Public trust in the media is falling, so here are 13 ways The Ferret is responding.
Each year surveys show that the public have little trust in some UK media — especially print media — while journalists everywhere are under increasing pressure to show that their work is more than PR, advertorial, or stenography for powerful vested interests.
At The Ferret we’ve put great thought into trying to tackle these concerns.
It’s clear there is no magic bullet to persuade people that our journalism is trustworthy. We know trust is hard won and easily lost.
But to show that we’re genuinely trying to be transparent and accountable— while working in the public interest —we’ve listed below some of our ideas.
Some of these are editorial policies while some are linked to our governance. Some are technical fixes. Taken together, we think we’ve produced something pretty unique.
We’re not complacent though and always seeking new ideas, so if you have any thoughts then please do get in touch to tell us.
1. We show our working
Our stories are peppered with links to organisations and sources, so people can find out more about them.
This might seem conventional but we’re often surprised how few media organisations offer this. But linking out isn’t enough.
Readers often want to know where we get our information from and, if interested, they need to be able to access files, whether they be documents obtained by FOI, or spreadsheets with reams of data.
If we manipulate data in any way, we explain our methodology.
2. We put readers on the board
The Ferret is a cooperative with both readers and writers on the board.
This means that our subscribers are not just passive recipients of information — although they may want to be— and can get involved in the governance of the organisation too.
Furthermore, our Reader Directors lead our Complaints Committee. This means that if we do receive a formal complaint, the Committee will investigate it and hold our journalists to account.
Please note that to date, though, we’ve not had one formal complaint about our journalism —and we hope that our rigorous editorial system will ensure we maintain such high standards.
You can find out more about the team here.
3. We are independently regulated to a high standard
The Ferret was the first media organisation in Scotland, and one of the first in the UK, to sign-up to be regulated by Impress.
Impress is the first UK press regulator to comply with the reforms proposed by the Leveson Inquiry.
But regulation is not just about editorial standards. Regulation is also about governance. As a co-operative, The Ferret is also regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
4. We work to a clear editorial code
We work to the Impress Standards Code.
What’s the difference between the Impress Standards Code and the one most newspapers work to?
It means that as well as following normal journalistic standards, such as offering the people the right to reply to any critical comments, The Impress Code has improved rules around attribution, incitement of hatred, sources and financial transparency.
And if we’re found to have broken these rules — we could be fined by Impress.
5. We are honest about corrections
If we need to correct or add something to a story after it has been published, we’ll add a note at the end showing exactly what was changed and when.
For major corrections, we’ll do more to advise people why something had to change.
6. We set-up Scotland’s first non-partisan Fact Check project.
We’re proud to have set-up Ferret Fact Service — Scotland’s first non-partisan fact-checking project — and one of only 43 projects globally to be independently assessed as meeting the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles.
You can find our latest fact checks here.
7. We try to respect Do Not Track
We know our readers are increasingly concerned about their privacy.
We’re always trying to find ways to reduce the amount of data we collect, along with the number of third parties we share it with.
To this end, we do our best to anonymise the information collected by third party service providers that we use on our website, and if we can’t do that — we try to ensure they respect Do No Track settings on your browser.
We haven’t cracked it for every third party service we may need to use in a story, but we’re working on it.
8. We have no ads and no secret backers
We are owned solely by our readers and writers.
When you subscribe to The Ferret, you become an owner of the business, with voting rights to appoint people to the board.
We depend on our subscribers for funds but we also generate income from public events, conferences, story sales and grants.
All our funding is declared on our website. We never accept funding if it could influence our editorial.
And we have no ads, so we’re not in the advertorial or sponsored content business.
This means there is no media mogul or advertiser pressuring us to alter our editorial, and we’re not part of a group of companies that might use data about people in unpredictable ways.
9. We produce regular transparency reports
If we’re to successfully involve our readers and subscribers, they need to know how much we’re raising and what we’re spending the money on. So, we regularly produce reports on the impact of stories and how our business is performing.
10. We’re proactive about bringing under-represented voices into the media.
From organising women only training events on topics such as Freedom of Information and Factchecking, to supporting writers from marginalised communities, The Ferret is committed to helping people from a variety of backgrounds.
We have earmarked funds to support new writers from under-represented backgrounds. (Here’s how to apply.)
As an example of a story produced by this fund here’s a feature written by a Scottish Traveller… https://theferret.scot/government-war-lifestyle-claim-scotlands-travellers/
11. We’re avowedly non-partisan
Our tagline is “nosing up the trousers of power” — and we don’t care who’s wearing them.
None of our Directors are members of political parties, and we keep a register of their interests to make sure that outside agendas never influence our editorial judgement.
We would never accept money from a political party.
If you hold strong political views then you probably won’t agree with everything that we publish.
But we hope you will judge our editorial output in the round and still see the value in what we’re trying to do — even when a particular story makes for uncomfortable reading.
12. We ask our readers what we should write about
Whether it’s asking our readers what topic we should investigate next, or responding to requests for something specific to be fact-checked, we do our best to respond to feedback.
And when we launch a new investigation we seek expert help at the outset.
13. We collaborate
Journalism is a competitive business but The Ferret and its subscribers really want our stories to have impact.
One way to extend The Ferret’s reach is to collaborate with other media and our stories have been published by a growing number of publishers.
From getting our investigations and fact checks into print with the support of the Daily Record, The Guardian and others, to working with Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, we are always seeking new ways to work with other organisations.
But we can only continue to do public interest journalism with the support of our paying subscribers.
If the steps we’ve outlined above sound like the kind of media organisation that you’d like to support, then please consider subscribing to The Ferret. It costs £3 a month, or less if you take out an annual subscription.