In conversation with Fergus Bell on collaborative journalism - Reuters News Agency

In conversation with Fergus Bell on collaborative journalism

A growing number of news publishers are pursuing collaborative projects to innovate, reach new audiences and maximize resources.

Jan 3, 2018

Reuters Institute research found that UK publishers have been collaborating in the face of steep declines in print advertizing revenues.

Last summer Pop-Up Newsroom was launched; the brainchild of both Meedan and Dig Deeper Media. During the 2017 UK General Election, the initiative brought together students and start-ups to re-think collaboration, news gathering and verification processes in a temporary newsroom. Pop-Up Newsroom has since expanded to the United States.

In this interview, Fergus Bell — founder of the media consultancy Dig Deeper Media and co-founder of Pop-Up Newsroom — spoke to Reuters News Agency about the benefits and challenges of newsroom collaboration.

As a journalist and media consultant, Bell specializes in strategies for newsroom workflows, verification and digital news gathering.

We saw a disparity in innovation that was being done in news gathering, so we wanted to come up with a way to innovate quickly”

What is your favourite collaborative project?

One of the most inspiring pieces of work I did with Dig Deeper Media was going to Romania to work on verification. They’ve been dealing with “fake news” way before Donald Trump won the election. I would like to see that knowledge and experience brought into an innovation project around solving this. It’s a way to get voices and include people in order to come up with genuine new experiences that are based on real life experiences.

What was the inspiration behind co-founding Pop-Up Newsroom?

The reason we created the initiative is because our backgrounds are in verification, digital news gathering and social news gathering. A lot of time, effort and conference space is spent on innovation in social publishing because it’s the bit you see.

We saw a disparity in innovation that was being done in news gathering, so we wanted to come up with a way to innovate quickly. We devised this framework taking lessons from product design and technology and applying design thinking to editorial challenges.

We are trying to raise the level together before we reach the competitive part”.

Tell us about the Pop-Up Newsroom that took place in London around the UK General Election?

On the day people came with no social gathering skills and learned by doing. We were able to say how are you to approach this and come up with new ways of doing it because we had a clean slate.

We spent the first few hours training and coming up with the ideas and then we started doing it (news gathering) and then we changed it up every a couple of hours.

What were the main outcomes?

Students started the day knowing nothing and by the end of the day they had broken a story for The Guardian using social news gathering skills, the processes and the results of the newsroom that we established in one day.

Plus we had three start-ups represented and that’s where the collaboration comes in. These startups don’t get access to newsrooms so they could actually see the whole process of news gathering. They design news gathering tools, so it helped them inform their products which in turn would help the newsrooms.

Doing good quality journalism and reaching new audiences, doing better verification work for example, helps the industry as a whole especially at a time of low trust”.

What are the benefits to newsrooms considering collaborative projects?

Doing good quality journalism and reaching new audiences, doing better verification work for example, helps the industry as a whole especially at a time of low trust.

We stop short, we don’t share exclusives. It’s more the common practices. We are trying to raise the level together before we reach the competitive part.

I was involved in Electionland which was a huge collaborative project with a thousand journalists and 300 different news organizations. That is a very good example of how a collaborative project works. Everyone got what they wanted out of it. There was no tension. In Europe, the EJC (European Journalism Centre) is running a collaborative report initiative around migration. So there is a trend to collaborate.

I don’t think collaboration is just for financial reasons, although that’s a benefit. There are clear financial benefits to pooling resources. Other benefits are pooling expertise and experience. I would like to see more diversity in the experiences coming into future pop-ups.

What challenges do newsrooms face when wanting to collaborate?

Funding is a definite challenge because these projects require a lot of things to come together and no one has a big wad of cash to start one of these off. You also don’t want it to be pushed and pulled in the wrong direction, so the funding balance has to be right.

What does the future hold for Pop-Up Newsroom and Dig Deeper Media?

For Pop-Up Newsroom it’s expanding the scope of the collaborations. Doing even bigger collaborative projects and using that model to bring voices together to tackle misinformation for example.

We also want to tackle outside of our comfort zones. We’ve focused on elections and social media, now we are going to look at hyper news and how to innovate around local investigation.

For Dig Deeper Media, I’m very interested in voice assistants and creating workflows. As well as zero UI (user interface), such as Alexa and Google Home and how to advise newsrooms on how to make the most of that in terms of news gathering.

The interview is edited for length and clarity.

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