NewsX shows the Way to Reviving and Monetizing Journalism
NewsX strives to make the world a better place with journalism.
There have been journalists since early man first daubed hunt scenes on cave walls for their tribe.
From there, the profession graduated to clay tablets and papyrus, then pen and paper, on through printing, typewriters, faxes, wire machines, and now smartphones and laptops, each stage making it easier to research and make news available.
In the process, journalists have been reporting not only for their generation, but for the future.
But the same technological advances that make journalism easier and more accessible than ever before have also been killing it. Fake news, amalgamation sites, PR and marketing are just a few ways it is being watered down and discredited.
Social media, which should be our most significant friend, has become our worst enemy, siphoning off the revenue from our content and, worse, introducing “community guidelines” that tell us what we can write.
Without independent journalism, where will the information come from needed for decisions about communities, societies, and how we live our lives and plan for the future?
Yet the news landscape that should deliver this is now more fractured than ever, like the society it’s supposed to serve.
As for the job of journalism, what should be the most important, best and most valued position in the world is frequently voted the worst.
It is no surprise to those of us in the vocation; we are not trusted and work long hours for little pay. There is also no prospect that this will change any time soon, as the media groups we work for struggle to pay their own bills without worrying about our welfare.
Everyone cares about a sustainable journalism solution, yet every year it gets worse.
According to the latest report into news consumption by the UK regulator for communication services, known as Ofcom, traditional media is on the slide.
Instagram is now the most popular source of news for teenagers, and print media as a source of news has fallen from 35% of the UK population to 24%. That’s a decline of a third.
One might wonder if those spending all that money on real news that seems not to be having any impact want to find an answer. I am reminded of the show Yes Minister.
It’s a political satire where the top job is given to whoever is the most incompetent because if someone useless is in charge, the rest can do what they want with less risk of being caught.
It should be our job to hold power to account. While I am not suggesting a deliberate plot to create a weak media, I imagine that most of those controlling the reins of power are probably NOT too worried about how the journalism watchdog has lost its bark and its bite.
Before you start to wonder if this is another QAnon clickbait article promising everything and delivering nothing, I haven’t detailed the magic formula yet because the problems the news industry faces are not one, but many.
The issues, like the solution, are complicated, and there is no single magic formula. Instead, all of the problems must be addressed in combination. If you still have one bottleneck in the process, it’s not fixed, and only a solution that fixes all the problems will be able to make any difference.
It is why many well-meaning projects that sound great on paper never deliver and all too often die out when the funding has run out.
I have worked in the media for over three decades, I own and run several news agencies and am in charge of special projects at the UK-based National Association of Press Agencies (NAPA).
I have NOT been trying to fix journalism, but I have been looking for a sustainable business model for my business and other agencies like mine.
I now have a model for sustainable, independent journalism and want to share that, and to do so without thought of personal gain because journalism is simply too important.
For years, the journey to this point was like the story of Robert the Bruce, who led Scotland to victory in the first war of independence. When he started the fight, he was so badly beaten he was lucky to escape with his life. Defeated, he hid in a cave where he saw a spider trying — and repeatedly failing — to weave a web, until finally the spider succeeded. He saw himself in that struggle, and he tried, and then tried again, until he won.
And that was what it was like with my project, NewsX: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.
So I’ve been trying again to make the model work and realise the potential for news in my company. Every failure sent me back to the drawing board with new ideas. Each time the next try was bigger and more ambitious than the one before, yet it always ended in the need to try again, until now.
Last year our news agencies, whose only income is from the creation and monetisation of news, made a profit. Not a large one, but still a profit. In terms of what we achieved, we sold thousands of stories to international media, mainly in the US, the UK and Australia, but also elsewhere.
That funded an almost 40-strong team, a network of online sites, and several projects to make the world a better place through journalism. On social media, our stories were among the most read and discussed worldwide.
That success was achieved with a business model that if we can scale it by finding people that believe in the same basic values of journalism, can help the profession to realise its potential.
Getting to this point reminds me of when I experienced a lunar eclipse, where you will know if you have ever seen one that if you have not seen 100%, where the sun vanishes completely behind the moon, you have seen nothing.
