Category Archives: Blog

Cairncross Review: Can local journalism be saved?

Newspaper journalism

Newspaper journalism is under threat

The Cairncross Review from the United Kingdom government1 has been taking evidence on the future of “high-quality journalism”.

Though the review is deeply problematic because it lacks working reporters on the advisory panel, and because they don’t define their starting point for “high-quality journalism”, I believe it was important to include my voice.

Read the submission to the Cairncross Review

Reporters are the workers on the ground largely ignored in government inquiries and commissions, televised debates on regulation or ethics, or Twitter arguments between politicians and columnists. We are the ones most often cut by rounds of redundancies, blamed for falling circulations, and directly confronted by members of the public online or in person.

If there is to be any discussion of the future of “high-quality journalism”, you must consult those who do it day in and day out, not merely their employers, campaigners for enforced regulation, celebrities seeking revenge or over-paid columnists.

This is a personal statement only and may not be representative of the beliefs of any current or former employer.

Summary of Recommendations


If the government considers any financial levers, they should include a specific mandate for reporting staff to regularly deliver training and instruction at every grade level of school. This must be immune from standardised testing and instead focus on the vocation of producing and understanding journalism.


Any government funding should include the introduction of citizens’ juries for journalistic accountability. Existing funding to communications offices and press officers must include an end to anonymity for those giving statements to the press and public.


Funding can be provided to deliver office space in the communities we report on. These spaces need to be public, accessible, safe, inviting and local.

Government inquiries, reviews and commissions into journalism are not new. The Leveson Inquiry was as massive as its recognition of the digital world was almost non-existent. It was 10 years late and its conclusions pointless in a world that is moving on from print.

If the Cairncross Review is to be worth more than the cost of expenses for panel members, for the cost of printing final reports, for the space it will take gathering dust on shelves, then it must do something new: it must listen to reporters, to subs, to photographers. It must listen to those who are still working and those who have left the profession, not the publishers who have driven them from it.

I cannot guarantee the survival of my local paper, nor those I have worked for in my career. But I can assure you the majority of the journalism of those papers was high-quality. And its producers will remember that.

  1. Cairncross Review call for evidence, last accessed September 16, 2018

Factual sovereignty: The end of reporting, history and discourse?

INSTEAD of the world being “post-truth” or politicians claiming “alternative facts”, what’s happening is declarations of “factual sovereignty”.

I proposed this notion to explain how individuals know what is “true” about others, about the news of the day, and how reporters should confront it.

At the London Conference in Critical Thought 2017, I acknowledged journalism is at the heart of the “post-fact moment”, blamed by the public and political leaders.

Many outlets have blurred the lines between fact and comment and their relative value.

Instead of considering the current situation as a devaluing of facts, it is a rampant assertion of individuality, of interpreting feelings or “gut sense” as “truth”.

Your own factual sovereignty allows an individual to make treaties or war with others or even oppose previous personal positions because they are a sovereign entity determining facts.

Factual sovereignty also turns the definitions of subjectivity and objectivity inside out, with your own person “truth” beyond question by anyone else.

A vision of the factual sovereignty multiverse. Graphic by Liam Pollock. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

And rather than a post-fact moment, it creates a post-singular-fact moment and a virtual string theory of multiple and co-existing facts – a multiverse. At its most extreme, lies, hypocrisy, law and order, hate and love all become impossible.

As everyone declares factual sovereignty, the result is fear, the root of bigotry, racism, sexism and any other-ism where individuals decide the existential facts by which others live.

The solution which must come from journalism and more widely is diplomacy: mediation and peacebuilding. Only through being able to understand the position of others, the factual shoes in which they claim to stand, can a virtual United Nations of agreed facts re-emerge.

For too long, journalism has been, yes, subjective – driven by ourselves as the subject or by the building up or tearing down of another person as the subject. The new objectivity should, instead, mean our goal: to be mediators, and communicators, ethically and factually.

If it takes years of one-to-one treaty making to repair the damage wrought by millions of clicks of opinion pretending to be reporting, then that is the task lying before journalism. The need will only get greater.

