The rise of rapid news delivery has the potential to damage journalism. Print or online, GNM is striving to maintain its standards across all formats
The web has radically transformed journalism, blurring traditional boundaries between text, pictures, audio and video. For newspapers, there is a particular challenge given that daily deadlines have given way to an increasingly complex rolling programme of news updates in differing formats.
Liz Forgan, chair of the Scott Trust, says that it is exactly at times of great change that it is "especially important that some things stay the same." The Scott Trust therefore asked Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of GNM, to restate the trust's values in the digital age. This was sent to all journalists.
He wrote: "The Scott Trust exists to preserve the Guardian and its journalistic traditions in perpetuity. It also has a declared purpose to promote freedom of the press and liberal journalism at home and abroad. CP Scott wanted the Guardian to be a liberal paper 'worthy of its power and duty'. The character of Scott Trust journalism depends on its independence of ownership, behaviour and belief. Our journalists should be fierce in their protection of that independence.
"In the absence of a proprietor, our journalists' main relationships are with our colleagues and with readers, viewers or listeners. There should be a high premium on transparency, collaboration and discussion.
"Scott Trust journalists need not share a narrow set of political beliefs but should be conscious of and share the trust's general purpose and inheritance. At the same time, we should allow plurality of opinion, believing that diversity is good for the deliberative process of democracy. The papers should promote minority views as well as mainstream argument and should encourage dissent.
"All our journalists should operate to high ethical standards in searching for the unclouded face of truth, including the prompt admission of error. Editors should strive to differentiate factual reporting from commentary. Our journalists should argue the causes of free speech and freedom of information. We should behave fairly and allow our opponents a voice."
These principles are the bedrock of our journalism but Rusbridger acknowledges that in the age of the internet, we need to be watchful that quality does not get sacrificed for speed. This is a difficult balancing act because we are having to be many things to many people but with the same resources, in a declining newspaper market.
"There is a tension between the need for speed and producing journalism that we are proud of," Rusbridger said. "Part of what readers want is a rapid delivery of information. But if we only did quick journalism and did not produce in-depth, contexualised journalism we would also be failing our readers.
"We must find ways of making sure staff do not drop dead from exhaustion or feel they are on a treadmill where they do not have the time and resource to think and find things out."
The issue of the quality of journalism was raised in a recent book by Guardian investigative writer Nick Davies, Flat Earth News, which argues that the quality papers do not give their journalists the time to develop stories and accused them of "churnalism," relying on copy from wire services and PR companies.
Davies, with the help of researchers from the journalism department of Cardiff University and the Guardian newsdesk, chose two random weeks and analysed every domestic news story from the Times, Guardian, Independent and Telegraph. His study concluded that the papers were routinely recycling "unchecked second-hand material" from news agencies such as the Press Association or PR-driven copy.
The highest quota was in the Times at 69% with the Guardian lowest at around 50%.
Nick Hopkins, head of news at GNM, says the most important issue is that we are transparent about the sourcing of our stories. He says agencies such as Reuters and the Associated Press are highly respected and it is therefore absolutely right to be using their copy as our journalists cannot cover all stories.
"We have been reviewing our policy on this," says Hopkins "and decided that if have added real value to a story, with for instance, additional comments and facts or specialist background information, then it can be published with a staff reporter's byline. But if we are just replicating it, we should make clear it as coming from the agency."
Rusbridger points our that "Nick's book found the Guardian was least guilty. Without being complacent about it, that was an encouraging finding. But he identified a trend in journalism which is alarming and which we need to keep our eye on."