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August 27, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:15am

Reuters boss: ‘If we don’t disrupt ourselves, somebody else is going to do it for us’

By Charlotte Tobitt

There is a “higher need” for journalists to work together to create trusted news instead of spending “all our energy fighting each other,” a director at Reuters news agency has said.

Sue Brooks, managing director of product and strategy, said Reuters planned to ultimately introduce a “peer to peer network” to help journalists collaborate on stories and help each other factcheck claims.

Brooks (pictured), who spent 14 years at Associated Press before joining Reuters almost four years ago, pointed to a number of successful collaborations within the news industry recently.

Among them were the BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter scheme in partnership with local newspapers and Huffpost UK working with Birmingham City University and Radio Five Live.

“Competition will always exist and that’s good but I think people are understanding there’s almost a higher need here,” she said.

“The higher need is to get trusted information out to the world rather than spend all our energy fighting each other because that’s not going to help anybody at the end of the day.”

The biggest challenges to Reuters and many other news organisations right now, according to Brooks, are trust issues caused by so-called “fake news”, and changing consumer habits, especially among the under-30s.

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An Ofcom survey published last month, found that half of all UK adults now get their news through social media, and although TV remains the most popular platform for news its use has dropped from 79 per cent to 75 per cent in the past year.

The largest growing platform for social media use for news in the past year is Whatsapp (nine per cent in 2019 up from five per cent in 2018), according to the annual Reuters Digital News Report.

Brooks said this also posed problems of trust, adding: “If it’s a closed group the echo chamber is even more astute because it is less likely to be challenged.”

Reuters Connect, the agency’s “one-stop shop” for content, has launched a new “productivity suite”, which will see more production apps from external partners available to customers.

The first three partners are video marketplace Stringr, soundtrack platform Amper Music and video editing tool In Video.

The former ITV News editor said the move comes after she experienced a “growing realisation that nobody can do it alone anymore”.

Connect launched in May 2017 and now has 18m pieces of content, from entertainment news outlets like Variety and sports brands like USA Today Sports as well as other news publishers and Reuters itself.

Brooks admitted there was initially “a lot of pushback” within Reuters from staff concerned about the idea of allowing its competitors to have access to its customers and distribution networks through Connect.

But, she said: “My view is bring it on because if we don’t disrupt ourselves, somebody else is going to do it for us.”

“Rather than try and do everything and be everything to everybody, we figured we should play to our strengths, which are speed and trust and intelligence – the real world in real time if you like – and partner with other organisations to bring the bits that we don’t have.”

Looking ahead, Brooks suggested Reuters Connect could expand to incorporate a “kind of peer to peer network” connecting journalists around the world to “access each other’s content or, increasingly, there’s no reason why they couldn’t be collaborating on stories or helping fact check together”.

“That’s the next phase, if you like, but that’s the kind of central ethos of what we’re trying to achieve,” she said.

Picture: Mark Blinch/Reuters

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