Read the full factual sovereignty paper.

Are you willing to see journalism wed mediation?


Resolution, by artist in residence Jason Skinner. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

Journalism has to change – this is something I’ve argued for years and tried to put into practice since launching Tomorrow.

One of those changes is in the way we react to stories of conflict in the community. Sometimes we report on the fights, sometimes we ignore arguing neighbours. But instead, what we could do, is be mediators.

Huh? Reporters solving disputes? That usually gets a chuckle. But it is no great stretch of the imagination because we do it all the time.

North American journalism has seen the rise of the concept of “solutions journalism” while local papers around the world routinely make calls on behalf of the “afflicted”, with a call from the press frequently resolving a problem before it ever makes it to print or to broadcast.

I wrote mediation into the core principles of Tomorrow because I believe journalism can more proactively help people solve problems. I took an introductory training course with Sacro1 in 2015 and am even more firmly convinced the two spheres are complementary.

But the Mediate 2015 conference2 in Scotland raises further questions beyond initial ones for the practicality. Two issues in particular apply to journalism and the goals of this site: theory and power.

Read our news coverage of the Mediate 2015

The first is, like mediation, Tomorrow is founded on principles and core beliefs that define journalism and its practice. But, theory “is not your sales pitch”, as Professor Elizabeth Stokoe told the conference.3 Tomorrow practices what it preaches, but that doesn’t yet mean readers understand or value both. This extends to trying to explain how mediation would work within and alongside journalism, something I will continue my work to develop as a theory but more importantly practice.

The second issue is power. Language is the biggest one perhaps, and as Dr Tamara Relis4 told the conference, it is one aspect of lawyers operating in “parallel worlds” to people hoping to resolve disputes through mediation.

And her language used to describe this problem was equally from a position – an academic one – of power.

She said: “In contrast, the litigants, who are most often paying for these services – who are, at least theoretically those that the civil justice system is there to serve, to assist, – in contrast to the professional actors, are predominantly unsophisticated in litigation and mediation and thus do not know in advance what they should be doing or what they can be doing during the processing of these cases, which in my examples are life altering cases.”

In the news coverage of the conference, I trimmed that quote down to its base level, because the original is a dense description of a dense legal language and system. It has to be unpacked twice. I have the power to report, accurately, but the responsibility to report in a way that will engage anyone, regardless of their background.

Reporters are in positions of power – we are educated and trained to arranged words to tell stories, and those have power. We have access to situations, locations and experiences many others wouldn’t. There are already types of power dynamics in any mediation, so for journalism to insert itself into the process makes it even more complicated and potentially dangerous.

But is a marriage of mediation and journalism worth pursuing? Yes. Because the alternative is one of standing only to the sidelines to observe. We don’t do that anyway, with columnists telling communities what to believe and how to vote, and with approaches such as solutions journalism, where we tell readers, listeners or viewers the way to solve problems. We are in the heart of communities but we frequently assume that means we know best. Mediation means the community knows best and then journalism could, in many cases, report that.

Prof Stokoe said the word “willing” most often got people from “no” to “yes” about the potential for mediation. So, are you willing to consider how reporters could solve problems in communities? Are you willing to help us balance our power and that of others? And are you willing to view journalism in new ways? I hope there is power in these theories.

  1. Completed mediation skills (40 hours) course delivered by Scottish Community Mediation Centre and awarded five credits at SCQF Level 6. The centre is part of Sacro (Safeguarding communities – reducing offending).
  2. Original conference website.
  3. Wired talk from November 2015 of similar but shortened content to that of the conference
  4. Website listing some of Dr Relis’s publications.

Scots law for most vulnerable hides behind closed doors

LSA website

Screen grab of LSA website. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

A major annual “conference” is taking place in Glasgow, UK, next month, covering how UK and Scots law affect the disadvantaged in Scotland.

Legal Services Agency’s (LSA) 26th annual conference, “Protecting Fundamental Rights in Scotland”1 will cover human rights, campaigning, housing, mental health and human trafficking – all areas of considerable concern to government and campaigners and affecting some of the most vulnerable in society.

