03 Nov 2017
Why we're doing Publish.org and how you can help
A few years ago I spent some time sitting with the news desk at The Guardian. I was trying to understand the process a little better so I could recommend ways we could apply some of the fantastic technology resources in the building to improve things.
The experience gave me some ideas that led to what we're doing at Publish.org now.
The most eye-opening thing for me was seeing how much goes into producing the stories every day. As readers that process is totally invisible to us.
We don't know about all the stories that weren't good enough to get published. We don't know about the interrogation Guardian editors give reporters and each other with every piece. We don't know about the context brought through from deep knowledge of a beat, the history of a story and the framing for it amongst all the other things being published. We don't know about the checks and balances, the policies and routines, and the standards that professional journalists have built up over the years. And we don't know about all the people involved in a story ensuring it meets those standards.
It's so easy for anyone to put words on a page on the Internet and to make it look the same as any other news web site that the casual observer just doesn't know the difference anymore.
Adding to the problem for us as observers is the fact that the process closed and rigid. Editors protect the process because it works. Great journalism is very hard. And the process I saw delivers great results. But in today's connected world this kind of process could be opened up in ways that could make it even better and certainly more accessible to people who are hungry to be part of the journalism community.
What would an open news desk for the Internet look like?
We tried a version of the idea at The Guardian with crowdfunding cooked into the model. We called it Contributoria. It was mostly successful, actually, but having a corporate owner looking for short term ROI was an impossible position for a community platform. Plus, they already had one of the best news desks in the world.
So, we closed it down, left The Guardian and started over completely, this time as an independent nonprofit with a much longer term view on this challenge.
Now we can genuinely put the community first. We have to. It's codified in the structure of the organization. And we can make it better even though the core intent is the same.
What we're building at Publish.org is the Internet's news desk.
The whole point is to make quality journalism possible at a global scale by creating a process that is both open to a community that wants journalism to succeed and also organized to maintain high standards. It's not about left or right or any agenda. It's about enabling journalism for the benefit of everyone.
Of course, being nonprofit doesn't mean we don't have to make money. We can't operate without money. Being nonprofit means that our profits, or rather "surplus funds", get reinvested back into the community we serve.
The more we collect, the better journalism will be served.
We raised €160,000 so far this year which we have used to build the core platform and to start paying journalists.
Next year we are going to need €300,000. I've posted about that over here if you want to know more about the financial plan.
The other thing you can do, whether you've joined or not, is to introduce us to your friends and peers. Send an email. Post on Facebook. Tell us who we should reach out to.
Every contribution is critical to our ability to operate.
We are aware that we aren't the only journalism outlet looking for your support. We genuinely hope that you are supporting others, too. Journalism needs as much support as it can get.
We hope you support Publish.org because you value professional journalism and that you want to make that process accessible to more people. Help us to distribute some of the best things about the traditional news room into the wild open Internet for the benefit of everyone.
13 Oct 2017
Press release: Publish.org launches European Union peer review journalism project
The online peer review journalism platform Publish.org has launched a project to explore issues around the European Union using a new and innovative open community newsroom.
Journalists are being invited to pitch pieces of original journalism which will disclose new insights into how change happens - or could happen - in the European Union.
Editor Sarah Hartley said the initiative was open to journalists working in the EU and beyond.
"From a UK perspective, the coverage of the EU has become moribund and obsessed with Brexit. We hope that by opening up this space to writers from across Europe and elsewhere, we’ll get to see a different, more vibrant and enlightening view on the institution as well as scrutiny of its impact on citizens."
Publish.org has been operating in a beta phase with invited members for several months now. This project marks the first major step towards the organisation’s goal of opening up the journalistic process and helping to restore public trust in news production.
CEO Matt McAlister said: "People talk about editorial transparency, but what does that mean? We think it’s about putting peer review at the heart of how stories get produced, inviting a community into the journalism process itself. This EU project will be a great demonstration of that."
