CHAPTER 6: Convergence |
220. One of the characteristics of convergence
is that the moment will soon arrive when everything which is currently
distributed through the press and which is broadcast by radio
and television will also be distributed via the internet.
221. The advent of new technologies and the increasing
take-up of social media both as a means of communication and as
an additional way for journalists to obtain information have had
a significant impact on investigative journalism. The way in which
people receive news and information is changing at a rapid pace
as new technologies enable information to be shared in real-time
around the globe. Traditional news outlets such as newspapers
and television stations are under immense pressure to break news,
whereas in the past stories could be developed and published either
in an evening news bulletin or in the following day's paper.
The role of social media in investigative
222. Social media offers journalists new ways
of contacting sources and accessing information from around the
globe. Ms Elizabeth Linder, Politics and Government Specialist,
Facebook, pointed out that, "As information becomes more
available ... searching for that information also gets better."
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism noted that:
"Social media is of increasing importance for
the dissemination of news, and allows people who would never normally
read a particular newspaper to be aware of its journalism by recommendations
by people they are connected to via social media sites. Mobile
devices such as e-readers and iPads allow for instant access to
news almost regardless of location, giving further opportunities
to find and read investigative journalism."
223. Martin Trepte, Editorial Director, Maidenhead
Advertiser, spoke of the benefit for local newspapers of using
social media. He said:
"Twitter and Facebook enable you to connect
with a wider audience and with people in a different way. They
might previously have phoned you up, or you might have phoned
them. If you have followers you can put something up on Twitter.
As an example, we were taking a picture of some demonstrators
who were opposed to a big, ancient tree being cut down. The photographer
was going round there in about an hour. The chief of the protesters
put a message out on Twitter. By the time the photographer got
there about 30 people were there for the photo. If she had had
to ring around we would probably never have had that many people
there. So, in terms of reaching particular interest groups, because
you do sign up to follow people on Twitter, there is a new way
of contacting people."
224. Mr Paul Lewis, Special Projects Editor,
The Guardian, said that:
"In terms of how social media should work and
does work for investigative journalists you could really split
it into two. It is a bit of a false dichotomy; I will do it anyway.
One of them is to say you can use it to broadcast and disseminate
the information that you find out, so to tell people what you
are finding out. Secondly, it is for other people to help you
in your journalistic endeavour. The fascinating thing is actually
the two are one and the same. So journalism becomes a lot more
like a conversation; the news article is not the finished product,
it is the first version and it is constantly corrected as people
help you in that process."
225. In relation to Twitter, Paul Lewis said:
"There are 140 million tweets sent out each
day, each of them their own small, tiny digital footprint. As
a journalist that is really something quite remarkable. It means
that there is a record of most things particularly important or
controversial things that happen and that is what you need. You
need a record. You need evidence. So from that perspective, it
is a really exciting time."
226. Paul Lewis explained how journalists can
use social media to contact witnesses in this way:
"To give you a very good example, I think, of
where it has worked well, there was the death of a detainee on
an aircraft from Heathrow to Angola and this is one of the cases
I spoke about in the video you mentioned. I think this is a good
example of the story that you would not be able to investigate
in any other way, and therefore it would have been virtually impossible
to investigate it, certainly at that speed, prior to about 2008."
227. Ms Clare Sambrook, a freelance journalist,
spoke of the benefits of using social media to publicise investigative
reports. She said:
"There are lots of very good online publications
and then also online we can promote the work through Twitter,
for example. So, if you get a really astonishing piecelike
we had a ... piece on the Breivik massacreand it just went
... around the world. We got loads and loads of people reading
that. It was a piece that would not have appeared in a national
newspaper, a piece by a Norwegian giving context to what had happened
very, very quickly. It would have been extraordinarily difficult
for him, as somebody unknown to a national newspaper, to get that
kind of space. So, there are all sorts of benefits to online publication
and online research, massive benefits."
228. However there are also risks which journalists
must be aware of when using social media. For example, it is often
still necessary to talk to sources face-to-face in order to verify
sources and in order to be able to reassure potential whistle-blowers
that they will be protected wherever possible. Ms Elena Egawhary,
an investigative journalist on the BBC's Newsnight programme,
told us that:
"I do not think that the role of journalists
has actually changed at all with the internet. Journalism remains
the same, which is that you gather from all the sources you can
and you try and find the truth of the situation or as close to
what you think is the truth of what you have received from all
of your sources. The thing with the internet is that we now have
a lot more sources that we can start going through, but I do not
think the nature of journalism itself has changed. I think the
skills are still the same. You talk to as many people as you can;
you go to as many places as you can; you read as many documents
as you can; and you hope that out of this mass of information
you somehow get to the place that you are trying to go to and
you get the proof for the story that is there ultimately with
all of this information that you are gathering."