The eclipse was set to take place over Austria, and I decided to go to the mountains because I was told if you don’t get the full eclipse, you may as well stay in bed. So I climbed on my motorbike in Vienna, drove south for an hour to the top of a mountain, and sat and waited as slowly a summer day turned into twilight. And right up until a second before it went dark, I was wondering why I’d bothered.
As I sat on top of the mountain, where I could easily see what appeared to be hundreds of miles into the distance, I was awed as the black shadow of the moon literally ate the world in front of me before plunging the Alpine meadow where I was resting into darkness.
I then turned around and watched as the illuminated remains of the rest of the world were also swallowed behind me. It was suddenly night-time, street lights and house lights came on in the valley below, and birds fell silent.
But then, almost as quickly as darkness arrived, I watched as the world was rebuilt in front of me. First mountains, then fields and villages, reappearing from nowhere in the distance like magic and then being recreated from nothing behind me, and I was again standing in the real world as confused cockerels started crowing in the farms below.
As I have worked on bringing my news business back into the light, I see the parallels with that experience where only 100% counts.
As long as journalism fails to cover all the bases, from conception through to monetization which fuels more news and is scalable, it remains in the twilight zone.
In NewsX, some of what we have embraced is a return to traditional values, some is taking advantage of the potential for new technology, and other parts are completely new and unique.
In keeping with the best traditions of modern journalism, I have put it into a top 10 of subheads below explaining what NewsX offers if journalism is to reclaim the heritage it was given when man first started drawing on cave walls.
Separation of Church and State
There are many reasons for the lack of trust in the media. Still, as much as we blame everyone else, the erosion of this fundamental principle of separating advertising and editorial, known as the separation of Church and State, has sacrificed long-term potential for short-term gain.
And it is to nobody’s advantage. We in the media are custodians of our profession for future generations.
But as soon as we started taking PR and disguising it as news, we proved we were not fit for the role, and we robbed our future colleagues of their ability to do the job. A return to the separation of advertising and editorial is not just about a principal, and it is not just good for journalism, it is also good for advertisers.
In a LinkedIn post this week on why traditional media was still the best place to be for corporate communications, James Saville from Goldbug Brand & Communications referenced the Ofcom study that showed the dominance of social media, but added:
“ . . . the majority of these stories are originating from mainstream news brands. Podcasters, influencers, commentators — where do you think they’re getting their news from?”
Breaking down the barrier may have been great at the start, when people with money and a message were welcomed into newsrooms using the vehicle of native advertising (adverts designed to look like the newspaper articles that surround them) but it was the thin end of the wedge.
More than anything, this led us to where we are now. Disguising advertising and PR as the news was never going to last for long for journalism, or for advertisers, that lost one of their most powerful ways of persuading people about their message.
I have been writing about this for years, although admittedly, as I never had any advertising, it’s easy for me to criticise others for how they earn money. But nevertheless, I would argue it was still a bad decision to take.
I was reminded about this in a story I wrote in which one of my team made it to a remote region in Albania to report how an entire region had become a haven for terrorist gangs. It was published in the Sunday People at the same time as the Economist had carried eight pages praising the country as a leading economic reformer in the Balkans.
The eight-page Economist Albania advertorial was produced by intermediary Quantum Products and appeared in the European print edition. It described Albania as “leading reformer in the Balkan region” and included interviews with various leading members of the Albanian government.
It also claimed that the country is “rapidly emerging as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Western Balkans”. In contrast, our Sunday People investigation revealed that a group called the Albanian Islamic State was running a £4billion-a-year marijuana growing and smuggling operation in the country.
At the time, Albanian opposition MP Grida Duma from the Democratic Party accused PM Edi Rama of “spending Albanian taxpayers’ money in order to purchase eight pages of an advert in one the most expensive magazine in the world”.
She said: “According to British advertising rules, every page that praises Edi Rama has ‘Advertisement Feature’ written on it. Do you know what an advertisement feature is? For those unclear, I will tell you: An advertorial is an advertisement feature, announcement or promotion, the content of which is controlled by the marketer, not the publisher, that is disseminated in exchange for a payment or other reciprocal arrangement. Thus this is a paid advertisement article, the truthfulness of which is verified not by the magazine, but by the advertiser.”
The government defended the decision to promote the country saying that the information being published in the Economist had been given the magazine’s backing:
“The Economist, as one of the most prestigious magazines with a high number of readers worldwide, cannot publish any information which is not genuine or not verified and which is not written by journalists certified by it.”