Stories put forward for consideration of publication will be peer reviewed by the editor of The New European newspaper Matt Kelly and Professor in Journalism, Groningen University, owner of Media52 Bart Brouwers along with the Publish.org editorial board and members of the online community at the platform.
Can you contribute to public understanding of how the EU has changed to be in its current form and how it might develop in the future? Maybe you could expose the way global histories and individual personalities give the EU its current shape? Or interview visionary politicians or community leaders with bold ideas for the change that’s necessary to tackle pressing issues on an international scale?
Journalists: Please read the full commissioning brief here and join Publish.org to submit your pitch to this project.
Publish.org is a non-profit for quality open journalism. It is a Community Interest Company based in the UK. The team is building the platform to foster a global community of people committed to supporting and creating great journalism together. To make a donation visit https://publish.org/donate.
Notes to editors:
22 Sep 2017
We have started inviting people to try Publish.org
Recently we sent out our first invitations for people to test Publish.org. If you didn't receive an invitation don't worry. We won't forget you. More invitations are on the way soon.
Here's what's happening for early testers:
- We've posted some commissions (with real money behind them!), and freelance journalists are pitching story ideas in response. The Publish.org Editorial Board will award a few winning pitches, and then we'll see writers submitting their work for review and edited by the community prior to publication.
- We also want independent journalists to use Publish.org to pitch original ideas and to post stories they are working on even if commission funding is not available. So, we are testing how all that works, too.
- Lastly, the first pieces of the peer review system are functioning, and we want to test how that works when real people start using it.
Of course, all that's assuming we've made the obvious stuff work correctly, too, like setting up your profile and the right content appears in the right place and all the links go to the right places.
Open workflow systems like this have a lot of moving parts which might not be apparent to the community operating it. But that's the point. It should all feel easy and fun to use for everyone.
We owe a huge thank you to the Founding Members who have donated already and made it possible for us to build this new platform and to offer these commissions for independent journalism.
As a nonprofit we are dependent on your support - the combination of member donations, grants and partnerships are helping us to change the way journalism gets made. We can't do that without you.
We're not ready to announce how much we've raised, but let's just say it's nearly as much as two hundred thousand things that are worth $1 each. ;)
If you haven't donated yet, please consider it and encourage your friends to donate, too.
And look out for your invitation to test Publish.org.
10 Aug 2017
Building credibility into the editorial process
In these times of mistrust in journalism, the challenge to find ways of measuring journalistic integrity is something many are grappling with. At Publish.org, we’ve been thinking about the way we respond to the issue as we work on building out our new journalism platform.
Starting from scratch like this has many advantages and freedoms but the flipside is being an unknown quantity in terms of how trustable, credible and authentic our journalism will be seen to be. We think the independence of the journalist, along with being very transparent about the editorial process, could be a vital step towards earning that public trust.
We know that we’ll need to work hard to ensure the credibility of our editorial is built right into the platform as well as providing members of our community with the necessary tools to reward and promote quality work. We’re looking at two elements in addressing this challenge 1. Identifying those ‘signals’ to what we mean when we talk about ‘quality’ editorial and 2. The ability to translate some of those signals into an easy, interactive way for an active Publish.org editorial community to review articles.
Of course we’re not alone in considering these issues and we are encouraged in our work by the contribution of academics in this field, in particular the work of Frederic Filloux.
He has identified ten signals to editorial quality which include: Word count, authors, level of reviewers, editing and multimedia enhancement.
While useful identifiers, these signals do come with a caveat. He makes the point that "none of the ten indicators stated above can reliably convey a notion of quality. It is their combination that holds a hope of leading to a decent measure of editorial quality. These signals are interdependent: each validates/corrects/confirms others in a checks and balances system."
In attempting to build a useable way for such identifiers to feature in the experience of our new journalism platform, we know that some (many in fact) can form part of the user design, be a built part of the very fabric of the site. For example, the date of creation and the author would, as you’d expect, be automated into all proposed articles. Some other aspects can also simply be dealt with by rules eg. the commissioning of articles will make word count explicit in the brief for writers.
