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A new approach to independent journalism


Thanks very much.

Yeah, hi, so I'm in quite a different part of The Guardian from James. My job there is to create businesses that sit outside the core of what The Guardian does day to day, so I actually work, you know the corporate structure actually does matter with some of these kinds of things. Oh yeah, thank you.

So I work for GMG which is kind of a parent company which allows me to build completely new businesses that sit outside, and the whole intent is to build things that really resonate with what The Guardian means, what its mission is about, its values and all that, but to treat them slightly differently, to do them at a different pace, to think of them from what we know today about what technology can do and the way people work online, to start from those perspectives and try and invent some new things that can help journalism.

So, today what I'm talking about is Contributoria, which is a project launched formally out of Beta just this week actually, and this is kind of the brief view of our story. It actually took about two years to get to this point that we're at right now, but essentially it was inspired by some of the conversations that were coming from Alan Rusbridger, the Editor, around open journalism, though actually the term, open journalism, I think is a bit awkward and we should be thinking maybe about free journalism in some different ways.

But we built this prototype based on funding that we actually got from Google; they sponsored a news innovation contest that made it possible for us to build a prototype. The Guardian really liked it and wanted us to keep working on it, so we got a Beta out the door in January and then just this week we got it live, and it's been going really well, so here's kind of the obligatory charts with stuff that's going up and to the right, but genuinely, there's a lot of really, really interesting activity happening in this environment; we've got tons of fascinating articles that are coming from a community that are being vetted by a community. It's kind of the concept is around crowd funding journalism and how you build the community around that and sort of a collective, using some of the principles of co-operatives as a business model, and I think Aral's right; I think we should be thinking much more about innovation in the business models themselves and how those things affect the independent web. So those are some of the interesting numbers.

What is it. This slide looks a bit complicated but it's been hard for us to articulate what it means to have a collective or a co-operative where the community is actually funding the journalism and working with the writers, so this slide was used to articulate that, and without going into too much detail about this particular slide, what does strike me after we created it was that this basically looks like a media company; it's just that it's turned inside out, where all these bits of the company are actually exposed and open for everyone to participate in the process.

So the problem that we're trying to position Contributoria around is some of these ideas that Jeremy was talking about where the platforms are essentially taking all the power away from the creators; they're able to sell your content on to advertisers so they can make money. That money isn't necessarily going back out to the writers; it is in some cases but in most cases, that's actually not their goal.

And what it is that writers want is they want a direct relationship with readers; they want to have a direct conversation going on with people who are interested in their work, but they also want some value for their output and most of the business models around the successful media companies out there form one end of those two scales; the traditional mainstream media is happy to pay writers and they should do that and they're good at that, but they're not as good as the Facebooks of the world who are very clever about how people engage with the creators, and there is a space where writers can be independent of that business model.

So basically what we're trying to do is create this environment where independent journalism can thrive, and we're trying to create this open space where the community can be part of, have the authority to actually help choose what kinds of stories get written; to choose what stories you want to write, not be told what you're supposed to write; that you can have some influence in how a story evolves, and then also we do have to create some kind of an incentive for a lot of the people that may not care about getting really deeply into the details of how journalism is made, and to have special access, such as a newspaper, which seems very counter-intuitive given the way everything is going nowadays, but the newspaper is actually a really useful way of encouraging the people who want to support journalism, to pay for it.

There are a lot of ways that this, a lot of directions this could go and again, to Jeremy's point, I think people should be posting on their own blogs, have control over their content, and I think there's a space that Contributoria can help with, which is to act more as kind of a network facilitator and to help people get their content distributed; to get paid for their work and that we kind of facilitate that transaction to happen, because it is a lot of work to do it on your own.