The Albanian government claimed it spent £150,000 on the content at the time; the country’s opposition claims it was more than triple that. For our story, we were paid somewhat less.
My message is that if you want to sell something, have a good product or service, and persuade the journalists to do it for you for free. This is good for society, it’s good for business as genuine products and ideas get the attention they deserve, and it’s good for journalism.
I’d also argue that when we filter and pass on the best of the best, we ask questions that help define the potential of an idea or product.
That is part of the job of journalism, and when that no longer happens, the result is not properly tested, and an opportunity to grow still further is lost.
Not just the desire to make money causes traditional media to welcome native advertising. The real news it replaces costs money and is not easy to afford. Why spend on that when you can have a well-written article provided not only for free, you get paid to publish it?
Ten years ago, it was 5,000 British pounds for online only in a national, and now it is probably far more. It may not be accurate, but it fills a space and pays the bills, and tomorrow is another day and another deadline.
The Guardian’s Nick Davies, in his book Flat Earth News, blamed the growing use of PR content on a “takeover by new corporate owners, cuts in staff coupled with increases in output, less time to find stories and less time to check them . . . “
But Davies also, to my mind, correctly identified the decline of the wire agencies as being at the heart of the rot. He said that the Press Association, Reuters and AP have cut costs by radically downsizing their workforces, making it more and more tempting to fill media space with PR and other recycled “stories”.
And that leads perfectly to point 2 on my list, because for journalism to work, it needs to have the right business model that allows it to be sustainable and credible.
News Agencies: Keeping It Real
It is fortunate that of all the different types of media I could have ended up in, the one I settled on was a news wire agency, and there is nothing quite like it.
My journey here was by chance. In the mid-90s, I moved to Austria and quickly ran out of money. Desperate for work, I was lucky to land a job as a newsreader on national radio. I was earning more money than I knew what to do with, and I only had to work for two weeks every month.
And I was terminally bored. I resigned after 2 years and became unemployed in order to try and work freelance, and I now work seven days a week, sometimes 18 hours, and I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else. But keeping that attitude is getting harder.
In the fractured media landscape in which I work, part of the problem is everybody’s trying to ring-fence their readership. They will fight against anything that endangers that, but in this equation, agencies are not about replacing them or their business models, we are about strengthening and supporting what they do, and helping them to return to the traditional values of journalism with original reporting that costs a fraction of what they pay at the moment
There is no problem separating church and state at a news agency because we have no advertising. There is no vested interest, no turning a blind eye, just news.
We concentrate on producing quality content that builds the success of our partners, helping them to attract loyal followers, and leaving them to the business of monetising our news by selling adverts around it.
In a healthy media landscape, the only people that should pay journalists are editors. Nobody else has a place in that equation, and if they do, it’s not journalism.
News agencies actually have enormous power, and yet are also on the other hand powerless, because mostly they do not go in for publishing, which would be to compete with the media they sell news to. But without an organ of their own, they have to depend on media partners to have content used.
That means they need to be first, have more information than anyone else, and they need to get it right.
That ensures standards are kept high, as for the larger agencies, only a stream of reliable content can continue to guarantee a subscription. For smaller agencies and freelancers that sell on a per-story basis, the same rule applies even more, you are only as good as your last page lead.
Investors invariably look at either a variation on print media (newspapers and magazines) or broadcast media (radio and TV) if they look at media at all.
But all they have created with that is media organisations that are now essentially the same: they try to cash in each other’s business and ring-fence followers to their brand. All are online, they all have social media, video news, pictures and text stories.
But what the world needed to fix was not how news is consumed, but how it is created.
Having more outlets does not solve the problem that less and less content is being produced. I know of a news start up that spent more than USD 10M on building a brand, a huge distribution network and a CMS to handle content, but at the end had no editorial team of their own, and relied on partners to let them have their content to sell on.
They are not alone, news organisations are increasingly recycling the work of others, and if everybody starts recycling the work of everybody else, who is creating it?
Projects that focus on news gathering rather than delivery, are far more important but for the most part, short-lived unless they solve the problem of exposure. What is the point of producing great content if nobody reads it?
The very few that manage to produce good content and find readers, like the Financial Times, rarely have scalable models which in any case take years to build.