But there will always be those aspects which require more regular human interventions and judgements. Where those occur, we need to make the decision making process a fairly light-touch experience. Even the most ardent and altruistic of fact checkers isn’t going to want to complete multiple surveys in order to improve the site’s output, over and over.
Keeping things brief, but always meaningful
First Draft must also have faced this challenge when they came up with the tool to crowdsource verification checks. While their output differs from ours in that their only concern is authenticity, the principle of testing a piece of content to a set of rules makes it a similar enough solution to consider.
In the First Draft case, verification checks could easily have run to several pages of documentation but they managed to boil everything down to this handy Chrome extension checklist making it both easy to use and interactive.
The checklist prompts the user to examine:
- Whether a piece of content is original
- Who created the content
- Where the content was created
- When the content was created
The tool is designed so that users can embed the image or video in a website and place the results of the checklist alongside allowing other users to understand how trustworthy the piece of content is by seeing the verification checks clearly outlined.
It’s a neat way forward, but having an extension tool wouldn’t suit our needs as we need to have the experience baked right into the Publish.org platform as it’s part of an entire editorial process rather than an end result in its own right.
So what we’ve come up with is a similar, short series of questions but they will be presented at the bottom of each proposed article. Members of our community can simply use it as a checklist in an evaluation of the article.
The community use of the poll will work in two ways. 1. Helping to assess the quality of the articles for the benefit of the reader and the writer and 2. Establishing the individual’s role as a valuable reviewer at Publish.org. This means an additional layer of quality distinction around reviewers will also, over time, become part of the fabric of the platform as well.
For internal site testing purposes we’ve come up with the following four questions in an attempt to assess the quality of the work on offer:
- Does the article cover the Six Ws (What, Who, Where, When, Why, How)?
- Is the standard of writing good?
- Does it offer a fresh viewpoint of the subject?
- Are the sources reliable?
Now, as we prepare to share the platform more widely, we’re looking at whether those are the most pertinent questions we should be asking and we’re inviting your help in this.
There are many questions remaining. For example, does having a yes/no response allow for enough nuance or would a scale of response make the measure more meaningful? While the questions do need to be ‘non-expert’ in nature in order that any member of our community can participate, they should also be ‘expert’ enough to winkle out enough information about those signals to quality. Do these questions fulfill that goal?
What are we missing? We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this here...
04 May 2017
Designing the Publish.org service – part 3
This is the third of my posts on the Publish.org design process. We previously covered research,tasks, interaction and visual design. Now we're onto the next step.
Prototype design and production
By now, we knew what we were going to make, a rough idea of how people could participate with Publish.org, and how the site/service would look and feel. It was time to make a prototype that will let people try out certain parts of the service, and give us feedback on their experiences. I also plan to run some observational testing – watching people use the prototype, and see where things can be improved.
We brought on an experienced designer/developer, the excellent Rich Jones to build a component library, that would allow us to assemble all the screens we’ll need quickly and efficiently. A component library acts a bit like a model kit, letting Dan put together different combinations of elements (e.g. a block of text, some buttons, and a photograph) to make a web page. It will also allow us to respond quickly to outcomes from user testing of the prototype, and reorganise elements or build brand new pages, without having to go back to the drawing board.
We want to see how people react to the different parts of the service. Writing pitches, posting drafts of early work, conducting peer review on each other’s work – all of this contributes to a system that allows for the collaborative, transparent production of journalism, that keeps journalists in control of their work, but with insights and support from the Publish community.
So now, we’re in the final stages of preparing the prototype, before inviting people to come and try it out. Design is a constant process; it’s never ‘finished’. I’m really excited about the next stage – putting the prototype in people’s hands, seeing how they use it, and making improvements before our ‘official’ launch in June.
02 May 2017
Designing the Publish.org service – part 2
This is the second of my posts on the Publish.org design process. We previously covered research and tasks. Now it's time for more detailed work.
