The future of Scoop.co.nz

Screenshot from 2017-05-07 19-04-37

I’ve been meaning for a while to put down in writing my thoughts on Scoop.co.nz. What follows is hopefully constructive criticism.

What is Scoop?

Scoop calls itself an “independent news website” but it’s fundamentally a big collection of press releases. It’s been collecting them since 1999 — mostly from New Zealand — and now has a huge number of historical press releases. The fact that it has all these press releases in one place is really useful. As organisations and companies change their websites these press releases often go missing — so it’s great from a research perspective to have them collated in one place.

Recently Scoop has run into financial problems (seemingly mostly because of the collapsing market for advertising) and has been repeatedly crowdfunding to stay afloat. It has also been transitioning from a “for-profit” company (although losing money) to a non-profit member organisation. Part of this shift involves the Scoop Foundation offering grants for investigate journalism.

Scoop has also introduced what it calls an “ethical paywall”. Basically if you’re a commercial user Scoop expects you to pay for using the website, although there’s no actual paywall stopping you from looking at the content. This strategy seems to have been pretty successful based on the number of organisations paying for a licence.

The website is terrible!

If you go to Scoop.co.nz you’ll see straight away that it has a terrible website. (It’s straight out of the mid 2000s. In fact if you look at a 2006 version of the site, it doesn’t look that different.) There’s far too much going on — too many columns of different content and an overly comprehensive navigation system at the top.

I know Scoop is well aware of this website problem. They have taken the good step of introducing a beta mobile website, but the main website remains seemingly frozen in time.

[Update 13 May — see bottom of the post for details of the new website]

Is Scoop a site for press releases or journalism?

One fundamental thing I think Scoop is confused about is whether it’s a place for publishing press releases, journalism, or blog posts.

Scoop presents itself as a ‘news’ website. Its tagline is “independent news”.

I don’t think Scoop is actually in the business of news. In my view it’s necessary to take press releases and contextualise/interpret them before they become news. That’s not to say what Scoop does is not valuable (as I’ve said above, collating press releases is a useful function).

This confusion about its purpose creates problems.

For example, the Wellington Scoop section of the website is a fantastic source of commentary on Wellington news. However, I find it confusingly mixed in with press releases. I tried to follow the RSS feed but it’s mixed in with press releases I don’t care about. Similarly the Twitter account is a random hodge-podge of Wellington news, not just the good original content. I think Wellington Scoop would be much better if it was split away from the Scoop website and put onto a blog, with a proper design and with a mobile optimised website. Currently when you look at Wellington Scoop it’s unclear what it is — a collection of press releases, news, or a blog? I think this highlights well Scoop’s problem, and it’s probably preventing the Scoop Wellington community from growing larger.

Where should Scoop go from here?

Scoop needs to have a strategic think about what function it serves and focus on its core business. In my view, Scoop should solely be about (curated) press releases, not ‘journalism’.

The number one priority should be the financial stability of the company. (No more giving money away to other journalists, worthy as this is.) The invisible paywall seems to be working well, but engagement with individual ‘members’ leaves a bit to be desired. I don’t want to contribute to endless crowdfunding campaigns, but I may consider a inexpensive regular subscription.

The number two priority should be the obsolete website. It is absolutely terrible, to the point that it is basically unusable on mobile phones. I think they should consider abandoning the current website (and freeze it in place for URL stability/posterity), create a new website, and transfer all the content over.

I hope Scoop sticks around for the long term. It’s a great resource, and with a refocusing of its core business and a new website, it could be even better.

Update 13 May: Since publishing this post Scoop has released a great-looking new website. See their press release here.

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