Category Archives: Talks and presentations

How can collaboration enable investigative journalism?

Today, we hosted a workshop at the Reuters Institute organized by Richard Sambrook and myself on how collaboration can enable more investigative journalism.

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As more traditional sources of funding are under pressure, different kinds of collaborative projects, whether anchored by legacy news media like the Guardian (with collaborations around the NSA/Snowden revelations and many others examples), digital-born players like BuzzFeed (working with, for example, the BBC), or non-profits like the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism (of Panama Papers fame, based on documents initially leaked to Süddeutsche Zeitung), have shown they can deliver important forms of accountability journalism in new ways.

The topics discussed included where collaboration can work, where not, what enables and what hinders collaboration (competition, habit, practical obstacles), as well as how collaborations can be funded.

The workshop included a diverse group of international participants with considerable experience across investigative journalism, editing, media law, technology, and included both people from private, public service, and non-profit media. It’s just a real privilege to get a chance to learn from all the interesting and important work people are doing.

Participants included Brigitte Alfter (Editor Europe, Journalismfund.eu), Ceri Thomas (Former editor BBC Panorama), Chuck Lewis (Founder, The Center for Public Integrity), Eliot Higgins (Founder, Bellingcat), Gerard Ryle (Director, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), Jan Clements (Media lawyer and editorial consultant), Javier Moreno Barber (Director, El Pais), Mar Cabra (Head of Data & Research Unit, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), Nicolas Kayser Brill (Co-founder and CEO, Journalism++), Rachel Oldroyd (Managing editor, Bureau of Investigative Journalism), Sylke Gruhnwald (Chairwoman of Journalismfund.eu and Reporter) and Tom Warren (Investigations correspondent, Buzzfeed).

 

New report for the Council of Europe

The Reuters Institute has just published a report that Alessio Cornia, Antonis Kalogeropoulos and I wrote for the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Media and Information Society reviewing challenges and opportunities for news media and journalism in today’s changing media environment.

I presented the report Dec 1 in Strasbourg at the CDMSI Workshop: ‘The Future of News: media and journalism in the age of digital convergence’.

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It was a day of interesting discussions with participants from member state governments and the other speakers, including Nabil Wakim (Director of Editorial Innovation, Le Monde), Matt Rogerson (Head of Public Policy of Guardian News & Media), Pierre France, Founder of Rue 89 Strasbourg, Renate Schroeder (Director of the European Federation of Journalists), Wout van Wijk (Executive Director of News Media Europe), Benedicte Autret from Google’s Digital News Initiative, Alexandre Brachet (Founder of Upian), and Gabriele Bertolli (Team Leader – Future of the Media, Media Freedom and Media Pluralism, European Commission).

Key take-aways from the report (pp.6-7)–

The precise nature of change in the media environment varies in important ways from country to country, but there are some clear, high–level commonalities that represent both opportunities and challenges for journalism, media organisations, and public debate. The three most important developments driven by technological and market forces today are—

 

  1. The move to an increasingly digital, mobile, and social media environment with increasingly intense competition for attention where legacy media like broadcasters and especially newspapers, while remaining very important news producers are becoming relatively less important as distributors of news and are under growing pressure to develop new digital business models as their existing operations decline or stagnate.

  2. The growing importance of a limited number of large technology companies that enable billions of users across the world to navigate and use digital media in easy and attractive ways through services like search, social networking, video sharing, messaging, etc. and who as a consequence play a more and more important role in terms of (a) the distribution of news and (b) digital advertising.

  3. The development of a high–choice media environment where internet users have access to more and more information in convenient formats and often for free, across a range of increasingly sophisticated personal and mobile devices, and in ways that enable new forms of participation—an environment where those most interested in news embrace these new opportunities to get, share, and comment on news, but a larger number of people opt for more casual and passive forms of use.

Medientage München 2016 take-aways

I spoke at Medientage München 2016 (Munich Media Days 2016) in October as part of a day-long program organized by the Media Lab Bayern.

Here I am, looking characteristically serious. (I sometimes smile, photographic evidence to the contrary.)