Interaction and visual design
Whilst Dan was away putting all the plumbing in place for an early version of Publish.org to function, I focused on individual task flows. How will pitching an article work, and what will people need to understand, to be able to do that? How will someone change their profile picture? How should someone be able to find all journalism on a given subject? I used the work we produced as a team to inform this more detailed interaction work, sketching out each task step-by-step.
During this process, I was also thinking a lot about the overall visual feel of Publish.org – how should the visual design support the service? How can it encourage people to participate in the Publish.org community, and read (or eventually, watch or listen to) the journalism created here? I spent time researching lots of news sites, online publishers and other outlets. I’m a huge fan of de Correspondent’s slick, stylish art direction, and also The Outline’s daring, bold visual style. They couldn’t be much further apart in their approach, but they’re both really interesting sites, and helped form my thinking for Publish.org.
Publish.org is an inclusive, professional community for creating journalism. It requires a design that encourages collaboration and gives the journalism authority. It’s early days, and I have big plans for the future of the creative direction of journalism produced through Publish.org – but for now, even at prototype stage, I want the creation and consumption of journalism to feel credible. We’re not just testing isolated interactions; we’re testing the spirit of what Publish.org is about.
We already had the core brand designed, and I expanded this to create a design system that was consistent and clear, without losing the inclusive, independent, authoritative tone Publish.org carries. This covered everything from the visual style of site components, the wording of buttons and messages, and how photography would be used, to graphics for use on social media, the design of emails, etc.
Once we had these principles in place, it was time to make the prototype. I’ll cover this in my next post.
28 Apr 2017
Designing the Publish.org service – part 1
We’ve spent the last few months thinking about the design of Publish.org. My definition of ‘design’ is very broad in these early stages – what problems we are solving for people, what it is we want to achieve, how we operate as an organisation, etc. This is still evolving, and as the work progresses, we are still questioning, thinking and deciding.
Preparatory design work – research, concept, and tasks
We started the whole process by conducting interviews with freelance journalists from a variety of backgrounds. We wanted to understand their day-to-day work, how they manage their business, what’s good about the job, and what problems they face. The recurring themes we discovered were not with journalism itself, but the business side of things. Getting paid on time, pitching to the right person in an organisation, lack of feedback and clarity on the selection of pitches.
We used this to inform our thinking and devise a system that would address these issues, and let journalists focus on actual journalism. We drew up some ‘personas’ (a design tool that forces people to think about people using a service, rather than unduly biasing the process with your own views and experiences). Then as a cross-disciplinary team (design, development, editorial and business), we used them to map out how different types of people could use Publish.org to achieve their aims. The whole point of this process is to put people at the centre of the design, and also highlight the technical and organisational things that need to be in place, to ensure this happens. Normally we would all do this in a room with lots of sticky notes, but as a distributed team, we did this with an online brainstorming service called Stormboard
This helped myself as the designer, and Dan as the engineer, prioritise important tasks and build an early version of the service. Dan needed to spend a lot of time preparing the back-end systems (account creation, pitching and commissioning, payment systems, peer review, etc), so I then got on with more detailed interaction design as well as art direction. I’ll cover the approach to this more detailed design phase in my next post.
15 Mar 2017
Donate today and become a 'Founding Member' of Publish.org
The Publish.org team is pleased to announce that we are now accepting donations.
You are invited to become a 'Founding Member' and support our ambitions to provide a new way for open journalism to thrive. Everyone can join this community and make journalism that is truthful, fair and ethical together.
We are in the process of building the tools which journalists need and we will be ready to launch them to the public in the coming months - tools to help discussion of early work, peer review and fact checking, as well as making the pitching process simpler and clearer for journalists.
But first we plan to start showing the platform and the tools to early supporters who join up as ‘Founding Members’.
“This is one of my favourite moments in a new business, when the plans start to become real,” said Matt McAlister, Publish.org CEO. “We have very exciting and ambitious ideas for the platform and the community it will serve. More support will help us to build something amazing and make Publish.org as impactful as the name implies.”
If you’d like to come on this journey to support open journalism, please make a donation today. Supporters donating today will also be included on a permanent acknowledgements page on Publish.org.
