The internet has empowered both journalists and readers

The internet has empowered both journalists and readers
Presentation by Ewen MacAskill, Defence and Security Correspondent, The Guardian at the SEE Media Observatory conference in Tirana.
I know it goes against the grain of what you were saying at this conference but I think there has never been a better time to be a journalist or a reader.
Central regional conference of the SEE Media Observatory:
“Media and journalism in South East Europe – Captured by particular interests or turning to serve the public?”
Tirana, 12-13 June 2014
Session 6External view and context: are media integrity problems a regional or wider problem?
Presentation by speaker: Ewen MacAskill, Defence and Security Correspondent, The Guardian
I have been a journalist on the Guardian for almost 20 years.  I don’t know much about the Balkans.  I was in Bosnia and Croatia in the 90s after the conflicts were over and in Kosovo at the start of this century.  I learned enough in that short time to know that being a journalist in this region is much tougher than anything I have to face.  There are poor working conditions, corruption and physical danger.  It was bleak what you said this morning about pay and censorship.  Making the point, one of the delegates said: “You can have a job and be silent, or not be paid and have freedom.”  It is not my experience.  I am almost embarrassed to say I enjoy good working conditions and have total freedom at the paper to write what I want.
But there are problems we have in common.  One of the speakers on the panel spoke about pressure on media freedom is a worldwide problem.  I worked on the Edward Snowden story. I met him in Hong Kong along with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and wrote stories based on the top secret documents he gave us.  Britain has a reputation for press freedom but the Snowden stories showed how fragile that freedom is.  
Snowden and Press Freedom. There was a threat to close down our reporting through a legal injunction.  One of those involved, David Miranda, was held at Heathrow under a terrorism law.  Two intelligence officials came to the Guardian office to supervise the destruction of the hard drives from the computers on which the Snowden stories had been stored and stories written.  The documents had to be moved too from our office in New York because the British government said that although it was in America, the Guardian office still fell under British law.  In the end, we had to store them in an office in the New York Times, a sort of British journalistic embassy.  The New York Times staff were hospitable but it is still embarrassing for me as a British journalist to have to go there to report a story.  
There was one good thing to emerge.  One of the panel spoke about the need for journalists to adopt a “transnational” approach.  I agree.  By working together across borders, it gives us more power.  One of the most moving points of the whole episode was that editors from more than 30 major news organisations around the world sent messages of solidarity to the Guardian.
The Guardian Model.  We do not have any owners.  We are run by a Trust.  The family who owned the Guardian in a rare act of generosity on the part of newspaper owners established the Trust in the 1920s.  We cannot be sold on the market.  That leaves us free to write because we have no Rupert Murdoch or other owners.   We lose around £30 million a year but are subsidised by other companies that the Guardian Media Group owns and which can be bought and sold. Digital revenue is growing but it is slow.  We are trying to establish a Guardian community.  Groups and businesses that want to be identified with the brand.  Individuals are offered courses in cooking, photography, journalism and other subjects.  Another option being explored is money from philanthropic foundations to support individual reporting projects, something that is increasingly common in the US.
Press Regulation.   This is no longer working in Britain.  The Press Complaints Commission has lost credibility.  Many papers are joining its successor, the Independent Press Standards Organisation(IPSO).  But the Financial Times and Guardian have so far refused to join.  The Guardian sees IPSO as basically the same as the discredited Press Complaints Commission, which failed to control the excesses of the tabloid papers, notably intrusions into privacy and refusing to investigate phone-hacking.  One argument within the Guardian is whether to look at an international body rather than a purely UK one.
Individual Journalists.  There is still a need for big newsrooms, ones that can throw resources at a story.  But individual reporters can make a difference.  The Guardian’s Nick Davies pursued the phone-hacking story.  In the US, there are lots of investigative reporters subsidised by foundations. 
Optimism.  I am optimistic about the future of journalism.  The internet has empowered both journalists and readers.   If I write something that is factually wrong or that a reader thinks is biased, he or she can respond within seconds.  I like that.   The old-style of journalism while often great was also often bad.  Journalists travelling from the US or Western Europe round the world, staying in a hotel for a few days, soaking up information from local journalists, speaking to local officials and the odd dissident, and then writing a ‘definitive’ piece on the region.  Today, the internet allows readers around the world to view the reports of local journalists, the people who know.  Anyone can write and blog.  And some of those make it into the mainstream media, voices that would not otherwise have been heard. 
The old lines have gone.  I did the Snowden story with Glenn.  Critics say he is not a journalist: he is a blogger or activist. Rubbish.  He is a journalist the same as me.  Also with us was Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker.  We worked together as a team, our different skills complementing one another.
One of the best things I did last year was working with an American interactive editor, Gabe Dance, who designed NSA Decoded, which is where journalism is headed.  NSA Decoded interviews embedded in the text, and maps and data and other ways to make the story more understandable.  Young people who might not have read 5,000 words of text in traditional form stayed on it for 15 minutes or more. 
The loss of advertising has left many papers struggling. But the internet has seen the emergence of lots of new ones too.  Bloomberg News, the Huffington Post, Reddit did not exist two decades ago.  There is room for lots of new web-only companies. 
I know it goes against the grain of what you were saying this morning but I think there has never been a better time to be a journalist or a reader.
Media Integrity