Much of the content that is now missing was once originated by local newspapers and specialist magazines that have vanished after failing to monetise the transition to the digital world. If this network could be recreated, much of the difficulties and the expertise and knowledge currently missing from the news landscape could be returned.
But How? NewsX Communities.
NewsX does this by harnessing the power of communities, all the energy and enthusiasm and passion that has led to social media communities springing up all over the world could be used constructively by linking them with a virtual newsroom to share content with the world, to share what they do and discuss what they do.
These virtual newsrooms we are building are independent and are not just PR groups for these communities; their role is to put what is important under the spotlight and on the news agenda.
In many cases, these communities have replaced the void left by the media specialist publications, where people that share a common interest come together to be informed. But without access to the real press they can be too inward-looking.
NewsX gives the world a window on what they care about and will bring in new people. Of course, not every story from a community will move to the next level of regional or national or international news, but those that do will help fund the editorial team that produces the news that matters to the community, even if it does not sell.
A NewsX community has only one thing to care about: Good content for its publisher partners, who will in turn pay for that content.
The setup is simple and straightforward, each NewsX community can be breaking even within a few months, and it is a model that is infinitely scalable.
Regardless of whether it is a community where there is an existing social media network or not, we will add a newsroom that additionally builds relationships with influencers and experts. Influencers may not appear to need publicity with sometimes millions of followers, but what they are all keen for is access to the real press.
That recognition shows they are a recognised celebrity, on the A-list, and that will help them with sponsors and their own advertising. Experts are so frustrated at the lack of access to the media to have a say, they are even paying to join directories that no journalist ever looked at.
Joining a NewsX community gives them access to a specialist newsroom where all we need are contact details for quick access on breaking news or features.
The potential in these communities is enormous, and beyond even the capacity to produce news, but the most important thing is it is rebuilding the lost network of local and specialist publications, and making it sustainable.
Influencers will promote content about them wherever it appears, experts provide the stamp of credibility, journalists will package it under the only seal of quality that counts, their byline, and that reputation if maintained will continue to guarantee them access to the NewsX community. That reputation needs to be jealously guarded if they want to continue to be part of the network, and make a difference.
And that brings me to point four.
Finding The Balance
Independent journalism does not mean agenda-free journalism that tries not to offend, it means agenda-rich journalism, where both sides argue their case no matter who it offends, and the reader gets the chance to decide.
It, therefore, follows that a healthy newsroom is a newsroom of contrasts, and at NewsX we pride ourselves on the fact that our opposites make our journalism stronger, while at the same our shared values bind us.
We don’t just try to include political opposites, but also many other extremes, and one of the most important ideas to embrace is the two polar opposites of the news media landscape, namely tabloid and quality news.
One of my agencies, CEN, will take criticism for writing stories about women in bikinis making cocktails yet the reality is that stories like that paid for an investigation into the trafficking in women that won an Amnesty International nomination and a Paul Foot award for a series of articles we gave to one of our clients.
Unlike many journalists, I am not embarrassed about the tabloid journalism that I do, I love covering news that captures the zeitgeist and tells a story, and if something that I have spotlighted goes around the world, it still brings a real sense of satisfaction.
Whether turning up at a hotel in Kraków in Poland to find my story on the front page of an international newspaper on sale in the lobby, or seeing a front page with my name used to wrap my fish and chips in a Cardiff takeaway, there is no feeling quite like it for a real journalist.
The desire to tell the story is everything. And the sense of satisfaction from moments like that was exactly the same at the start of my career as it is now when I see the BBC repeating the latest of our news items to have taken over the web.
Andrew Phelps on the Nieman Journalism Lab once pointed out that one of the most popular online sites of the time, the now defunct Gawker, seemed to contain two opposite types of content ranging from two-headed Chinese goats on the one hand, and real journalism on the other.
Yes, tabloid media has a bad name, but at the heart of it tabloid reporting should be about taking on the biggest bully in the playground, about chasing the story regardless of who it will offend — and in many cases in starting the ball rolling on a subject that might otherwise never have been noticed.
Tabloid media also deals with serious issues such as the trafficking in women investigation referenced above or the Albanian drugs trade. But unlike quality news rivals, tabloids try to put these issues in a form where people are going to bother to read them. The rights of women, children or animals, are often championed first in shocking tabloid tales.