Thank you for your support,
The Publish.org Team
09 Jan 2017
We've started development now thanks to support from OSF
Why would anyone put money behind a new approach to supporting open independent journalism back in early 2016?
Crowdfunding platforms for journalism were closing shop. Brexit and Trump were still merely subplots in the media hivemind. And fake news was just a pesky buzz in people's ears.
Everything was fine, right?
Except everything wasn't fine.
We knew this. Everyone who cared about journalism knew this.
And only a small number of foundations committed to the future of independent voices were willing to back new ideas that might give journalism the means to thrive the way it should.
But we persevered and eventually found a partner who could make Publish.org possible.
Yes, Publish.org is on!
Thanks to the support of Open Society Foundations we are now ready to kick things off and to start building. We've been doing research talking to some of you, and we had a big planning session this week.
Development is starting today!
Just like our previous work at Contributoria we will have lots of ways for people to get involved. There's a reason we're using a .org domain.
We'll start sharing our plans, too. For now, we just wanted to say, "we're back!" and to thank you for your patience.
We didn't intend to stay so quiet for so long. If we had the steering wheel for the year that was 2016 we would've taken it down a very different path. But here we are now with an idea, a plan, some financial support and all of you to help us create a healthier and longer-lasting life for independent journalism.
The future is looking very bright indeed.
Matt, Sarah, Dan and Dean
18 Nov 2015
What we're doing, and how we'll get there
We're thrilled to be sharing our progress with you, as we build Publish.org.
The first step in starting up this new organisation was to get a great domain, establish a new visual identity and set up a home page on the Internet where people could sign up.
This is just the beginning, and we’ll keep posting updates like this as we build this exciting new business.
What may not be obvious from the outside is that before we could do the stuff you've seen already we had to decide what kind of company we wanted to be. The team had only a couple of short discussions about that because we spent the last two years working together on something you may already know about. It was called Contributoria. We knew exactly what we wanted Publish.org to be.
The mission here is simple - to support journalism in the world.
That's all that matters. As long as we're meeting that aim then Publish.org is successful, as far as we're concerned.
So, how do we get started?
The first question to resolve before we could choose a name for the company was about money. We will make more than we spend over time, but what should we do with the profits?
We all felt strongly that the point in making money in journalism is to pay for more journalism. So, we set up the company as a nonprofit. And we chose a .org instead of a .com.
Luckily, we were able to buy Publish.org, and now here we are.
Publish.org will be a UK-based Community Interest Company or C.I.C., similar to a B-Corp in the US but with more stringent requirements on reinvestment. As a CIC, up to about one third of the organisation's operating surplus can be used in traditional ways such as paying dividends to shareholders. But the other two thirds of "profits" must be reinvested into the community we serve. The company's assets are held in what they call an "asset lock".
Everything we do is to support journalism, and our company structure codifies that in law. The community is the only "shareholder" that matters to us.
We've been asked by our friends and families what's different about Publish.org. Our ownership structure is the big difference, so far.
We are not owned by traditional media. There are no investors to please or exit strategies to worry about. We can always put the community first. In fact, we are obligated to do what's right for the community. We have a lot of ideas on how to go about doing that.
We're going to apply things we learned doing Contributoria and do them better. We will work with sponsors to support topic coverage. And we will work with more media outlets to distribute stories. We also have some ideas about incubating and spinning out for-profit companies that share our mission. There are a lot of ways to support journalism in the world.
We're going to fund all this exciting activity by working with foundations that care about journalism as much as we do. We're also going to raise money from our community. We will be seeking donations through crowdfunding campaigns and membership drives.
It's an ambitious plan, but our mission is big and it deserves some ambitious action.
Spread the word
We are starting from scratch here, and it will help us a lot to have a connected community of people who care about journalism to talk to when we have things we want to talk about.
So, please, tell people to keep an eye out for Publish.org. Share our posts on Facebook. Forward our emails to your friends and family. Help us create the community you want to be a member of.
Thank you for your ongoing support.
Matt, Sarah, Dan, and Dean