Two years into the pandemic, newsrooms around the world are dealing with another complex story of immense interest to their readers: the invasion of Ukraine and the implications of an historic shift in global security and economic risk.
It’s a story that reaches from the towns and cities of Ukraine to the capitals of Europe and on to the rest of the world with its implications for NATO, China, and the world economy: from food and oil prices to fast-spreading disinformation and strange alliances between various sub-groups — the right wing aligning with Putin and the left wing with Zelensky.
My INMA colleague Greg Piechota has measured the scale of the news interest in the Ukraine story and its wider implications, as well as the way publishers are talking to their readers to explain what they’re doing. It raises all sorts of questions about how news organisations serve readers, adjust their models to do so, and use the spike in interest as a moment in which to convince readers to sign up or just engage and trust us.
Ukraine invasion reporting resources
It’s time for the news media to think about how we serve readers and also help our colleagues in Ukraine and Russia to continue telling stories in difficult circumstances.
Here’s a resource, compiled by me so open to additions, of what I think are relevant links and resources to stories, ideas, and lists of things about Ukraine and Russia:
- Impact of sanctions: Track the impact of sanctions and government interference in Russia and elsewhere on this project from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, published with the Columbia Journalism Review.
- How to keep reporting staff safe: Safety is critical for those sending reporters to the field in Ukraine, at least as much as it is for journalists themselves. Journalism.co.uk devoted a recent podcast to how to keep staff safe and how to deal with the impact of witnessing trauma.
- Verification and trust: Christo Grozev from the investigative site Bellingcat spoke to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism about the critical techniques of verification — a skill central to maintaining trust and avoiding disinformation.
- On-the-ground coverage: The Kyiv Independent, created only months ago after an ethical dispute with the oligarch owner of the Kyiv Post, is determined to provide reliable coverage in almost impossible circumstances, with global support.
- BBC reaching Russia: The BBC has correspondents deployed throughout Ukraine and has kept its Moscow bureau open. Its military analysis from global capitals is top notch. BBC World Service has a new podcast, Ukrainecast, and is trying to keep reaching Russia.
- Resources for journalists: Here’s an excellent compilation of resources for journalists and publishers from the UK Journalism.co.uk site.
Ukraine and its implications for media were a feature in yesterday’s Newsroom Initiative Master Class on creating high-value journalism. Natalia Antelava, co-founder of CodaStory.com, discussed the Ukraine crisis and how media is responding.
Journalism as hero, trust, and bending into the business of news
Trust, business models, and newsroom innovation were themes emanating from the opening module of the INMA Newsroom Initiative master class last week.
Here’s my tuppence worth on takeaways from the first session. I admit I am still digesting it and thinking about how it will affect where we take the Newsroom Initiative:
- Behaviour and willingness to pay: A focus on reader revenue goes way beyond adopting a subscription model. It’s about thinking like a consumer business and really learning to understand readers. That fits with the work of INMA’s Readers First Initiative. Said Axate’s Dominic Young: “If you build around people’s actual behaviour, a far larger number are willing to pay.”
- Trust: Trust is central to any publishing business model. We think we all know this, but it also extends to how we relate to and service readers and subscribers. Do we make it easy — even pleasurable — to do business or comment or contribute?
- Alternative business models emerging: Individuals have options to stay or go, and that applies to your staff as well as your readers. We heard from Hamish McKenzie about the Substack model that empowers individual journalists, as well as Miriyana Alexander from the New Zealand Herald about promoting journalists as rock stars. That means editors have to think about how to motivate and retain staff as much as they have to think about serving and retaining readers. They’re two halves of the coin.
- Innovation and focus: Newsrooms need a culture of innovation but also focus. Choose what you’re going to be good at and buy the rest. This was central to the presentation from our module sponsor Sophi.io, the innovative start-up launched by The Globe and Mail that uses Artificial Intelligence and automation to programme home pages and even newspapers.
- Journalism as hero: Journalism is the hero in the reader revenue-focused publishing model, but don’t take it for granted. Be ready to explain to readers and your colleagues across the business what it is you do, why journalism matters, and show that you can prove it. “We’re creating a newsroom culture where journalism is the hero,” Alexander said.
- Australia and Big Tech: Columbia journalism professor and former Wall Street Journal editor Bill Grueskin, in Australia on a fellowship at the interesting journalism ideas non-profit the Judith Neilson Institute, analysed the impact and risks of the new fund Facebook and Google have been forced to contribute to for journalism. He noted: “Australia looks like a success story to those who’ve long yearned to force Big Tech to prop up suffering newsrooms. But it’s a murky deal, with critical details guarded like they’re nuclear launch codes.”
- Ukraine and showing the grave reality: City, University of London, journalism professor Zahera Harb used a column on Al Jazeera English to question whether the traditional objectivity sought by western journalists was still so relevant or served readers in a conflict such as Ukraine. She said: “Watching British and American journalists cover this brutal conflict not with the blind objectivity that became the point of pride of Western journalism in modern times, but instead using terminology that conveys the humanity and grave reality of the situation on the ground accurately, has been eye-opening.”
- Phillips P. O’Brien (@PhillipsPOBrien) is a professor of strategic studies at the University St. Andrews in Scotland. He’s the author of How the War Was Won and Second Most Powerful Man in the World. I’ve found his Twitter threads to be helpful on Ukraine.
- Sara Fischer (@sarafischer) is the media correspondent of Axios, and if you don’t already follow her, you might find it useful. She breaks stories but also analyses things well in the space of a tweet, which is an art.
Tell me what you want to read and what you like or don’t like in this launch newsletter, please. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About this newsletter
Today’s newsletter is written by Peter Bale, based in New Zealand and the U.K. and lead for the INMA Newsletter Initiative. Peter will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global newsrooms.
This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Peter at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.