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Foto: Medientage München 2016

It was really interesting, with lots of people from a new generation trying to do new things. There is a good summary (in German) of the day here, more on Twitter under #mtm16.

Three take-aways for me–

  1. Good to see more examples of people combining clear creative vision with data-informed decision-making: try, test, learn, repeat.
  2. As is often the case, professional/industry events tend to involve national speakers+speakers from US and UK. What about EU neighbors? Can’t we learn from each other across a continent with markets much smaller than Global, English-language market?(Looking forward to IJF in Perugia as always.)
  3. Discussion of relation between media companies, government, and large (US-based) technology companies are much more explicit and have a much harder tone in Germany than in the UK, let alone the US.

Blavatnik School discussion of 2016 US election

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November 16, I was part of a good discussion of the 2016 US elections and its potential implications at the Blavatnik School of Government with Bill Emmott (former editor of the Economist, Visiting Fellow of Practice at the Blavatnik School of Government), Sohrab Ahmari (columnist, Wall Street Journal), Sarah Churchwell (Professor at the University of London) and Pepper Culpepper (Professor of Politics and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government). It was a good debate with lot’s of great questions from the floor. Full video here.

2014 Tietgen Award

20140527_235111(1)At a splendid event Tuesday May 27, I was the proud recipient of the 2014 Tietgen Award.

It is awarded annually by DSEB in recognition of a significant contribution to by young researchers in the field of business-oriented humanities and social science. It has been awarded since 1829 and is the oldest prize in the social sciences in Denmark.

The award is accompanied by the splendid Tietgen Gold Medal, funds to support international research work, and was celebrated in style with a very nice dinner in central Copenhagen where HRH Prince Joachim presented me with the award.

Danish discussion of surveillance by NSA and others

Spoke yesterday at a debate hosted by the newspaper Information, the Danish Journalists’ Association, and the IT University about the NSA scandal, including its Danish subsidiary (spying during the COP15 negotiations, a story broken by Information working with Laura Poitras on the basis of documents leaked by Snowden and subsequently covered around the world).

I focused on how journalists are not only reliant on brave individual wRKN(1)histle-blowers like Snowden and Manning in covering these kinds of stories, but also enabled and empowered by real political debate and popular interest.

This we have in for example Germany, but is all-too-often often absent when the political elite close ranks or some top news organizations chose not to pursue a story.

It was a great event overall with Ewen MacAskill from the Guardian and a host of Danish journalists and others commenting, coinciding of course with the publication of Glenn Greenwald’s book.

Video of the here (all but Ewen MacAskill in Danish), more on Twitter at #nsadk

What are the keystone media in our information environment?

Later this month, I’m presenting a paper called “The Increasing Importance of Diminished Newspapers for Local Journalism?” at a conference on local journalism I’m organizing with Robert Picard at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

In the paper, I show how despite the fact that it is no longer a “mainstream medium” in terms of audience reach, the local newspaper in the community I study (Næstved, a mid-sized provincial Danish municipality with a population of 81,000) plays an absolutely central role in the wider local political information environment as by far the most important producer of ongoing, original, independently reported news about local affairs.

From the content I have coded, the newspaper accounts for 64% of all coverage of local politics, even in a community also served by two licence-fee funded regional public service broadcasters, several weekly freesheets, a community radio station, and shot through with national and international media as well as global online media like Google and Facebook. Furthermore, much of the (limited) local news content published by other media can be traced back to the newspaper.

I call the newspaper a “keystone medium” in the local political information environment, drawing an analogy to the idea of “keystone species” in conservation biology and zoology. There, the term is meant to capture the critical importance of particular species, who despite being only a small part of a larger interconnected ecology play an outsize role in defining the state and structure of the wider environment. In parallel, I define “keystone media” not in terms of their reach or ubiquity, but in terms of their systemic importance, their importance not for the majority of media users, but for the wider information environment they live in.

I’m thinking the notion of “keystone media” is a useful way of capturing the outsize importance of some entities in a wider environment and that it is an idea that works not only at the local level, but also nationally and internationally (think about news agencies, for example).

