BERKELEY, CALIF. — I am back at Day 2 at the 5th Annual Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium, a gathering of the top investigative journalists and thinkers at University of California at Berkeley. Day 1 coverage is here, including an appearance by Skype by Julian Assange. Day 2 is shorter, but more focused on new models of journalism, including “collective work” and non-profit journalism.
Carrie Lozano, UC Berkeley: We are in a huge period of transition. The Guardian wants to do stories that will engage readers and make them take action. We wanted to get a technologist in here to talk about these things. Matt McAlister is an early adopter of social media, and will talk about what the Guardian is doing with open technology
Matt McAlister, head of technology at Guardian, former Yahoo and Industry Standard: It’s about the network and the platform. I’m going to talk about business stuff, which is unusual for this event. I have trouble separating content from business and they all have to move toward a common purpose. Everyone understands that an open, collaborative approach is how we all should go.
What we’ve failed to do is make the open, connected model of journalism work. In that space, there’s new thinking like Google Android, Twitter, Facebook and even Wikipedia. The Daily will feel even further behind.
We’ve been doing live blogs for awhile, and they’ve been hugely successful for us. The sports guys really worked this out, telling stories minute-by-minute — we call them “Minute-By-Minutes” not live blogs. They do it in a Twitter-like way but Twitter has limits to it, and our website doesn’t have limits. The protests in the Middle East were perfect for this. We realized it had to be in Arabic too, so we took people away from their jobs to translate for us, and we got some translation services. Collaboration was necessary for us to do our job.
If all of this was behind the pay wall, how could we have the same effect?
Slide shows comparison of Rupert Murdoch and The Daily as being closed, with Ev Williams of Twitter being open:
For the Times UK, they had very British experts on their site, and for the Times, that’s OK, because those are the people who are paying for their site.
Q: Your correspondent mentioned that the advantage you had was being open and in Arabic, but how did you verify things?
McAlister: I wish I knew, I didn’t have insight into the editorial process for that.
Q: Were you translating Arabic into English too, so both audiences could understand? Not just text, but video too?
McAlister: Yes, we translated both ways, and we did translate Twitter feeds, or we would post on our live-blog a Twitter feed in Arabic and translate it into English. They would do a screen capture of a tweet and put it in the live blog and the translator would translate that in a caption.
Q: How do you manage your Twitter feeds?
McAlister: We use Twitter much much more than Facebook, but our structure is very loose. Our reporters might use Twitter in very imaginative ways. We have guidelines for using Twitter but we don’t have a commitment to using it one way or the other. The downside is that people don’t always do the same thing, but it lets people invent new ways of using them.
During the G-20 protests in London, a newsstand worker was pushed down to the ground by the police and had a heart attack. The police report seemed unsatisfactory, and Paul Lewis our reporter put out a call asking if anyone was there. Someone had taken a video of it, and found out we were looking for it via Twitter, and sent it to us in a secure way. It’s a fantastic story about how you can pull in sources with social media.
Another case, there was a man who died on a plane and he asked for photos or images, and he got a plane list of passengers and started tweeting them, and found people who were on the plane. He started a network of people, and someone was killed on the plane, and the police covered it up.
More Examples at Guardian
McAlister: The MP expense reports from UK Parliament – There are different ways to tell that story. The Telegraph did their analysis of this big pile of data. We took PDFs and put them on the website, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of documents. We made a game of it, asking people to find things and let us know. There were buttons to say something was interesting or not. It happened again for a second year.
Some lessons from it: The problem with the first one was our progress bar showing all the documents people had looked at. People wondered what happened to all the other documents, plus it was just too much, overwhelming. So we broke down the data, so people could find expenses relevant to your own MP.
Your user name was ranked, among all the other readers. You could compare and contrast. Another case was when the Dept. of Treasury spending was put online. We had our engineers work on it, and asked other software/journalist types to come to our office to work it out. We used open source tools to build something dead simple to find things. We spent 3 or 4 days with eight developers total to build this database. Anyone could put it into Excel, and it took about 5 minutes before people found things. It was fascinating.
One person asked why we spend 100,000 pounds on flag waving? We immediately put that out and asked the question — we got an unsatisfying answer, but at least we got an answer.
We publish things on Google Docs without licensing it at all. We set up a group on Flickr and sent out a tweet about it and have all these people doing storytelling around our data projects.
