlled or manipulated by market dictates or political interference.

Scoop — an open model

The Scoop Foundation emerged in 2015 from an established online media company with a core group of experienced journalists and media professionals with over 15 years of experience running scoop.co.nz, New Zealand’s oldest online media platform. This transition from a more traditional model has necessitated some new thinking and new ways of doing business fit for the unique set of challenges faced. With assistance from collaborative business consultants at Enspiral, a Trust structure and a new strategy was established.

It’s really not that complicated — media organisations simply need to cover costs and pay journalists to work on what matters — exposing information that may be in the public interest. They should not need to turnover huge profits for shareholders or be the next Twitter. This is the idea behind the Scoop Foundation — a local and decentralised vehicle for independent and ‘public interest’ focused information in the new media environment in New Zealand with commitments to:

  • Seek Truth and Report It,
  • Minimise Harm,
  • Act Independently and Honestly,
  • Be Accountable and Transparent.

The foundation has a distributed model consisting of thousands of ordinary citizen members who support this vision, hold the Trustees to account and have contributed financially through Pledgeme campaigns towards running costs over the past year. Scoop Services, the publishing business which runs scoop.co.nz is now in transition towards long term sustainability with an innovative revenue strategy including subscription services, membership and philanthropic funding and a pioneering commercial use licensing business model also known as an ‘ethical paywall’. This diverse membership base and revenue model ensures that the foundation will continue to follow its stated commitments and enables scoop to pay skilled media professionals to do important ‘public interest’ journalism.

Scoop is committed to ensuring free public access to information including important updates about government, business and politics. As a leading forum for the daily publication of Press Releases and editorial content for 17 years, Scoop.co.nz hosts New Zealand’s largest public database of over 760’000 news items. Rather than imposing a standard paywall which would limit public access to this valuable ‘public record’ information, scoop’s ethical paywall asks commercial users to purchase licenses to use this valuable tool on an honesty basis keeping it free and available to the general public.

While this experiment is still in its early days, the Scoop Foundation represents an exciting alternative media institution for New Zealand as the first truly ‘New Generation’ media organisation. The Scoop Foundation business structure follows open information principles by providing accountability and transparency on its use of funds raised right down to making publicly available the salaries it pays staff. Scoop is already utilising open collaboration tool Loomio to engage the wider membership and aims to progressively develop more meaningful opportunities for them to engage in setting the future course of the organisation.

For example, in the near future Scoop will give the New Zealand public an opportunity to crowdfund for specific important stories. By giving supporters this opportunity, Scoop will be able to focus on the stories that matter most to its readers and ensure it has the capacity to follow through on them. Such participatory and distributed models for funding journalism looks set to play a big part in the independent media in the future.

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