But despite the importance of these subjects, reporters are not allowed to attend.

The LSA, promoting, the event states:

This year’s annual conference aims to discuss what is next for protecting fundamental rights in Scotland and what effects this may have on social welfare law, and some of society’s most vulnerable people, in Scotland.

“The day is intended to give an opportunity, through plenary sessions and workshops, to look at most, if not all, of the areas of concern to those in disadvantage in Scotland.”

Who is the conference for? The summary explains:

“This conference is for everybody who is interested in tackling the unmet legal needs of those in disadvantage in general and in particular the areas of law covered by LSA and partner organisations. If you are interested in mental health and incapacity law, housing, asylum and humanitarian protection and human rights, this is the event for you. The conference is aimed at updating everybody’s technical knowledge, promoting discussion and in particular working out the issues for the future and how they should be tackled. The conference will be of key interest to solicitors, advocates, advice workers, WROs, policy makers and community activists.”

Speakers include Lord Wallace of Tankerness, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords and a former deputy First Minister of Scotland. He will be speaking on “the forthcoming proposals in the UK Parliament”. Other speakers include LSA solicitors, Glasgow University lecturers, Glasgow City Council housing staff, housing association staff, homelessness campaigners, and a director of Amnesty International.

A member of the House of Lords is paid by the taxpayer. Council officials are paid by the taxpayer. Most cases involving society’s most vulnerable don’t pay except through legal aid – again, covered entirely by the taxpayer. Under both Tomorrow’s principles of championing accountability and openness, what happens on the public purse matters.

I asked to report on the “conference” via a private Twitter exchange. I was told:

Hi Tristan, Just had a meeting with CEO. Unfortunately he has said we don’t really do spaces specifically for reporters. We work on Chatham House rules (sic) and value the ability for our speakers to be able to speak freely at our events. Really sorry about that, it is of course open for you to just come in your personal capacity!”

Chatham House rule,2 created in 1927, states:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

Now, the identities of speakers are already public on the website. They are individuals in positions of privilege and power and they are sometimes the last hope the most vulnerable in society have of achieving justice, protection from the state or private parties, or help when they most need it. These are issues of profound public interest affecting thousands of people in Scotland and beyond. Scots law and wider UK law is changing and debate about how new rules are implemented is crucial to understanding the actions and choices of politicians who enact them.

Without an understanding of the law by the general public, they are in positions of even more vulnerability because they are at the mercy of professionals who hold all the cards of distinct language, procedure, privilege, etc. Those professionals may be acting in the best interests of clients, but the clients will still have to place trust in those professionals because they have no background from which to ask questions or raise concerns. The role of the press is to provide information, however superficial sometimes, of what might affect any individual in the community. That includes, especially, the law.

Solicitor friends have argued these events must be closed to reporting because lawyers may discuss individual cases to help learn best practices, etc. A professional reporter could not quote a half-detailed legal case anyway – quite apart from possible legal issues if vulnerable individuals are involved, a good reporter doesn’t relay half a story when they can’t confirm facts such as a person’s identity, when the case took place, the outcome, etc. This is, in fact, one of the main reasons immigration cases don’t get reported in the UK, because their outcomes are sent in private to clients, not read out in open court. Any attending reporter is left with half a story, so they wouldn’t bother.

The issue is whether solicitors would speak “frankly” about cases or the law if they knew a reporter was attending. That would generally be the case with any situation – it is why reporters attend government hearings, courts, war zones and anything in between.

Do reporters get to go anywhere and everywhere? No. One form of journalism, usually self-declared “guerrilla journalism” involves frequently undercover and aggressive projects on subjects considered to be hidden. Other outlets talk of “adversarial journalism”.

In the case of the immigration courts and tribunals, almost universally ignored by the press, I take an approach of reporting and pushing for greater openness. That doesn’t require hidden cameras or being confrontational, in my view.

