The Conversation Founder Andrew Jaspan on new wire agency 360info
Since leaving The Conversation in 2017, Founder Andrew Jaspan AM has wasted no time getting started on his latest venture: 360info.
Funded by Monash University and launching in early 2022, 360info consists of a small global team of journalists ‘curating’ feature articles built on academic research and expert voices. These are then shared with newsrooms on an online platform and via partner media organisations under a Creative Commons licence that allows all content to be repurposed or published free of charge.
Andrew, who is Director and Editor-in-Chief of 360info, says the platform has been created to help newsrooms under increasing financial strain by providing them with informed global content to share with their readers. At the same time, universities are given the opportunity to share important research often hidden or not readily accessible to the public, thus increasing their perceived value at a time when the importance of academia is often undermined.
“The business model of journalism has for the last 200 years or so been one of advertising. So the model goes as follows; create an audience, and then sell that audience to advertisers,” Andrew says.
“But that advertising model has fragmented and in certain cases collapsed, and then you've got what's called news deserts all over the world, where there isn't anybody covering anything anymore. Where we step into that is to not compete with newsrooms, but to support newsrooms worldwide with a new service, which costs nothing.
“To be perfectly honest, we can't solve it on our own. Hopefully what we can do is make each one of the outlets using our content feel more valuable to their readers, and if it's more valuable to readers, the likelihood is that they will continue buying the paper or subscribing.”
360info’s distribution model is not dissimilar to Australia’s national independent newswire AAP, which 360info has now partnered with along with five other international news networks. Through these major partners in India, South East Asia, the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Australia, along with unique registrations from news organisations, 360info now supplies content to 1200 publications with a combined reach of 45 million.
Andrew says the organisation is trying to “break the mould” by taking a global and deeply informed approach to the articles they produce.
“"Most media tends to tell stories from a country's perspective, that is; what does it mean for Australians? But what we're trying to do is take what I call a cross border approach, which is to say 'How do other countries view a problem?',” he says.
“[For example] with climate change, it's 'how can we mitigate it?' And what we do in this country, in a rich country, might be quite different to what poorer countries can afford.
“So you have to have a much more nuanced approach to it, saying ‘well this is what rich countries can do’, and by the way the solutions of poor countries sometimes are much smarter than building a big Tesla battery, it's about things like distributed energy, so having small local batteries rather than one big battery. That approach might actually be something that the rich countries can learn from.”
Another feature of 360info’s content is having a ‘proactive agenda’ which involves a consultative process with academics and universities world wide as well as other partners including the UN Sustainable Development Goals team. Key global issues and challenges are identified and 360info then commission experts to share research before curating and editing the content into feature news articles.
“We offer what I call rich content, and that rich content is not reinforcing the breaking news agenda that everybody else is doing, but actually going into what we call news features, which is explanatory, corrective, contextual... Richer stuff to help people understand problems better,” Andrew says.
“And we go one step further, which is we actually then say 'how can we fix these problems?' using research, because the scientific model of research is first to understand the problem, and then try and fix it.”
360info’s approach contrasts to The Conversation’s, which supplies more reactive commentary on current issues and news. Andrew, who has also previously edited numerous publications in Australia and the UK, including The Big Issue and The Observer in London, describes this difference as a reflection of his own professional development and mindset.
“When I conceived of the idea of The Conversation, I'd just been editing The Age… So I used that same approach for The Conversation; we had desk editors, we all came in and we'd read up on an area, be it health or environment, or science or whatever, and then we'd have a meeting and go 'yes do that story, or what about this?’ and we'd do a reactive thing, bouncing off the news,” he says.
“At The Conversation we try to turn things around in a day, here [at 360info] we can take up to six weeks. At the end of the day, is it better? No not necessarily, it's just different. And that's what we're trying to do, something different.”
Recently, 360info worked with the Pacific Islands Forum to identify key issues the Pacific Islands are currently facing. They then worked with specialists in each of these 11 areas to create a package for the forum that media publishers in the Pacific, and globally, could use to provide readers with context for the meeting.
360info is currently headquartered at Monash University in Melbourne, with editors in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Osaka and Delhi. Andrew says that despite the international focus the biggest “take-up” of content has come from small regional and rural community papers.
“[They] all say things like 'we struggle just to bring out our paper, and now we've got this feed of rich features content which we just slot in and it gets us out of trouble’,” he says.
“So they've really enthusiastically embraced what we're doing, and that's great, because I think the newsrooms that are struggling the most are those regional ones where we now have what are called 'news deserts', where there are no longer newspapers or broadcasters or whatever. So we're helping those.”
360info’s content is available for any media outlet and newsroom to access and use without charge.