The Wikinewsie Group/Itemizing the cost of Wikinews reporting
Nutshell: There are three types of original reporting based on itemized budgeting. These are routine reporting involving expenses for Internet and telephone, routine reporting involving travel, and special event reporting involving accommodation expenses. When evaluating a budget for original reporting using existing benchmarks, the type of reporting dictates what a budget should look like.
There is little information available on best practices when it comes to percentage funds for journalist budgets when it comes to conducting original reporting. In the non-profit sector, there also appears to be a lack of available information as it pertains to best practices regarding distribution of funds as a percentage when it comes to in person promotional activities, conference attendance and citizen journalism. The Wikimedia Foundation’s grants programs and program evaluation and design team also do not currently provide guidance in this area.
The purpose of this research is to understand current spending practices by reporters to establish benchmarks for future best practices when it comes to applying for grants from The Wikinewsie Group, and in assisting reporters with applying for grants from the Wikimedia Foundation and other organizations.
The research presented here is the second piece in the first step in developing full length reports on Wikinews’s news reach, writing a cost-benefit analysis and ultimately in working with the wider Wikinews community to write a project based strategic plan going forward.
One of the goals of The Wikinewsie Group is to support original reporters in the production of high quality, original reporting. In a professional news model, this entails moving away from a freelance model to a stringer model. To make this move, the original reporting picture needs to be better understood in terms of potential resource allocation. Eventually. a cost-benefits analysis model can be completed for supporting reporting projects, and leadership and reporters themselves and begin to develop Return On Investment analysis to understand benefits gained from reporting with a goal towards continual improvement.
The first step in the efforts to professionalize our projects has been to complete two pieces of research as part of a larger effort to work on program design and evaluation: English Wikinews Cohort Review Analysis and Content Import Analysis Wikinews Content Import Community Effect Analysis. These two pieces of research were largely done to better understand some of the community activities and their impact on contributor output. Neither one lays a framework for a Cost-Benefit Analysis or assist in measuring ROI, though they do provide understanding that will be fundamentally important in framing future research. They also give an idea as to the type of metrics available, ideas on research design, thinking about privacy issues, etc.
The research presented here is the first step in developing full length reports on Wikinews’s news reach, writing a cost-benefit analysis and ultimately in working with the wider Wikinews community to write a project based strategic plan going forward.
For The Wikinewsie Group as a Wikimedia thematic organization in development, the most important place for the organization to get information on best practices on budgets and funding allocation for event planning and volunteer management should be the Wikimedia Foundation. However the Foundation does not provide any information about percentage of budget allocation, or indeed on how to develop realistic budgets with the goal of seeking Wikimedia Foundation funding. There is no body of research on this topic done on the research space of meta. The Wikimedia Chapters Association never wrote on this topic. At this time, no theoretical model for best practices for budget allocation can be used to develop a framework by a thematic organization inside a Wikimedia Foundation based model.
Similarly, there is little to no available research from a journalism non-profit citizen journalism perspective on ideal budget allocation for reporting. Some organizations that provide grants to journalism provide information on how to complete grants, but little of this specifically addresses the size of the budget and expenses incurred inside overall expenses. There is once again an absence of material to develop a theoretical model for developing best practices regarding budget allocation as it pertains to itemized costs related to original reporting.
General non-profit information on allocation funding exists but cannot be used in terms of developing best practices because of an overall lack of relevance. Costs for overhead are not considered in this model because there are none, except expenses absorbed by the reporter. Any model for original reporting cannot be used from this sector because of its lack of relevance and costing categories not matching Wikinews original reporting costings.
Thus, a new framework needs to be created. Given the lack of any existing model, the results include detailed conclusion based analysis. The conclusion, as it relates to the goal of doing the research to develop a cost benefit analysis and providing budget allocation advice, appears in its own section. Where patterns are obvious from data analysis, they are explained in situ in order to arrive at an overall conclusion that allows for the formation of best practices when it comes to trying to advice on budgets and spending allocation as part of a broader framework to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for Wikinews original reporting.
To do this research, a survey was created asking Wikinews journalists engaged in original reporting what the cost of their work was. A request was posted on talk pages of all reporters identified by a bot created by Gryllida as having completed original reporting in the past three months. Additionally, messages were posted to Wikinews related mailing lists and requests were made on IRC where people who have engaged in original reporting were invited to complete the survey. There was an estimated 10 to 20% response rate. In relation to money spent, there was one question requesting information on the total spent on an original reporting event. There was a second question that requested expenses be itemized. The responses were put into a table, with a column added to determine the general news category and two columns were spending rates were converted to Euros and Australian dollars.