In the case of this “conference”, I asked to attend. Reporters generally do not and should not pay to attend events, whereby money goes to the organising body. We should remain as distinct observers. So attending and paying in a “personal capacity” but not allowed to report is pointless and absurd. It ensures the law remains in the hands of those with power, in this case power affecting for good or ill, those “most vulnerable people”.

The LSA is entitled to refuse access to a reporter, as they are to refer to this event as a “conference”. But “private meeting” might be more accurate.

UPDATE (Nov 23, 2015): Through the conference website, I formally applied to attend, as did another reporter. We identified ourselves as reporters. The response was an offer of a place, an invoice of £85 and the statement: “Can I particularly draw attention to our standard condition including application of the ‘Chatham House Rule’.” I rejected this place for the same reasons outlined above.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.
  1. LSA website conference page. And screen grab of the page here.
  2. Explanation from Chatham House.

Election polls blurred independence of news media

In April 2012, just after the provincial election in Alberta, Tomorrow declared a position on Facebook that requires repeating after the 78-day Canadian federal election.

Between the start of the campaign on August 7 and election day on October 19, there were a staggering 347 polls, or an average of more than four a day.

This included:

  • 113 national polls
  • 167 individual constituency polls
  • 67 polls on leadership preference and perception1

There were even more done privately by political parties but never released to the public.

Some, such as polls from Nanos Research,2 have been daily and some have been sponsored or organised with major media firms. They became the basis for much of the narrative of the election.

CBC’s poll aggregator, for example, always flagged up who was leading and which party had the biggest change, up or down. So the first thing a reader saw was the top party and who was losing. And that created a trend. Then opinion writers questioned parties who don’t accept the “reality” of polls.

Media can gauge public opinion in a number of ways. The most direct is the “vox pop”, quizzing around four to six people for their opinions. Sometimes we identify them by name, age and occupation, sometimes just as faces on a TV screen. This is usually somewhat balanced and expresses viewpoints with occasionally nuanced positions.

The other way is to commission a poll from a wider sample of hundreds or even thousands of people with set questions and potential responses.
These approaches are used to both fill space and time for a media outlet but also to appear relevant: “We know what ‘the people’ are thinking – here it is.”

But they also allow the media to dictate narratives. As has been better described by Jon Stewart, former host of The Daily Show, Fox News uses comment in the morning to drive news to drive comment to drive news to drive comment throughout its daily cycle.

“Polls say the party is sliding.”
“People say the party is sliding.”
“Reports have the party sliding.”
“A new poll says the party is sliding.”3

The polls drive comment to drive news to drive further polls. And in this most recent election, they became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Even worse was unethical abuse of “polling” public opinion on election night when a CBC reporter announced he had told voters waiting in line to vote in British Columbia that they, as a media outlet, had declared the winner based on the rest of the country’s early results. That used incomplete numbers to sway further results.

And it is a breach of the third principle, “independence and accountability”. Even though our ninth principle is “observe and engage”, attempting to direct results through the power of the media is a step beyond engaging.

In 2012, we stated:

The Alberta election results, wildly different from pre-election polls, prove the flaw of polling and the dangerous media addiction to said polls. To meet our own commitments to accuracy, Tomorrow will not commission, use, or comment on political polling as a sole basis for news. Polls may be referenced in features but should not be taken as fact. That a poll was conducted is a fact. Percentages of small samples for polling do not guarantee the facts of eventual electoral results.

Without core principles, there can be no core journalism strength.
Tomorrow reasserts this position. It is the correct one for maintaining independence and it ensures our focus remains on asking important questions and presenting original and exclusive news coverage, particular of politics, as we did during the 78-day election without needing a single poll.

  1. Wikipedia lists public released polls here and here.
  2. Nik Nanos, who was involved in the Charlottetown Accord referendum in 1992 was interviewed by Tomorrow in 2012 and his website can be found here.
  3. These are not direct quotes from any news source, just impressions of the tone.

Balibo Five remembered to afflict the complacent

Malcolm Rennie

Malcolm Rennie, 28, from Neilston, Scotland, was murdered on October 16, 1975, by the Indonesian military in East Timor. Image courtesy campaigners.