While the aim of any report is the need to inform, educate and entertain, to write for The Sun you need to be able to focus more on storytelling but to write for the Financial Times or the Times of London, the leaning is more towards informing and educating. But an understanding of the entire spectrum helps to do all three.
Many broadsheet journalists would benefit from being able to tell their lengthy and sometimes dull stories in the readable form used by the tabloids, and likewise, tabloid writers would benefit sometimes from using plain facts that are often far more sensational than the tabloid buzz words they are encased in.
I don’t feel any embarrassment about the tabloid stories because I know that tabloid and quality reporting, whatever anyone may say, go hand in hand, and each is better in the presence of the other.
In one sense, it is logical to have the two under one roof, as there are many ways they complement each other, but in fact, organisations like ours attempting to run so called ‘quality’ and ‘tabloid’ journalism in the same stable have always come under fire.
The public perception might be that the Times publishes only business and politics and The Sun only scantily clad models, when the truth is that a balance of light and heavy stories can be found in all broadsheet and tabloid newspapers.
But it is not just acceptance of the need to offer tabloid and quality news that is in all of our communities. If NewsX were to have a slogan, that slogan would be as I said at the start: “Our opposites make us stronger, and our shared values bind us.”
A quick look at human history shows quite clearly that major advances in science and technology are invariably made during times of conflict, exactly like those we are facing now.
NewsX does not just embrace tabloid and quality. We also try to balance left and right, news and advertising, hyper- local and international news, print and broadcast, charity and corporate messages, from bulletins to features, and verified news through to original content.
That is, at the end of the day, the heart of NewsX, and NewsX communities.
A New Network Of Infinite Space
The echo chambers media organisations are creating to ring-fence readers are another factor that has all led to the death of journalism.
If it is to regain credibility it needs to cover all the angles, and all the stories, and we need to get as close as we can to producing an infinite amount of content, because there will always be somebody that wants to read it — as long it’s real journalism and not activism or PR.
It follows that if you have an infinite amount of content, you need an infant amount of places where it can be published, and that means a project with a global network of media partners.
There is also another advantage to having an almost infinite amount of content and number of venues to publish, which is that it is harder to control and manipulate the news. In this equation, there are simply too many people producing it, and too many places where it might turn up to be able to help to control it all. Instead, journalist regulate what they write and guarantee it with their trademark, which is their byline.
That is at the heart of the NewsX project. Building communities that generate ever more news, and in turn build connections with an ever-growing media network that wants to use that content.
It is a formula that also underlines the need for the separation of church and state, where only the credibility of the people that write content and the strength of that content (The Church) can guarantee that we continue to find partners that will publish it and help earn revenue to pay for what we do (The State). So our publishers monetise our content around advertising and marketing, but do not influence its direction as the content is created even before they get it.
The need to produce more content to cover everything happening and build relationships with publishers that want to take that content also underlines once again why the news agency is the model for the future.
As I said above, a news agency should not be a publisher, and if we are, it needs to be after our clients so that we do not compete with them. As a news agency our role is to produce content, and then ever more content, in order to ensure that we can meet the needs of a growing network of publishers.
In short, that means that every story will find a home, and every home will find a feed of stories to keep its readers coming back.
Perfect Story, Perfect Place
Imagine what it would be like if you went into a supermarket and everything was in opaque plastic packages where you had to work out what was inside by looking at it? Incredibly, the news industry is like that, because after early attempts to create labelling (taxonomy), they pretty much gave up.
At best, as far as I can work out, is that most media will occasionally assign a desk to a story, which is a very general definition, and after that nothing.
Instead, they rely on AI to come up with keywords and they simply don’t work. I know of one colleague trying to find stories about King Charles and Polo, but what he got were stories about a cart-horse called Charlie that loved eating the English mint sweets called polos.
If I want to find the story specifically about a member of the Royal family, I will get a lot of unrelated news. Taxonomy needs to be an integral part of the story creation process, it should not be possible to move from one stage to the next without creating and constantly checking the taxonomy and it needs to be more than just a desk.
In our virtual newsroom we have different taxonomies which are effortlessly created at the start and then checked and rechecked as it moves through different stages of production.
This is not simply an effort to sell the story or place in the right market. Taxonomy helps us to understand the global media needs and interests.