Following this, the column for itemized costs was looked at. The specific costs listed were summarized under the following type: transportation, food, internet and telephone, event tickets and accommodation. Where reporting costs were itemized, they were sorted into one of these groups. When entries with €0 or AU$0 for all categories were removed, there were 25 unique reporting events.
The survey results for reporting events may have included multiple Wikinews articles, and other non-Wikinews related Wikimedia content development. Some of it included non-English reporting. This means that in assessing potential value one to one results are not feasible. One reporting event included e-mail interviews that resulted in the publishing of 5 articles. Another event included producing 75 articles. A third reporting event included 25 articles in two languages. A fourth reporting event included one article in one language.
Original reporting costs, as self-reported by Wikinews reporters, tend to broadly fall into five general costs. These are transportation, food, internet and telephone, event tickets, and accommodation.
Transportation costs fall into one of two general categories: Local travel, and long distance travel. Most of the local travel often includes metro tickets, petrol and parking. Long distance travel tends to include airplane tickets, train tickets, and car rentals on top of petrol and parking.
Food also can generally fall into one of two general categories: Food to attend a specific event, or food to cover the whole of a reporting project that involves travel and overnight accommodation.
Internet and phone costs generally do not appear to be associated with travel. Most of the self reported costs involved contacting someone for an an interview. Event tickets were a cost because it appears that reporters were either unable to attain media accreditation or did not seek it. Accommodation costs were only a cost associated with long distance travel to cover an event.
When all expenses for a category are added together, accommodation is the area with the biggest expense at 9,576.11 €. Next is transportation at 6,230.76 €. This is followed by food at 1,514.29 €, telephone and internet at 777.28 €, and event tickets at 450.64 €. The high cost of accommodation is a result of the London Paralympics which included 2 people spending 2 weeks in London, the IPC Alpine World Championships which included 2 people spending a week at a Spanish ski resort, and the IPC Nor-Am Cup which included two people spending a week at a Colorado ski resort. There was also accommodation costs associated with other sport reporting in Canberra and Sydney.
When the results are analyzed, it becomes clear that there are three types of reporting take place:
In professional news organizations like Reuters, routine sport reporting is covered by local reporters. Special teams are sent to cover major, international sporting events. This model is generally similar to the one that reporters have adopted with Wikinews reporters: They do not travel long distances to cover routine events and do not spend much money on these events that have less news value. This is expressed in earlier research by The Wikinewsie Group’s Laura Hale. All the data examined thus far suggests that Wikinews reporting, when being costed, should be approached from a special event requiring accommodation versus routine coverage with seperate costings.
With this in mind, for routine coverage, transport was the biggest budget category costing an average of 64.8% and median of 85.9% of total funds spent. This can be expressed in monetary value as an average of 51.71 € and median of 13.00 € spent on travel for a reporting event.
The next biggest proportional part of costings for routine coverage was internet and telephone with an average of 12.8% In euros, this is an average of 26.52 € and median of 14.03 €. Of the 17 routine events, only three of them had a costing in this category compared to 14 events having a costing for transportation. Only one event included both transportation, and internet and telephone costs. When trying to assess a budget, this issue needs to be addressed as it suggests different types of reporting have different budget needs. One involves reporting over the phone and internet. The other involves traveling to a local event to cover it.
The third biggest expense for routine coverage is event tickets. While the average budget allocation is 11.4%, only 3 of the 17 events expensed this. The average cost per event was 149.05 € and the median was 98.00 €. Local events, unlike special events, costs money. This is a result of several factors, including an inability to attain media accreditation, a lack of knowledge on how to attain media accreditation or attending an event and then later deciding to report on it for Wikinews. There are issues here that costs bring into focus but without several reporters in a specific locale, changing routine based media access issues is unlikely and this item and the budget range of 38€ to 311€ should be considered a usable benchmark range, with the higher end being understood as covering tickets for either more than one reporter or more than one event.
The last expense for routine coverage was food, accounting for 5.8% of all costings, and an average of 48.21 € and median of 11.00 € spent. 5 of the 14 events involving transportation listed this as an expense. The low end was 2.50 € for one person for one event, and the high end was €151.87 for one person for multiple individual sporting events.
