'The World of Independent Publishing' | Notes on the second annual IMPRESS Trust in Journalism Conference

By Jonathan Heawood. CEO, IMPRESS.

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How do you get rival journalists from around the world to work together on the biggest collaboration in journalism history?

This was the challenge facing Mar Cabra, the brilliant Spanish journalist behind the Panama Papers story. At the second annual IMPRESS Trust in Journalism Conference, Mar talked to Jane Martinson about the joys and heartaches of coordinating journalists from more than one hundred countries.

The discussion between Mar and Jane was just one of the highlights of a memorable day. This conference is all about building relationships, both inside and outside the independent publishing sector. As I listened to the discussions on the panels and the conversations over the breaks, I saw three particularly important trends.

Firstly, I saw independent publishers building new relationships with funders. We heard directly from Dame Frances Cairncross about her review of public interest journalism in which she called for new forms of public funding. We also heard from Lydia Ragoonanan of NestaKathryn Geels of the Engaged Journalism Accelerator of the European Journalism Centre and Will Gore of the NCTJ about the funding they provide to some publishers.

Public Interest News Foundation

At this year’s conference, we also celebrated the launch of the Public Interest News Foundation, a new organisation through which we aim to support the ecosystem of independent publishing. Vanessa Baird of the New Internationalist and Erica Roffe of the Bedford Independent talked about the vision behind the Foundation, which is set out in a blueprint: 'Supporting Public Interest News: A Blueprint'.

Lord Inglewood, the former Chair of the Cumbrian News Group, told us why he has agreed to become a trustee of the Foundation alongside Jo Adetunji and Patrick Swaffer. At IMPRESS, we are incubating the Public Interest News Foundation and building support for this initiative so that in time it can become a standalone organisation.

We also talked a lot about the changing relationships between publishers and their audiences. Alison Preston presented Ofcom’s cutting-edge research into audience attitudes towards news. Audiences for print newspapers may be declining, but people are ever-more interested in news, which has replaced TV drama as a topic for watercooler conversations.

Polly Curtis from TortoiseAdam Cantwell-Corn from the Bristol CableSebastian Esser from KrautreporterStephen Khan from The ConversationHardeep Matharu from Byline Times and Rachel Oldroyd from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism all described their models of audience engagement. These organisations are all busy building new kinds of communities, where journalism is not simply broadcast at the audience, but emerges out of dialogue with the audience.

Conscious Advertising

Finally, but importantly, we talked about the changing relationship between publishers and advertisers. For too long, news publishers have treated big advertisers as a force of nature that cannot be tamed. But Harriet Kingaby of the Conscious Advertising Network said that advertisers are starting to worry about the world they’re paying for – a world in which worthless content is attracting more revenue than high-quality journalism.

Her comments were echoed by Anna-Sophie Harling of Newsguard and Olaf Steenfadt of Reporters Without Borders' Journalism Trust Initiative, who are both working with IMPRESS to help advertisers tell the difference between trustworthy news sites and purveyors of fake news and clickbait.

Throughout the day, speakers and delegates swapped stories about new initiatives. There was an emphasis on solutions, and a lot of positive energy. But no-one can overestimate the challenges facing the independent sector. Mar Cabra described the burnout she experienced after the Panama Papers project, and said that journalists should be careful not to put too much pressure on themselves. Looking around the room, I saw many people nodding their heads in agreement.

At IMPRESS, we are already working hard to protect publishers from risk. With the Public Interest News Foundation, we aim to build on this platform by directing new forms of support – funding, professional development and capacity-building – into the independent news sector.

We look forward to working with you on our plans. And we look forward to hearing from you about next year’s conference and our other events. Who wasn’t included in this year’s event who should be on a future panel? What topics didn’t we cover that we should be talking about? Get in touch.

Jonathan Heawood