How urgent is it? Where is it weak and where does it mean work? Which desk or which specialists need to be called in to work on it? This and dozens of other small questions are settled by doing proper taxonomy as the story works through the news queue.
But highlighting that is only touching the tip of the iceberg.
If you have a taxonomy on a story, you can quickly attach taxonomy to the people writing those stories by populating the people behind the bylines with the taxonomy of their content, and to those publishing the stories.
That potential allows us to track the right reporter for the job, the right communities to share it with, and the right publication following the story’s completion.
Don’t Shoot The Messenger
Accepting a grant because you tick the right boxes and thereafter can only ever criticise anybody that is obviously bad, and for example not write anything nice about Donald Trump, is one of the problems of modern media.
We need to be able to support the unpopular choice, and even more than that, we need to get away from the idea that journalism needs to be nice and not offend anyone.
Mark Twain said it’s not journalism unless it’s offending somebody. He was correct. So be considerate, but at the end of the day never shy away from saying what needs to be said.
That includes giving a fair hearing to those that we may feel do not need or deserve it, no matter what. In the Guardian code of conduct, it enshrines the basic right to reply, and more than that, it especially enshrines the right to reply from anybody that they would normally not agree with on anything.
In NewsX communities we also represent all sides, a healthy community for us has people with a different vision on how things should go, and editorial teams embrace relationships with both.
For every action, there is a reaction, with experts providing balance and influencers to make it readable and shareable.
A Middle Road Between Churnalism And Journalism
Journalism should strive to be original, and if you are part of the machine that is endlessly recycling what everybody else is rewriting, that is not journalism.
But the key word here is endless because while working together to take existing stories forward and provide credit where it’s due should be a part of a news agency’s work, in the push to do that, we should not neglect the importance of verification.
One media partner we worked for insisted on original quotes on every story, but some stories simply don’t need it. If you have a police video of an incident, and you can see a police chief on a dozen news reports at a press conference making a statement, it doesn’t make any sense to call the police chief to get another comment if what they have said already sums everything up perfectly.
There are some stories where it’s enough to share the information, and there needs to be a recognition that what the journalist is bringing to the table is news judgement and the skill and tools to know when what we are sharing is correct. We risk our livelihoods each day and our byline if we get it wrong and verify fake news.
What we also need is good news judgement, it is the rarest of qualities, and many in the newsroom do not have it, but if they are lucky, they have the chance to learn from a good news editor and while it’s rarely a natural skill, it can be learned.
A healthy news output is a mixture of original content but also other stories of importance, a strategy which Nick Davies dismissed, describing them as churnalism.
But this material when provided by credible sources, where a publication knows that their reader or viewer wants to be informed about it, should be in a news feed.
This is a vital part of what journalist does, there is simply too much content coming on to the market for most people to filter it themselves, and only a network of journalists has any chance of making sense of it all.
So yes, sometimes the nature of a story means it can simply be used after verification and with attribution where relevant. At the same time, on other occasions, it needs to be taken forward and developed. And when that happens, it needs to be recognised and rewarded.
I know many local online newspaper start-ups that for years produced content and made little money except for the occasional advert.
Yet one single story could have generated what they were earning in a month, as well as bringing brand recognition and a crucial byline that opens still more doors in their community. NewsX empowers that to happen.
The loss of these newspapers and magazines was a loss for the news that they brought into the media landscape. But it also it removed what was often the training grounds for reporters at a national level, teaching grassroots reporting skills and a respect of the facts. Specialist writers became the correspondents who would turn up with contacts and experience to bring value to the role at a national newspaper desk.
Large amounts of money have been spent trying to keep these alive, or rebuild them, but they are fading faster than they can be recreated.
In the NewsX community, with quick access to experts and influencers, almost every story has the potential to be developed and to be significantly different from anything that comes into the system,
That means lower prices to obtain content.
Journalism: Finding The Profit
It is hard to be credible about not being able to pay journalists properly when investors are pocketing millions.
Journalism should not be run as a business profit, but nor is it a charity because it needs to employ professionals and at the top end of the profession pay them well, but it will never work if it is used to always pay first anyone other than those that are creating content, because that is not its purpose.
NewsX embodies this, as it lives in a business structure that sits between the two — charity and business for profit. It is registered as a Community Interest Company (CIC), and we have articles of association where it is enshrined that our purpose is journalism, not profit.
