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Scottish journalism co-operative to allow readers to influence investigations through new text message network

By Sam Forsdick

Scottish investigative journalism co-operative The Ferret has launched a new text messaging network to allow members of the public to influence what issues are investigated on their behalf.

Members of the new service, called the Ferret Underground, will be able to message their views on the issues that matter most to them directly to the the co-operative’s journalists.

They hope this will give readers the “chance to help shape the future of journalism in Scotland and which stories get told”.

Rachel Hamada, head of engagement at The Ferret, told Press Gazette: “We really want it to be a two-way process and for readers to contribute ideas and issues that are affecting them in their communities and daily lives.

“We’re trying to fight against the idea that journalists are broadcasters, just broadcasting their stories out, and tap into people’s own expertise about what’s going on in their areas.”

The Ferret Underground uses Groundsource, a software developed in the US to help newsrooms have a two-way conversation with their audience through text messages.

The software allows The Ferret to tag people according to their interests.

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“If someone says they have an interest in disability issues we can use that tag,” says Hamada.

“If we are looking into a story on disabilities we can contact the group who have expressed a specific interest in that and ask for their input while we’re developing the story so they’re much more involved in the process.”

Anyone can join the Ferret Underground network by texting “underground” to 07480 487201.

Members will get ten free Ferret stories a month, a weekly email newsletter, and will be added to the Underground Facebook group and text network where they will be able to contribute to the conversation.

Members will also be invited to learn journalism skills that Hamada said can be used to hold the people in power to account in their local areas.

The training will cover things such as Freedom of Information requests, advanced internet research, and skills to help scrutinise what is happening in their communities.

Hamada said: “We’re really excited about working more interactively with people across Scotland, and further afield.

“We’re hoping that through this network, via digital, events, skillshares and more, we can build an inclusive community of journalists, activists and citizens in Scotland who are keen critical thinkers, know how to hold power to account, and above all who are up for building a more fair and transparent society.”

Hamada added: “We’re especially keen to work with young people, who have been repeatedly disregarded, and told that they’re not political or considered as media consumers.

“Our experience is that they care a lot about our collective future, but need better access to media platforms and a new kind of media to represent their experiences.”

The Ferret was launched in 2013 as the Scottish Inquirer and became a co-op in 2015, reporting on topics such as election funding, disability welfare cuts and fracking.

The investigative journalism website is owned by its subscribers and journalists and has places for its readers reserved on the board.

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