229. A recent example which highlights the problems
facing journalists in trying to verify source information online,
especially when there is no 'real' publisher, was the example
of the 'Gay Girl in Damascus'. This blog was purported to have
been written by a citizen journalist and it gained worldwide readership
and was followed by major news organisations in 2011. It purported
to be the diary of a 25 year old lesbian woman living in Damascus
and writing about her life at a time of political unrest. However,
this was later discovered to be have been written by an American
man living in Edinburgh. It was a complete fabrication which highlights
the problem of lies on the internet and the need for all journalists,
and investigative journalists in particular, to verify as thoroughly
as possible their sources. It also raises issues about how the
use of unedited and unaccredited material can mislead the public
and poses the question as to whether there may be workable ways
of validating material and verifying sources.
230. We welcome the use of social media by
journalists as a means of contacting people around the world in
order to access content and information which might otherwise
be extremely difficult and time-consuming to identify. We recommend
that the PCC tightens its guidance on the use of information provided
by citizen journalists using social media and we warn journalists
to be extra vigilant in verifying information found online. Where
appropriate, news organisations should issue clear internal guidelines
for all staff on how to use such data. In addition, given the
challenges which will only intensify in this area, we recommend
that further thought be given to considering what, if any, workable
ways might be proposed to aid the processes of validating material
and verifying sources.
231. A huge amount of information, much of it
statistical, is now made available online by public bodies as
part of the Open Data agenda and the Government has recently announced
its investment in the Open Data Institute. Requests for specific
types of information can also be made by individuals under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI). This revolution in the
accessibility of public information clearly represents a significant
new opportunity for investigative journalists and perhaps even
for citizens interested in researching particular issues. Jeremy
Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media
and Sport, underlined this point: "If we unleash citizen
journalists on vast swathes of government data we are opening
up big, big opportunities both to hold Government to account and
also to learn things about our society that we never knew before.
It is a very, very big opportunity."
232. However, these new opportunities bring with
them new challenges. One arises from the sheer volume of data.
For example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism claimed that
"theoretical open access does not necessarily translate to
practical transparency. Public bodies now release so much data
that it is entirely possible for important information to be deliberately
buried or unwittingly lost. Some information is provided in non-searchable
PDFs, or so scattered that it requires considerable time and effort
to collect, despite the individual elements being available."
233. In addition, analysing this data often requires
an in-depth understanding of computing and data software. Professor Jon
Crowcroft, Marconi Professor of Communications Systems in
the Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, told us that:
"Vast amounts of data are not necessarily a
barrier to making some forms of investigative journalism easier,
because the vast amount of computing power that is very cheaply
available, almost freely available, offsets that ... the biggest
barrier seems to me, as in many walks of life, that to do anything
reasonably new you might need to do some new piece of computing
that might need some extra skills and resources in the journalism
world that they might not have."
We have certainly heard evidence that, at present,
many journalists do not have sufficient training in computer skills
to be able to exploit the new opportunities of data journalism.
On the one hand, this has created a need for specialist analysts
who must be recruited at additional cost. On the other, it has
underlined the need for better levels of training in statistical
methods and software for journalists in general. John Mair, Senior
Lecturer in Broadcast Journalism at Coventry University, for example,
told us that "modern students need to learn data journalism.
They need to learn all the normal journalism methods but also
how to handle data."
We therefore welcome the fact that several universities have begun
teaching these skills as part of their respective journalism courses.
Finding a business model online
234. We do not think it is overstating the case
to say that in the last 10-20 years there has been a technological
revolution. Not only has the use of the internet grown exponentially
over the past decade, but the development of smart phones and
tablet computers has meant that all of this can be done just about
anywhere. As acknowledged by the Government in its written evidence
to this inquiry: "Virtually all publishers involved in print
now have an online presence, but with varying success as they
learn how to use the relatively new media to their advantage."
In addition, websites, blogs and social media sites are all now
routinely used as news sources by a large section of the population
together with traditional media. These largely unregulated forums
undermine the business models of traditional news sources such
as newspapers, television channels and radio stations as some
of them offer similar content free of charge and they can divert
audiences and readers away from traditional news sources.
235. Online delivery models will continue to
form a significant part of news organisations' business models
in the future. New business models for investigative journalism
are likely to emerge which enable the producers of content to
monetise what they produce. In some cases, this is already happening.
Richard Tofel, the General Manger of ProPublica, told us that
they had had some success selling e-books for Amazon Kindle devices
and that there was "considerable potential" to develop
this revenue stream.