Another big initiative is our Open Platform at the Guardian. There are a million or so articles that you can post in full using this toolset. It’s been great for building mobile apps, but the intent was for partners to use our stuff. One example is that we got this WordPress plug-in, a Guardian plug-in that looks like a news feed right in your WordPress blog. And you see an ad in the article as it’s syndicated.
We also created a timeline of social media reactions during a World Cup game, so you could relive the game in a different way.
Q: What about the trust at the Guardian?
McAlister: It’s hugely helpful for letting us experiment, and it’s there in perpetuity. Collaboration with other partners who have these tools is step one. There are hack days out there. If you have a developer, you might get more out of them from hack days than having them finish whatever they’re working on it.
The State of Non-Profit Investigative Journalism
Moderator: Charles Lewis, Investigative Reporting Workshop
Panel: Robert Rosenthal, Raney Aronson-Rath, Calvin Sims, Richard Tofel, Mc Nelly Torres, Gary Bostwick, Margaret Drain.
Charles Lewis: About a third of newspaper newsrooms have disappeared and the number of PR people doubled. This is not good. In a social revolution, many journalists started non-profit outfits, by rank and file reporters. Many were frustrated with the owners of their news organizations. This group, who never ran anything, became entrepreneurs, which is astonishing.
We looked at 60 groups, some new some not so new. OpenSecrets, TRACK, sites that were never considered investigative reporting sites, but should be. We created a database with all these sites. Of these sites, 40 started in the past few years. And there are many outside the U.S. and we’ll be looking at them as well. Total operating budget was $85 million, and half of them won awards.
One thing we must bear in mind is that non-profit journalism is not new. The Associated Press did work more than a century ago, and NPR has been around since 1970 and it’s the only news organization to double its audience in the past 10 years. We all know about the Guardian, which has done more innovative work than any other newspaper in the world. The non-profits have more time to do more serious work, and that’s why ProPublica has won awards recently, and the Center for Public Integrity won IRE awards, too.
My Investigative Reporting Workshop is the biggest one at a university. We did Bank Tracker, putting all the data online with MSNBC, and there have been millions of page views, a lot of traffic. Using technology, multimedia, and Kat Aaron is the project editor for a 40-year look at what’s happened with employment and workers in America, with a special website. It’s a multi-million-dollar project.
It’s getting blurry out there. For-profits are asking for memberships and donations, and ProPublica has ads. The non-profit space is changing basically every hour.
Q: Is there hope for PBS?
Margaret Drain of WGBH: We don’t have a trust, but should have a trust. When I first came to PBS, I came to WGBH, which is the largest producer of content for PBS. I have quite a large portfolio of projects and shows. Early on, I found out we had to do fundraising, to raise several million dollars, because PBS didn’t give us enough money. We had to produce content and do fundraising.
We get between 20% to 100% funding from PBS for our shows. It’s generally about 40% for each show.
I was not very optimistic about the future of PBS, and then I got an email from someone at Capitol Hill and heard we weren’t going to get cut for fiscal 2011, but there’s still 2012. The problem that PBS faces is the blurring between commercial and non-commercial broadcasting. I think we need to protect the non-commercial part of broadcasting. And it’s all in the perception. We do take ads on our websites because monetization is an issue, but we don’t want commercialization to foul our nest.
Why have PBS? Everyone’s got out of investigative journalism. It’s very difficult to get my head around this. We need help from big donors, but where we’re going to forming trusts based around genres. We’ve started the Frontline Investigative Journalism Trust. The other is a documentary film fund and another is for science and “Nova.” And we’d like to recruit donors who have interest.
We also have the digital side to fund, and curation to do. We are dependent on the kindness of Congress but can’t depend on that.
Robert Rosenthal, Center for Investigative Reporting: We are charging for our content. We put out a series this week, On Shaky Ground, and I estimate the audience we will reach in California will be 8 million to 10 million people. Distribution with ethnic media, broadcast, radio, newspapers and even 100+ Patch.com websites, as well as PBS Newshour and KQED. It’s a tremendous audience and the feedback we’ve had from the audience is remarkable.
That cost us, as a 19-month investigation that cost $750,000, and our revenue is about $40,000 to $50,000. Some of our funders have great rapport with us others don’t talk much to us. We have advertising on our site but our goal isn’t to be a destination website. It’s incredibly complicated to measure distribution. We put out a children’s coloring book. It wasn’t my idea but it’s been very successful. We’re not charging for it. We are at the center of innovation and collaboration but I can’t sit here and say it’s sustainable.