When it comes to special events reporting, the percentage allocation of costings is very different than routine reporting. Accommodation accounts for an average 61.5% and median 66.7% of all expenses. Transportation accounts for an average of 28.6% and median of 27.5% of all expenses. Food accounts for an average of 7.9% and median of 7.3% for all expenses. Internet and telephone, and event ticket averages are negligible at less than 1% on the average and median. Of the eight special events, defined by requiring accommodation, only the Paralympics had an Internet and phone cost at 697.71 €. This expense covered buying media usage Internet access to allow reporters to cover the Games, access to a special databases for journalists, access to the internet at airports, Internet at the hotel, mobile Internet for two tablet computers and phone for two cell phones. Most other special events had Internet and phone costs associated with them but they used Only one event had tickets associated with it, with each ticket costing AU$1/0.70 €. This covered two reporters entering a competition for one game, and three reporters entering for a second game. The other matches attended had no cost once it was established they were attending as media.
In all but one of the special events, transportation was a costing. The one where it was not costed was because the person needed to visit the city anyway, but stayed extended days specifically to do Wikinews reporting. Overall, transportation costs ranged from from 41.86 € to 2790.86 €. The average cost was 786.69 € and the median was 75.00 €. The ranges reflect the type of transportation, and the distance traveled. In two cases that account for the high average, a pair of reporters flew from Australia to another continent. When budgeting transportation for special events, transportation costs should be understood as a percentage of overall costs and compared to the percentage allocated for accommodation. Ideally, transportation should be in a range of 1 to 35% of all costings. Accommodation should ideally be in the range of 40 to 80% of all costings. Food costings should range from 5 to 20% of all costings. These number align with the concept of special events and aligns with some of the news values variables. It also aligns with idea that big events take place over a longer period of time, take planning, and the additional days spent on location covering an event will result in greater original reporting output. It is reasonable to expect to send a team from another continent to cover a special event if they have a history of large condensed periods of original reporting output. However, the team’s transportation costs should not exceed their accommodation costs as this is not inline with benchmarks.
Overall, when evaluating budgets for new Wikinews original reporting against benchmarked costs, the type of reporting needs to be considered. Broadly, these fall into three categories: 1) routine reporting using the internet or phone, 2) routine reporting involving local transportation, and 3) special event reporting involving accommodation. The five types of costings have different ideal percentages or total costs depending on which of the three types of reporting is being done. The self-reported costs can serve as a good benchmark for writing grants for original reporting, assessing any grants for original reporting or assisting people in developing their own budgets for original reporting.
- For a good discussion of the various costs, benefits and drawbacks for the freelance, stringer and bureau model, please read The Need for Foreign Correspondents: A Cost Benefit Analysis by Haley Petersen . The Wikinewsie Group’s geographic dispersion and lack of reporter asset centralization is a key to understanding TWG and Wikinews project from a traditional news reporting perspective. In this way, every reporter for Wikinews should be understood from the perspective that every reporter is international.
- Sources were also sought for this information as it pertains to Chapters, User Groups and Wikimedia committees based on the assumption there there would be similar expectations for all groups as it pertains to budgets and spending allocation.
- Information on best practices for budget allocation was also done by looking for information from four English-speaking chapters: Wikimedia UK, Wikimedia Australia, Wikimedia Canada and Wikimedia South Africa. No information was found.
- The survey can be found here.
- The list of reporters can be found here and here.
- There were 12 responses, with an estimated 59 reporters, which includes two IP addresses, across 10 different language projects having done original reporting in the past 3 months. The responses included some people who wrote produced original reporting outside the 3 month window.
- As little is known on original reporting spending costs and there is a general lack of best practices regarding spending categories, this question was open ended. Respondents could itemize however they chose.
- This includes sports, politics, popular culture, technology, journalism, culture, weather, and local news.
- These two currencies were selected as normative currencies for discussion purposes as they accounted for over half the total funds spent, and over half the original reporting events having funds spent using one of these two currencies.
- Not all reports included itemizations, nor did all reporting events have costs that would allow any cost to be associated with any of these five categories.
- Three events did not fall into this range. One had zero transportation costs. Another had higher transportation costs as a trip to visit the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco, and two Wikimedia meetups at locations not the location of the special event location were included. The third event involved high transportation expenses to fly in a an unaccredited Wikinews reporter from Tasmania to Canberra, both high cost airports, with negligible outcomes; only two articles were published associated with this reporting event.