Outlet Spotlight: 360info
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360info is the brainchild of Andrew Jaspan, journalist and co-founder of The Conversation. Hosted at Monash University, the non-for-profit aims to generate news stories based on vetted and reliable academic research, and distribute through their own newswire. For Andrew, producing high-quality information to improve readers' understanding of our world and the problems we face has always been his top priority. “In a sense it becomes a resource for readers to help them with their life, their job, or deciding who to vote for,” says Andrew. “All that information has got to be of the highest quality so that people can say, 'yes, I trust that outlet'. This comes from a full disclosure of who funds you, what your editorial practices are, how you work, how you deal with conflict, and how you deal with the resolution of problems and all of that has to be made open.”
Andrew uses the term “switching on the tap” when it comes to placing trust in the media. He explains that in a similar way to consumers trusting the quality of the water from their tap, we need to have the same level of faith in our news to be sure that we are receiving a similarly “clean” product. “When I came to work on 360info, one of the first things I wanted to do was to build the foundation of full disclosure and transparency. We were audited and given a 100/100 trust rating from NewsGuard,” says Andrew, referring to US-based online misinformation tracking tool NewsGuard, that recently launched in Australia.
For much of his career, from his time as Editor-in-Chief of The Age, to his founding of The Conversation, Andrew was operating within the 24-hour news cycle. But he wanted 360info to be different. There would be a stronger focus on engaging with the larger challenges facing the world by providing access to high-quality verified information in a way that would align with the United Nations 16 Sustainable Development Goals. “What we wanted to do was to find out where the really deep thinking and research was going on in regard to climate change issues, energy, etc.,” says Andrew. “Most is conducted in universities, where the research is about finding solutions to these problems.”
It is also important to recognise the way that different parts of the world, particularly the Indo-Pacific region, deal with the major issues impacting the world as a whole. “Each country's problems are different. There might be some continuity between them all, but the way they address them and solve them has got to be appropriate to that country.”
In its early stages of development, 360info was previously known as the Global Academy, and Andrew was given a grant from the Victoria Government’s Department of Economic Development to develop the platform. Andrew then reached out to Margaret Gardner, Vice-Chancellor at Monash University, who eventually became the host of the platform. Initially, the service was meant to launch in March 2020. But at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was parked and eventually launched in November 2021.
Like AAP or NCA, 360info’s team of editors package the content and distribute it to their partners, but unlike those services, it’s free of charge and the content is produced as features. “It’s a better way of getting our information to as many people as possible, so I don’t have to market that information directly to readers,” says Andrew. “It’s slow news - it’s not fast turnaround stuff. It is considered content, so we push it out and that way we achieve a much bigger audience than launching our own website.”
Academic research is still relatively obscure to the majority of general audiences, for reasons of jargon, being overly complex, or subject to the expensive paywalls that are typical of the academic publishing industry. “What we are trying to do is to democratise that knowledge, translating it into plain language and pushing it out as widely as possible,” says Andrew. “I think that’s what Margaret really liked about it, and it puts Monash in a really good leadership position in terms of being at the forefront of sharing university research with citizens in Australia and globally.”
360info’s content is available to both outlets and directly to readers. They will soon be partnering with Sydney University in an attempt to further the free distribution of reliable formation to a broad audience.