I THINK we’ll look back on 2013 as the year when journalism in Scotland began to carve out a new future for itself. And I think The Scottish News Commons could play a big part.
The publication of the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures for the Scottish daily Press – showing almost universal falls in circulation – prompted a lot of comment.
Alex Massie said he believed it is only a matter of time before a Scottish title folds.
Then we heard of job losses at The Scotsman titles.
It’s part of a depressing pattern. Job cuts, mergers, centralisation of editorial functions, office and newspaper closures have become the norm for media companies struggling to maintain profit margins in the new online world.
So if the present economic model is increasingly unable to provide a living for many journalists, how can we safeguard the journalism they produce?
Because a democratic society relies on good journalism. That’s why the question of the future of the media was a big part of the Electoral Reform Society’s Democracy Max project.
I was lucky enough to be asked to take part in one of the Society’s round-table events, chaired by Rob Edwards. It helped me bring together some thoughts around the future of news.
The Scottish News Commons would be a new peer-to-peer network made up of journalists, broadcasters, advertising sales staff, photographers, designers, coders and others.
A peer-to-peer network is a structure that allows people to take part in the creation of a common goal, on an equal basis, and without a lot of hierarchy. The common goal in this case would be the promotion of sustainable, quality journalism in Scotland.
There are no outside rules or ways of working that people in the network have to follow. That makes it easier for them to react to a changing situation and to find new and better ways of working together over time.
The Scottish News Commons will rely on journalists sharing their content with each other in an open, flexible way, knowing and trusting that they will be properly rewarded for their work. This sharing of content will be governed by The Scottish News Commons License, created using the Peer Production License as a model. Basically, members in the network agree to share their content with others in the network. Anyone outside the network who wants to use the content has to pay up front.
This license allows different outlets in the network to use content in different ways, without the need to negotiate with each individual journalist. Each one of these outlets will, of course, then have to reward the journalist who created the content, according to the rules of the network.
The News Commons is flexible. Individual journalists could be members. So could bloggers. So could citizen journalists. Groups of journalists working on particular subjects like sport or the arts could be members. There could be specialists in investigations or data journalism.
To get an idea of how it might work, have a look at another industry that’s been disrupted by the internet – music.
Based in Iceland, the online platform, gogoyoko.com, gives individual musicians and groups the opportunity to share their music on a single network. They get the full price of any music they sell. They also get a cut of advertising sold across the network.
In the Netherlands, new journalism start-up, De Nieuwe Pers (The New Press), allows users to subscribe to individual journalists who are members, or to the network as a whole.
These are just starting points. Once people come together, bringing their different skills, talents, interests and resources to the table, all kinds of things become possible.
The Scottish News Commons will need a lot of committed people to make it happen. But I think there’s an appetite for it.
When I presented the idea to a public meeting organised by Electoral Reform Society, it attracted almost unanimous support. Since then, many journalists have expressed an interest in The News Commons. Some talented cultural activists and facilitators have agreed to help get it off the ground.
The next step will be to organise a planning conference to bring people together and move forward. If you want to help shape the future of news in Scotland, you can register here.
David Eyre is a media officer for Oxfam Scotland. In the past, he’s been a producer and a reporter with BBC Scotland and was the founder and publisher of Southside Media, a not-for-profit social enterprise publishing community media in the southside of Glasgow.