Sniffing Out News, With Ferret

According to the Press Gazette the Scottish referendum and resurgence of Scottish nationalism has led to a decline in the popularity of the UK national press north of the border, which has helped to build a flourishing environment for local online news startups.

The Daily Mirror lost 19 per cent of its circulation in Scotland between September 2014 and May 2015 (compared with 8.4 per cent elsewhere), the Sunday People 17.2 per cent (compared with 13.9 per cent elsewhere) and the i newspaper was down 8.1 per cent (compared with 2 per cent elsewhere). Six national newspapers have performed better in Scotland than elsewhere over this period – The Sun titles (which backed the SNP in their Scottish editions), Sunday Express, Daily Star and home-grown titles the Daily Record and Sunday Mail (which have circulations of 7-8,000 outside of Scotland). Meanwhile, Scotland has seen a boom in web-only news operations in recent years.

Amongst the slew of media startups is Ferret. Described by Mădălina Ciobanu of Journalism uk as ‘Scotland’s first investigative journalism platform’ it launched last week. Led by a small team of journalists and developers, Ferret will initially be crowd funded and are currently seeking support for their first investigation, which will be into fracking (as decided upon after consulting supporters on a selection of topics). The publication aims to be subscription funded in the future, and is setting itself up as a co-operative organisation with subscribers built into the ownership and the decision making process.

Ciobanu says Ferret is part of a revival of local investigative journalism, supported by an involved readership:

The Northern Correspondent and The Bristol Cable both launched in 2014 as a crowdfunded alternative, and sites like Contributoria and Beacon Reader allow individual journalists to put their ideas forward to be supported by readers. Elsewhere, Dutch startup De Correspondent broke a world record in crowdfunded journalism in 2013 when it raised $1.7 million to focus on specific topics, involving readers in the process.

Severin Carrell of The Guardian believes platforms like Ferret are needed to reverse ‘a sharp fall in investigative reporting by traditional news media in Scotland’. The team will be led by experienced investigative reporters Rob Edwards, Peter Geoghegan and Billy Briggs, a social justice specialist Rachel Hamada and designer Jo Skinner. In an interview with Carrell, the team explains their motivation and ambition to bring something new to Scottish digital news;

“Investigative journalism is not only in decline, but it comes at a cost. What we want to find out is whether people are willing to pay for that. Obviously we’re hopeful the answer is yes,” Edwards explained. “It is clearly not the case that investigative journalism is dead; it’s just faltering. “The thing that really motivates me is I really worry about the journalists of the future. This is about trying to find a sustainable model to fund journalism in the digital age, not beholden to any corporation.” Geoghegan adds: “What we want to do is tell stories differently, to use the internet in more innovative and novel ways in Scotland.” The Ferret defines itself as pursuing public-interest journalism, he said.