Our First Year – Reflections of the Chair

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By Scoop Foundation Trust Board Chair Margaret Thompson

16 August 2016


As I am writing this report extraordinary Olympic feats are wallpapering the media. And I do see a parallel. Like the marathon runners, Scoop’s transformation team have left the starting line and are hitting their stride. In our first year, dogged perseverance has got NZ’s first charitably held news media venture into the race to build organisations that can provide continuity in a disrupted news industry. There are hills ahead but we know the route.


And like the runners we are here because of the support we receive. We are truly grateful for all the support we received to start the race in 2015, and continued to receive in 2016. The Scoop Foundation now has 1000 members – Kiwis who care about the future of the news media in NZ. We will not be alone in the miles ahead. This September on our first anniversary we very much hope our existing members will renew their membership, and that we will grow our membership over the coming year.


The Enspiral network which the Scoop became a venture member of in February 2014 has also been a great help over the past 20 months of transition. This month we are working with Enspiral to promote and raise the profile of the second annual Open Source Open Society Conference which is being held on Monday 22nd and Tuesday 23rd of August at the Michael Fowler Centre (get your ticket here!).


The Scoop Foundation is delighted to be a contributing supporter of the conference. As an organisation committed to maintaining open public access to NZ’s National Debate we are supportive of all things open. Scoop is also committed to an open path forward for its content, code and business processes. On Tuesday Scoop Trustee Jan Rivers will represent Scoop in a “Open Media: Supporting journalism in an open society” panel discussing the business challenges facing the news industry.


This is a subject close to our principles.. At the end of 2014 Scoop Publishing Limited – now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Foundation – began to completely replace its previously advertising centred business model and become fully sustainable through the sale of subscriptions and licences. The Foundation knew the biggest challenge for the Publishing Company would be to secure a viable, sustainable long term income stream so that it could be a viable commercial base for the new Foundation.


In May 2015 Scoop’s business team completed the ethical paywall product and launched it. After only one year of operating inside the Foundation, Scoop Publishing has grown its ethical paywall revenue such that the core Scoop publishing operation is now earning 90% of the revenue it requires to be sustainable. This achievement has only come thanks to the dedication and sacrifice of the Scoop team who took on the challenge.


During our first year Scoop Publishing Limited has also provided the structure, administration, and the engine for the Foundation – enabling it to run the fund-raising efforts that it has. We have had simply outstanding help from the team, not just with actual work but also because of their experience and knowledge about the reality of the news media world.


Looking forward to 2017 we can now see an initial finishing line of sorts – the point at which the Foundation will be able to dedicate its entire fund-raising efforts towards the production of high quality public interest news content.


We Trustees learned on the job this year as we each bring different skills and experience to the table, and we are still learning. I have focused my efforts this year on legal submissions seeking charitable tax status for the Foundation, we have been given a good hearing and I am still hopeful that we will get there. My fellow trustees have brought complementary skills and enthusiasm. We are well aware, however, that the board does not yet have all the skills it needs to help the Scoop Foundation reach its potential. If you or someone you knows has skills and interests which are aligned and is willing to support or serve on the Trust Board you are very welcome to get in touch at foundation@scoop.co.nz.


I would like to reflect a little on the nature of the terrain ahead of us. This coming Monday the Commerce Commission is expected to release its decision on the NZME/Farifax newspaper giants meeting. Whether they say yes or no one thing is certain, more mass layoffs of journalists. The two major newspaper companies have continual falls in revenue which drive these continuing series of job losses. In the past two years serious prime time current affairs journalism has disappeared from NZ TV screens.


The capacity of the NZ news media to serve the information needs of the NZ public has declined at an ever faster rate with redirection of journalism resources into chasing online views and clicks. Thanks to the newspaper merger application, we now know this shift has not resulted in growing revenues. In 2015 Fairfax’s digital advertising revenues at roughly $10 million are the same as they were in 2010. At the same time the dominance of click bait and spin news gradually undermines public confidence in the news media.


I would like to finish this reflection with some thoughts taken from my recent speech at the 17th anniversary of Scoop, where I looked at the early 20th century heyday in the USA of both capitalism and great independent newspapers.


“The right to freedom of speech and the need to be heard is fundamental to balancing and resolving competing public interests. And that has been recognised for four centuries. Times change, but are the fundamentals really different today? Who pays for the news and what they do with that power is critical. In New Zealand there are many journalists fighting to retain integrity and independence, including us in Scoop and Werewolf. I think it is that simple and that idealistic. The importance of democracy is a value we share with many other peoples in this world. Accessible, independent journalism is a requirement for an informed democracy to function. A free press enables free speech to be practiced and empowers citizens and stakeholders alike. This is the founding idea of the Scoop Foundation, and we need to be determined in pursuing it.”


Are you determined enough to join or to stay with us on the marathon route ahead? I hope you are.


Scoop Foundation founding Chair, Margaret Ora Thompson  16/8/16