I’m not the first to point to the empirical fact that newspapers in many places play a central role in the production of news at the local level. In the US, for example the Project for Excellence in Journalism has done this in a study of Baltimore, Chris Anderson has done this in his great book on Philadelphia, and a series of community information case studies orchestrated by Tom Glaysier when he was still at the New America Foundation has done it.

But what I wanted to do is to make two particular points based on a close study on what sources of information are actually used in my case community and the information that these sources in turn produce and publish.

(1) Though the local newspaper is diminished in terms of reach and resources, it is ironically becoming more important for local information provision as other media pull out and cut their investment and no new providers have emerged. This is not simply a point about volume of production, but also about the environment in which things are produced.

(2) In community case studies done in the US people have generally found a vast ecology of other media outlets reusing and commenting upon news originally produced by local newspapers. That is not the case in the community studied here. Though several of the most widely used media sources of information about local politics in the community (including the regional public service broadcasters) in part base their coverage on stories first covered by the local newspaper, most of what the local newspaper covers does not make it any further in the news “food chain”–it is covered there, and nowhere else. Again, this is not simply a point about the newspaper, but about the environment in which it exists.

The notion of “keystone media” is meant to capture the structural (ecological, if you will) consequences of there being a newspaper in this community rather than there not being one (as in conservation biology).

The true importance of the paper in this community case study lies not in its role as a source of information seen from the users’ point of view (though about a third of the respondents in my survey data read the paper, very few identify the newspaper as their only important source of information about local politics), but as a producer of information that (a) matters because a small minority of it underlies the content produced by other media more widely used in the community but also, importantly, (b) matters because it is there at all, even when it has a limited readership and is not re-used and commented on elsewhere. (And we know from much media research that news coverage of public affairs can affect how politicians and government authorities behave even when the coverage does not routinely reach a large audience–the shadow of publicity is sometimes enough.)

In a time of more and more media, the local newspaper in this case play a structuring role for the entire local political information environment because–though it is only one of many media used as a source of information by citizens, and not a particularly widely used one–it is increasingly the only organization doing ongoing on-the-ground reporting on local public affairs. (Despite Danes having some of the highest levels of internet use and digital device ownership in the world, as well as being avid “joiners” in Robert Putnam’s parlance, active in any number of civic associations, Denmark has not seen the emergence very many significant non-profit or hyperlocal online-only news sources.)

In short, it plays a role as what I am currently thinking of as that of “keystone media” in our political information environments.

The full paper abstract is below. The paper is based on data from a larger research project on local political communication and municipal democracy in a changing media environment that I am pursuing with Nina Blom Andersen and Pernille Almlund from Roskilde University. This is work in progress, so I’d be curious to hear of people working with related ideas or people who think this is nonsense.

The increased importance of diminished newspapers for local journalism? – a case study of sources and producers of information in a digitally connected community

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Roskilde University and the University of Oxford

Paper for “Local journalism around the world: professional practices, economic foundations, and political implications”, February 27-28, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford.

ABSTRACT

On the basis of a mixed-method study combining survey data, content analysis, and semi-structured interviews done in a strategically chosen case community in Denmark, this paper shows that the local daily newspaper, despite its diminished audience reach and editorial resources, has become an increasingly important node in the circulation of independent and professionally produced news about local affairs as other news organizations have pulled out of the locality and no new providers have emerged. Citizens in the community studied have access to more and more media, but less and less news, most of it originating with a single news organization—the local daily newspaper. The study suggests that local newspapers—reporting across platforms but still sustained by their eroding print business—despite the well-known challenges they face in a changing and increasingly digital media environment, despite their dwindling editorial resources, and despite their diminished reach, may thus ironically become more important for local journalism as our media environment change, because they increasingly are the only organizations doing ongoing on-the-ground reporting on local public affairs. They are not so much mainstream media—for the majority does not rely directly on them for information, and most of what they produce is disseminated no farther than to their own readers—as keystone media in a local information environment, playing a critical role in the production and circulation of information with ecological consequences well beyond their own audience.