236. Some newspapers have put most of their content
behind a paywall, an online device which prevents users from accessing
the content without a subscription. Mr Richard Caseby, Managing
Editor of The Sun, told us that: "The Sunday Times and The
Times have a paywall and think that does show a real way forward
Mr Caseby also told us that the use of apps as a means of
accessing news content was increasing rapidly. An app is a piece
of software developed for mobile devices which enables news providers
to charge readers to download. He said that the Sunday Times has
around 120,000 paying users on the iPad, adding that: "What
is fantastic about the business models of newspapers or magazines
on the iPad is that you can probably charge about eight or nine
times as much for an advertisement on the iPad as you can on a
Paywalls and mobile software apps are relatively new technologies
and Mr Alan Rusbridger, Editor, The Guardian, told us that,
"it is not a given to me that any salvation would lie through
the route of putting up a paywall."
237. Martin Moore, Director, Media Standards
Trust, highlighted the models emerging in the USA as an example
of how investigative content might be delivered in the UK in future.
"Look particularly at the American models, because
they have, as I say, experimented in many different models, whether
it is through foundation funding or through mixed funding. There
is a rather innovative man called David Cohn, who created Spot.Us,
which is public funding, if you like. People donate towards particular
stories. The news organisation start-up we are working with in
South Wales is doing a similar thing. The key, I think, is that,
first, it will be mixed and, secondly, it will not be profitable
in the way it once was. In many areas, actually, it will not be
profitable at all."
238. Dr David Levy, Reuters Institute for
the Study of Journalism, told us that although technology offers
many new opportunities for journalists and news organisations,
going forward, "the main model for investigative stories
will continue to be larger organisations that are seeking to enhance
their brand by putting themselves, as they would see it, at the
cutting edge of journalism."
We agree with Dr Levy thatfor both newspapers and
broadcastersdelivering high-quality investigative output
is likely to remain an important part of many news organisations'
brands. As described above, although the way in which people access
news and current affairs content, including investigative journalism,
is likely to change in the next 5-10 years as a result of increasing
convergence between media devices, we do not believe that this
will have a significant impact on the type of investigative content
produced. Rather, news outlets will deliver content which they
will be able to market in different formats to different audiences
at different prices.
239. We believe that the newspaper industry will
develop a range of different models through which to monetise
content online. In this regard we agree with Martin Moore that:
"One of the key things to say is that there is no silver
bullet. I do not think there is anything specific that one can
say, 'That will do it'."
For example, printed newspapers, which are more expensive to produce,
are likely to continue to be published and sold at a higher price
than their online counterparts. News organisations are also likely
to offer content online and charge this at different levels, offering
free access; subscriptions; micro-payments for single articles
and websites and online applications tailored to different devices
such as mobile phones, tablet computers and e-readers. There is
no doubt that it will be challenging for the newspaper industry
to respond to this technological change, but as well as creating
a threat to traditional business models, these changes will also
offer many new opportunities for the industry to deliver interesting
and informative investigative content to people in different ways.
240. We welcome the innovation which is emerging
in trying to find a way of monetising investigative journalism
content online and making this information available to users
in a variety of different ways at a range of different price-points.
However, although take up of online services is increasing rapidly,
these remain relatively new developments and we are in the early
decades of a digital revolution which will bring change on a scale
that is irresistible and profound. We heard much evidence which
painted a pessimistic picture of the economic problems facing
investigative journalism but we have heard no evidence that leads
us to conclude that investigative journalism will disappear: we
believe that it will continue.
241. As news organisations adapt their business
models to these changing circumstances and new players enter the
marketplace, we will observe with interest the extent to which
people are prepared to pay to access online content and if so,
which devices will prove most popular and what the correct price-point
for investigative stories will be.
242. The technologies upon which investigative
journalism now often relies are developing at an ever-faster rate.
The outcome of developments in this area remains uncertain but
we are confident that investigative journalism will adapt if sufficient
scope is given to allow the industry to build successful models
online. It is essential that any legal or regulatory reforms take
account of these new technologies and that in an age of increasing
convergence it is often the same content which is delivered through
different platforms. It is vital that any such changes do not
make the position of investigative journalism yet more precarious
in what is already a difficult market in which to operate.
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This is a website through which the public can commission and
participate with journalists to do reporting on important and
perhaps overlooked topics. Ideas for investigative stories are
posted on the website and then individuals can contribute to the
cost of pursuing the investigation. Once the money has been raised,
the investigation is started and Spot.Us will then work with news
organizations to distribute content under appropriate licenses Back
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