Sharon Tiller came back to do video for us at CIR. There’s also a mobile app to find fault lines in California.
Raney Aronson-Rath, Frontline: We don’t see corporate funding as being a big part of our funding. We are in a huge period of reinvention, just went to a full-year of programming. We got a big grant from the Logans, so we want to thank them. We’re a legacy series, we have a look and feel and do investigative reporting. We’re increasingly looking at going to more multimedia and doing more on the iPad — and not just to put video there. What we want to do is have a more vibrant offering in the digital space.
We hired Andrew Golis from Yahoo and before that TPM. We want to add more materials on our website, more addendum material. We want to do things in that space that are as strong editorially as on broadcast. It’s a big transition for us. We’re focused less on our website and more on our tablet and digital spaces. So people can hold the iPad in their hands and have more of a multimedia experience.
So what does collaboration look like right now? It’s getting hard-hitting investigative work in all our reports. So we have to rely on more people, because we only have a handful of producers. So we work with ProPublica and CIR and others. It’s an exciting era now for us. We hired a new managing editor who comes from a big-time newspaper and believes in narrative journalism.
Calvin Sims, Ford Foundation: We have historically been big funders of investigative reporting, and we’ll continue in that space. We are a social justice organization, and things that affect minorities and poor all over the world. We don’t fund advocacy journalism because we think the public that supports strong journalism will take action. How do we decide what to fund?
We just announced a $50 million initiative for documentary funds, and we’ll continue to fund the sector of public media and journalism, but we want to think more like a venture capital fund. We’re looking for big influence and impact. More importantly we want to know if your content advances the public discussion on a topic, are you reaching an influential audience and how do you quantify that impact?
We want to bet on people who are going to still be around.
Richard Tofel, ProPublica: We’re making enormous progress in sustainability. Ads and sponsorships are part of it, money from partners is part of it. We’ve had some interesting experiences with Kindle Singles, but philanthropy is how these non-profits are sustained. Smaller donors can be a very important part too. But do people see the need? That’s why I’m optimistic. There’s been a market failure in producing high value journalism that’s crucial to democratic governments. They need to be funded as public good.
I’m very optimistic and think we’ve made enormous progress in 4 years since we launched at ProPulica.
Mc Nelly Torres, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting: We are doing OK. We decided to focus on Florida for fundraising. There are a lot of groups, but we don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel. There are so many groups competing for funds from national groups like the Ford Foundation. We don’t have a person dedicated to raise money. I’m raising money, and I also write stories. We just won our first national award. [applause]
Our website is growing, we are getting 60% more traffic on our site each month. All the mainstream newspapers are all my clients, you have to think that way. You need to have many sources of revenue, and think about ways to experiment with it. But the sky is the limit. The passion here is investigative journalism an we are providing something that has virtually disappeared from mainstream outlets. I’d rather spend my time in Florida and raise money there than waste my time and energy elsewhere where I’m competing with ProPublicas and others.
Gary Bostwick, Bostwick & Jassy LLP, part of legal support network for non-profit outlets: I was here a few years ago talking about this, it’s amazing to see Chuck Lewis detail all the people doing it now. I am thrilled to hear everything from people on the panel, including CIR and everyone else. You’re not going to be different in who will attack you as if you were a mainstream news organization. We are trained as lawyers to look out for issues. We want you to get your content on the air, but we won’t always say yes, and we don’t always say no. We usually say, “yes, but…” You are not in a risk-free environment.
I give constant education to clients who don’t have a strong journalism background.
So why not get a group policy to cover CIR, ProPublica and all these groups for libel lawsuits? I just started thinking about that. I planted a small land mine out in the courtyard, but the chances of you stepping on it are small. I am trying to avoid the small risk of a cataclysmic disaster. We all do it because we believe in you and we want this to succeed.
**Q: Is there an issue with undercutting the price of doing commercial journalism?
Rosenthal: I think it’s something we think about, many people in commercial journalism are now working in non-profit journalism. But we’re talking about investigative journalism, and there’s so much less of that now, and I think we have to keep it going. I wish it wasn’t that way, but I’ve seen downsizing in commercial journalism. Our sustainability is whether we are having an effect on society, that’s what fuels us.
Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.
> WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, NY Times Feud at Logan Symposium by Mark Glaser