As a young reporter starting at the Barrhead News more than a decade ago, I got a phone call or letter in the mail – I can’t remember which now – about the murder of a reporter from Neilston, East Renfrewshire, on my patch.

Malcolm Rennie was 28 when he was killed during a “terror-and-destabilisation” campaign by the Indonesian military in East Timor. He and four colleagues with Australian TV were brutally shot and stabbed, then mocked up to look like armed and legitimate targets, and then supposedly victims of crossfire between opposing forces.

It was neither. It was murder, and in 2007, after years of delays and campaigning by families, a New South Wales coronial inquest heard from 66 witnesses and concluded that the five men were “shot and/or stabbed deliberately, and not in the heat of battle, by members of the Indonesian Special Forces, including Christoforus da Silva and Captain Yunus Yosfiah on the orders of Captain Yosfiah”. The government was advised that Australia had jurisdiction to prosecute. It has not. The UN has also refused to issue arrest warrants.

Rennie, Brian Peters, from Bristol, and Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart, and New Zealander Gary Cunningham are today remembered as the Balibo Five, for the town where they were killed on October 16, 1975. A film, Balibo, was made in 2009 and is widely available.

These men were not the only reporters killed in East Timor – Roger East in December 1975 and Financial Times reporter Sander Thoenes in 1999 were also victims of Indonesian forces. And all, for their efforts, are remembered by people of what is now the independent Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.

Why do the people of Timor-Leste remember when many beyond that corner of the world do not? Because the reporters were carrying out some of the most important roles journalists have: as witnesses, as investigators, and as comforters of the afflicted.

The classic US journalism line is “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. But when I wrote the core principles for Tomorrow, I amended it to “afflict the complacent”, because complacency is what allowed Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste for a quarter century. It is what allows those responsible for anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 civilian deaths – potentially one in three of the population – to evade justice. And complacency allows the reporters of the start of that invasion and everything that happened after to be forgotten.

As a reporter, and admittedly a very comfortable one compared to those who throw themselves into war zones, I feel the deaths of my colleagues because they were doing what is, at its best, more than just a job. Being a reporter is who you are, bearing witness, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the complacent – those course through our veins.

And so I remember Malcolm Rennie today. And I remember his colleagues. And I remind myself why journalism matters.

But behind all journalism is people. And I give the final words to Margaret Wilson, one of Malcolm’s cousins and someone still fighting for justice.

“We are very aware of the significance of this anniversary, and I wish I could tell you that there is progress being made towards achieving justice, but I really can’t,” she told me by email.

“I think people should, and must, still care, because this remains of the most blatant examples of political and commercial expediency trouncing human rights. This administration made all the right noises over the Charlie Hebdo affair, but when I wrote to the Prime Minister [David Cameron] to applaud his support of journalistic freedom and condemnation of violence to suppress it, and to remind him that a similar outrage concerning British citizens had gone unpunished for 39 years, all I got in reply was a standard note from a civil servant thanking me for my letter.

“At the moment, we are in contact with the Foreign Office and have been promised to be put in touch with a British police liaison officer, with a view to the police here considering the feasibility of pursuing a prosecution  here, but this is a painfully slow process.”

The Art of Politics: Canadian federal election 2015


The Art of Politics, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on September 19, 2015. Poster by Jason Skinner

Getting to the ART of what matters in the Canadian federal election, come down to Cafe Cempoal Calavera Negra in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the morning of Saturday, September 19, 2015 and work with artist in residence Jason Skinner to create collages of what issues matter most to you.

Anyone of any age is welcome between 10am and 12pm to work with Jason. Rather than politicians making promises and the media reporting them, Tomorrow will report on public issues, through community art. This isn’t a partisan idea and we don’t want party or politician messages; it’s about trying to express what’s important through art and relaying that message to other voters and candidates through Tomorrow.

This meets our core principle commitment to promoting responsible debate and mediation, and also furthers our work earlier this year to develop new approaches to election reporting. Journalism doesn’t need to follow politicans – it needs to lead with what’s really going on the community.

Stay tuned for full coverage of #artpoli this weekend.