We took this step because it is difficult for news organisations to preach about how people should live their lives when owners pocket millions. But on the other hand, we recognise that if they own the media, it is their money. We wand to find a way to support what they do, so they can support our mission.
Our concern is that experienced professional journalists who provide the guarantee of their name and their reputation on NewsX branded editorial content are paid like any other professional.
They need to be able to afford a mortgage and a holiday and all the other things we all work hard for when training.
And those coming into the profession who need to learn also need to be able to pay their bills as they train, and while they cannot expect to get rich until they learn the skills, at least they should not have to work in a restaurant to subsidise the passion.
When You’re Wrong Admit It, When You’re Right Don’t Doubt It
Journalism will make mistakes. If we can show you have done everything in a professional way, the public will forgive. What they will not forgive is prevarication and passing the blame when mistakes are made.
There needs to be a more efficient complaints procedure where errors are corrected and dealt with, and reputational damage is simply accepted when deserved.
All complaints are dealt with internally at NewsX, and if the complainant is not happy, then it is moved over for external arbitration.
Admitting mistakes also means leaving ego to one side. Reputation is a burden when it comes to good journalism. Not worrying about reputation leaves you free to write everything you want, as long as your journalism credentials remain unsullied.
If the world does not want to listen, or criticise us for taking a certain topic and covering it, that does not mean that it should not be written. It leaves an editorial team free to write about anything they want and, if nothing else, document it for history.
And who are we to decide what is a story? It can often be the stories that I least expect that have the greatest impact.
Not worrying about reputation doesn’t mean that we don’t need to have one, but the reputation should be for staying true to our code of conduct, and the values of NewsX, which in our CIC’s case is journalism, and which is the ‘Why’ that underscores everything we do.
When I was at university 30 years ago, I remember being told that accountancy was no longer boring because software dealt with the boring bits. That has never happened in journalism.
NewsX is a suite of software projects either completed or in beta testing that aims to make this leap for journalism by taking away the mundane, allowing journalists to concentrate on journalism. There are already a dozen projects outside of the basic virtual newsroom software, the T4 Hub (T4 = Fourth Estate).
There will be more, and the larger the community and the more editorial teams we have, the quicker we will learn what’s needed and can modify adapt and develop accordingly.
Every journey begins with the first step, and the 10 subheads above summarise what we identified and what we offer to tackle it since we started the project in the 90s: all solutions to manage our business.
Last month, when NewsX was formally accepted as a Community Interest Company where the purpose is not to make a profit, but to benefit the community, we ended that stage. We are now starting a new journey, where we expand it to a wider community.
I never found anybody that wanted to fund what we do, and I guess my heart was never really in it anyway, because investors mean dividends which means less money for journalism
With no investors or grants, we don’t have to keep anybody happy, we don’t have to tick the right boxes in order to continue to justify a grant, we don’t have to worry about our image because we don’t have one and nor do we care to have one, except when it comes to following our code and respect from our peers, and we also don’t have any advertisers, PR deals or marketing, and probably would not get them even if we wanted them.
The only people we have to keep happy is a global network of publishers with a constant feed of news that makes a difference. What we earn we can invest back into news, and the people that create the news.
And when we get funding, all the money goes towards paying for that news, whether it is two-headed Chinese goats, women’s rights or climate change.
Some of what NewsX does is completely unique, some of it is a return to the traditional values of journalism, and the rest is integrating new ideas and the best of new technology, and its potential to support what we do into the news agency model.
What it does do is offer a solution to all of the problems above and many others, one way or another.
At the moment, it is very small, but that is not a surprise as its been created on a shoestring. A shoestring start up means you need to earn the money before you spend it, but on the other hand it leaves you free to control the direction you take and in this project, that is a crucial factor.
This article marks the end of one stage of the journey as we look for people that want to share that vision.
I am under no illusions that stage two will be any easier than stage one, and will no doubt see a lot of criticism.
But to say nothing means this potential would remain hidden and I couldn’t live with that.
We only need a few that see this to decide to work with us and want to support what we do, and who knows, maybe after reading this someone already does.
If you believe in this message and are interested in working with the NewsX Mission, you can follow and contact us using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Michael Leidig is a veteran editor/journalist and author, founder of NewsX Media, CEN Agency, and Mediatech Support. He is Vice-chairman of NAPA. Reporting without fear or favor.