The Ferret is a multi-stakeholder co-operative dedicated to producing quality investigative journalism. It has spaces for both our readers and our writers on the board.
Each year we consult with our members around the time of our AGM on key questions that the board should consider in the following year.
This year we asked a series of questions, using online decision making software Loomio, in advance of our meeting.
Here we pull together the outcome of those polls along with the feedback we got from the people who came to our AGM in person.
Should a policy promoting gender equality on The Ferret’s board be adopted?
Online the results of this poll turned out to be 44 in favour and 7 against.
At the AGM, the votes were 22 in favour and zero against. In total therefore, we have a clear choice: 66 favour a policy promoting gender balance vs 7 who do not.
“The Ferret should be promoting rather than make a requirement as The Ferret is a small organisation.”
“Yes, and I would also vote for policy that is intersectional in whatever ways work for the Ferret at its current size and abilities.”
“ But it very much depends what the policy is and it shouldn’t only be in relation to gender.”
“If small organisations can’t lead on this how will we create pressure for the big ones?”
“As long as it doesn’t get in the way of the work and independence of the Ferret.”
“Yes definitely where possible but not necessarily every year. It does depend upon candidates so if one year it was 60/40% women to men but the next the reverse I wouldn’t have a problem. If the trend over, say 5 years , was very skewed one way then I would question your policy.”
“Balance by gender, ethnicity & age should be a key goal”
“For goodness sake do not go down this road.”
“Success through merit, not artificial construct”
Should The Ferret website show ethical advertising?
The online poll for this question asked respondents to rank a series of four options in order of preference. The people who took part in the online poll added two further options. The finals results are shown in the chat below.
At the AGM, the format was slightly different. People could only vote for one option, rather than rank each one.
A) What constitutes ‘ethical’ would need to be debated and criteria established. If a consensus was agreed, then yes, happy for non-obstructive advertising to be allowed — 7 votes.
B) Ethical advertising should be allowed but with an option to switch off for paid up member — 5 votes.
C) Yes, but it should be turned off for paying and Ferret Underground members — 1 vote.
D) Yes, I would be happy to see non-obstructive advertising from ethical companies — 0
Comments: Members created an E option which was used to express ‘No’. Nine people voted for option E.
The results suggests that there is a majority of people in favour of some kind of ethical advertising on the site, although the board may wish to consider the format and criteria used to define “ethical.”
Additional comments received online included:
“If you allow it, it should be unobtrusive rather than being turned off for paying members — we want to see who is seeking to influence readers of the site!”
“ I would be comfortable seeing advertising from ethical organisations. I think it makes economic sense to turn it off for paying members. I think it makes sense to establish an editorial stance on the types of adverts shown and this process could by carried out by debate and consensus. For me the most important test would be whether Ferret staff are prepared to take this forward with enthusiasm and a desire to both do something new and do it right. If it wouldn’t fit the organisation, don’t do it.”
“Your current site is clear and punchy, allows for quick reading. Need to manage any ad content so it doesn’t clutter.”
“Happy to see non-obtrusive adv so long as criteria for deciding which companies are acceptable is established by consensus after discussion, and published.”
“My second option would be yes — but turned off for paying members. I appreciate the need for revenue, but who decides on what is ethical? Would there be parity across advertisers? I’d be happy to pay an increased subscription to avoid ads.”
“The strength of the Ferret is that it is funded by its readers. As desperately as new funding might be needed, “ethical” advertising will be a minefield and will cause dissent. Money talks loudly, no matter where it comes from, unless its impact is reduced by coming in small amounts from a large number of people. Three out of the four options suggest that this perspective is virtually lost, a dangerous development. I disagree with all other choices.”
Should The Ferret get involved in campaigns?
Again the format of the online poll was slightly different from the AGM consultation.
The results of the online consultation, where people were once again asked to rank their choices in order of preference is shown below. 69 people gave a view online.
At the AGM, the following four options were considered, but not ranked:
A) No, by becoming involved in campaigning The Ferret would lose impartiality and integrity — 0
B) No, The Ferret should remain impartial and leave campaigning to others — 3
C) Yes, if The Ferret members vote to support a campaign, The Ferret should back it — 0
D) Yes, but The Ferret should only campaign on issues that affect investigative journalists like transparency and media law — 11
At the AGM, members said option D should be: “subject to Members agreement.”
Other comments received included:
“All your readers (and funders) can and should respect the quality and relevance of your investigative work. They won’t be as one on specific campaigns. Also consider your skill base, very strong for the work you currently do but effective campaigning requires policy and influencing skills which for which you are unlikely to attract funding.”
“A lot of good journalism is about campaigning for positive change, Paul Foot’s work being a good example. That said, preachiness is to be avoided. If the ferret wasn’t effective at driving change through proper scrutiny of public institutions and companies then it wouldn’t have its supporter base. That doesn’t mean it needs a front page banner promoting a formal campaign. Impartial should never mean seeing arms dealers and dead children’s views as equally valid.”
“ The Ferret has experience and awareness of the impact of current and proposed legislation on independent, investigative journalism. This view should be put at the service of creating and maintaining a better regulatory framework for an honest industry and that may include campaigning, but only on this issue.”
What should The Ferret take into account when considering partnerships with other media?
The results of the online poll, in which people were asked to rank three options in order of importance are shown below. 70 people voted online.