Morgan Bird wins double swimming gold

Morgan Bird

Athlete in residence Morgan Bird, by artist in residence Jason Skinner, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Tomorrow’s first athlete in residence is now a gold-medal winning swimmer having taken two top spots at the Para Pan Am Games in Toronto, Ontario.

Morgan Bird, who we first interviewed during the London 2012 Paralympics, broke Para Pan Am records in both the 400m freestyle S8 and the 50m freestyle S8.

In the 400m on Sunday, Morgan finished in a time of 5:19:33 to claim her first gold, then just 90 minutes later mopped up the 50m in 32:00.1

The 21-year-old told broadcaster CBC: “I did not see that coming. It’s been a busy night for me. I followed both race plans well I think. I’m really happy with the results.”2

You can read all of Morgan’s writings as athlete in residence about her training and hard work that have lead to this point. And we extend our own, acceptably biased, congratulations to Morgan and her family and friends in Calgary, Alberta, on these accomplishments.

UPDATE: Morgan won silver in the 100m freestyle S8 on Thursday evening in a time of 1:10.53. This was an improvement on her earlier time of 1:11:15, the fastest amongst the two heats and a games record time until it fell to gold medalist Mallory Weggemann of the United States.

  1. Full results from the Para Pan Am website.
  2. Video interviews available for Canadian viewers.

Our third birthday and a year of growth

Tomorrow marks its third birthday today with continued growth and new readers – but there’s much more work ahead.

Three years on from reporting our first story (and five since claiming the url), we are pushing our principles and covering an ever greater array of subjects and corners of the globe. We have added an athlete in residence to our artist programme, carried out our first investigation and began coverage of immigration courts and tribunals.

Make a wish

Can websites make wishes? “Do androids dream of electric sheep?”

Since the start of 2015, Tomorrow has had 5,500 unique pageviews, with an average read time of 2.02 minutes and a bounce rate of 77.46 per cent. Compared to the same period in 2014, unique pageviews are up 21.19 per cent, read time is steady and bounce rate is an 8.47 per cent improvement.

Our third year compared to our second showed a 22.63 per cent rise in unique pageviews up to more than 10,300 and a bounce rate improvement of 7.65 per cent.

Despite the growth in readers, this has not translated to comments on stories, suggestions for news to pursue or donations to fund our efforts. So we must keep pushing to convince any member of any community, story by story, that news has value, and that Tomorrow’s contribution to quality content and commitment to ethical principles makes us worth supporting.

News builds community, as our tag line says, but we need the community to build it with us. We have exciting and daring stories planned for the months ahead so do please keep reading and watching and engaging.

657 world destinations that tried to hack this website in 48 hours

There are some remote corners of the planet with great communities and fascinating stories.

They are also home to computers and servers, and over the 48 hours of June 18 and 19, they were used to attempt breaking in to Tomorrow.

Our web security blocks the IP address for a period after three attempted logins. But throughout these two days, an individual or system tried to get in at times every two to five minutes, using IP addresses predominantly around Russia to base their attacks.

With 219 blocked IP addresses at three login attempts each, that’s 657 attempts. None was successful.

But we thought it would be useful, in the spirit of openness and transparency, to show what this attack – which is still ongoing – looks like.

View 657 hacking attempts in a full screen map

There is no identified reason why Tomorrow is receiving this attention, but most online attacks are simply because they can.

Internet security is something all individuals and organisations have to be aware of, constantly.

Tomorrow knows this from experience – we were hacked in late 2012, replaced with various selections of propaganda and it took months to rebuild. Their access to the site was because, admittedly, there was a silly username of “admin” – never do that by the way – and someone could get in. Lesson learned, security improved.

Tomorrow hacked

Screen grab of Tomorrow in December 2012 after being hacked.

Tomorrow hacked

Another part of the Tomorrow homepage in December 2012 after being hacked.

But few if any website or organisation is immune and we keep working to ensure Tomorrow keeps going. If you would like to help us stay on top of security advances, do please consider a donation.

In the meantime, check out some of the world’s most used IP addresses.