At the AGM, where people voted slightly differently, the following results were obtained:
A) Financial sustainability — 4
B) Perception of The Ferret brand — 5
C) Impact on our editorial independence — 9
Members also created a D option, which was used to express ‘All of the above’. 12 people voted for option D.
Other comments received included:
“If articles aren’t available for syndication then they’ll probably be plagiarised anyway if another media organisation wants them enough, perhaps with just a few quotes changed. Might as well make a few quid out of it, and help keep the ferret kicking.”
“The Ferret’s editorial independence is of paramount importance. Lose that, and you lose everything that defines you and sets you apart.”
“This is difficult. I was going to say reputation of the other partner but ,say you got an article published in Daily Mail, it might just impact a few people to see another view point hence the reason I can’t put that in as a category. I would just trust your judgement as you are the professionals and know the ins and outs of your business.”
“Tread warily. Appearing too often in publications such as “The National” may adversely affect your reputation for impartiality.”
What are the factors The Ferret should take account of when considering offers of grant funding?
Again, this question was considered online. 68 people voted by ranking their preferences. An additional option was added by a recipient. The final results are shown below:
At the AGM, the members considered the options and 19 voted for an “all of the above.” option.
Additional comments received included:
“Critical to read the small print thoroughly on any grants. If I could have I would have made my first two choices first equal. Please never compromised your ethics or independence for the sake of money. You have to be very clear with yourselves about what position you want to take for your company and make sure everyone buys into it. I subscribe because of your stance and my perception of what you are doing and how you do it.I’d be gone if you compromised your standards and became stenographers.”
“The Ferret is “mostly” neutral, harsh with cause, but honest in appraisal…keep it that way, please.”
Other AGM discussion questions
At the AGM we also asked our members present to give their feedback on some other issues. The outcome is summarised below.
How do you think we could better connect to and represent local communities across Scotland?
You told us you would like to see ‘Ferret Kits’ embedded across Scotland, using small geographic, underserved communities as pilot areas. You feel we should be using our skills to teach people how to create and shape the media. Trained local Ferret representatives would then be able to provide more Scotland-wide, localised news which would increase geographical reach.
Our members want us to speak to and build relationships with different people in real life — in their communities, on buses, community councils, ‘Friends of’ groups, development trusts, campaign groups and existing local papers/radio. We should be reporting more on the lived experience of real people and conducting participative appraisals in community centres.
We could be holding regular events, in different locations providing an opportunity for people to ask questions about the work we do.
Comparing different local areas within Scotland, using data and governmental/institutional sources of information.
Having a physical presence was raised as a priority, some of you mentioned you had seen The Ferret at various places and would like to have this visibility increased. Some suggestions were a newsstand and a base which people could drop into.
We asked: What issues would you like to see The Ferret investigate that we have not covered so far?
You told us that you would like to see more stories which will attract women readers, young readers and diverse/under-represented communities, the existing directors have a range of knowledge and experiences which could contribute to content — use them!
Here are the other issues you said you would like to see The Ferret write about:
Transport — infrastructure, poor roads and lack of investment in good quality public transport.
Trade union activity — equal pay and WASPI campaign.
Health and social care — abuse and deaths in social and healthcare settings, mental health and lack of services, impact of austerity on social and health services.
Brexit and how this will affect people as there is little coverage in Scotland.
Housing and land reform including public spaces, abandoned properties, planning authorities links to building developers, the rise of student accommodation and homes being built far from local amenities.
Money and financial issues — personal, private and public.
Government — Explanations on how governments are structured and function, including comparisons and examples of how things are being done well elsewhere. Coverage of council meetings. Look at corruption on all levels of authority.
Coverage of innovative solutions and work done by local and community councils eg. such as community energy.
Stories about people with interesting lives, doing interesting and inspiring things.
Broader environmental stories — tree-felling
Keep tackling misinformation and report on general ‘dodgyness’ — looking to Private Eye for coverage on corruption.
What are the different ways we could present our stories to engage readers better?
There were a lot of ideas as to how The Ferret could improve the ways which we deliver our stories. From having a print version as an occasional magazine, quarterly paper or even an annual to a Ferret app and a roadshow.
Some found the website too wordy and the user experience could be improved with more video and multimedia journalism.
Some wanted to see more images and videos provided by readers used alongside our stories. Suggestions around our social media presence included the use recurrent posting on Facebook and Twitter and we should have more images and videos adapted for Instagram, to attract younger readers.
One member commented that ‘there were are few great posts recently with hashtags aplenty, more please!’.
Many of you enjoyed the podcast, particularly as it could be listened to on the move and draws a bigger audience.
Suggestions for content included learning and hearing more about what Ferret people are doing and thinking in a radio-style discussion.
Our RSS Feed doesn’t give full story and we should please listen this time!
The Ferret Underground has caused some confusion and it’s function needs to be better communicated.
You suggested using engaging ways to reach readers, such as screening films in venues which have a pre-existing audiences and using billboards and teasers for our big stories.
We could apply for art and design grants to fund some of these ideas
Overall, our model is solid and people like it but we could improve!
What happens next?
The Ferret board members will carefully consider all this feedback over the next few months, and use it to prioritise the way the organisation develops. If you took part — either online or offline-thanks! Your contribution really helps us to develop The Ferret in a way which reflect the views of our members.
You can download our latest annual report and accounts here.
If you’re reading this and it’s inspired you to join The Ferret, then you can do that here.