How crowdfunding platform, Press Start, puts independent journalists at the heart of the story
The Press Start team is comprised of experienced journalists, social media experts, and free press advocates from around the world.
Asha Siad is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker. Asha is also a 2015 ivoh summit attendee. You can follow her on Twitter at @AshaReports.
Chantal Flores is a freelance journalist in one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist — Mexico. Ninety-four journalists have been killed since 2000, according to Article 19, a press freedom group. In recent years, attacks and threats against journalists have increased significantly. Mexico is ranked 149 out of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index due to violence and impunity.
Flores, who is based in Mexico City, has shed light on the stories of Mexican families searching for missing loved ones in one of the biggest crises the country has faced. Thousands of Mexicans have vanished or been killed or displaced during Mexico’s drug wars for more than a decade. Flores’ reports have led her back home to Monterrey, where Honduran immigrants en route to the United States are often trapped due to increased American border security.
“This kind of journalism is truly in the public interest and, in Mexico, it’s necessary [in order] to create stories that include perspectives that are sometimes neglected or censored,” Flores said. “I’m not looking for stories that feed the 24-hour news cycle, but stories about systemic issues, deeply rooted in our society, that need to be addressed with all their complexities.”
But like many freelance journalists without the backing of a specific media organization, Flores is faced with challenges such as safety and protection, lack of funding and at times legitimacy issues from military/local enforcement. In addition to these barriers, Flores is also a female journalist.
“Reporting is quite challenging, especially in zones that are somewhat ‘dangerous’ since you feel more vulnerable, and unfortunately there are times when your looks are very present when interacting with certain sources,” Flores said. “Being independent is cool because you get to take more risks with your story and investigate deeper, but it’s also hard to get financial support and the attention from editors.”
After attending a conference in New York on crowdfunding almost nine years ago, Executive Director of Transitions (TOL), Jeremy Druker, began searching for a solution that could work for his reporters. TOL was founded in 1999 to strengthen the independence and impact of the news media in the post-communist countries of Europe and the former Soviet Union. Today TOL is one of Central Europe’s leading journalism educators with more than 6,000 journalists from around the world trained.
From running a media development organization for the past 17 years, Druker has noticed a trend: after their training, talented journalists often return to countries where there is no local funding to support their stories. These journalists often do not have the language skills or international networks to advocate and crowdfund for their stories.
Press Start was born out of Druker’s drive to create a crowdfunding platform designed to support journalists in places where press cannot report freely. The platform aims to revolutionize the way independent journalism is funded in the developing world and countries in transition.
“If we could help fill that gap in some way and create a new income source … [Press Start] would end up hopefully generating stories that would have local impact,” Druker said.
Most successful crowdfunding platforms work based on the individual’s idea and donors investing in that individual. Press Start creates empathy and a human connection to journalists’ stories. Druker believes that personalizing the journalists’ campaigns will motivate donors even more than just an idea or investigation.
“[Donors] would be more likely to give if they felt some kind of empathy or compassion for the journalist, especially working in these countries where it is difficult to be a journalist …” Druker said.
Since launching last year, Press Start has taken a niche approach and only profiles journalists working in countries with freedom of the press restrictions.
Flores is one of the seven journalists featured on the Press Start crowdfunding platform.
The process is simple. First, Press Start’s partner organizations nominate a talented journalist. Then, journalists apply online through a fellowship application. Once they are successful in the running, they work with Press Start to design a campaign.
“We expect them to help out, especially if they do have some kind of network to promote their cause, but we have a team of people that help them prepare the profile, prepare the video, and we run different campaigns on their behalf,” Druker said. “We’d rather them focus on the journalism and we have a team doing the promotion for them.”
Between $7,000 to $8,000 has been raised for each of the seven journalists since launching last year. Press Start hopes to increase their number of journalists in the coming months. If a journalist does not meet their goal, Press Start has a mutual fund to help the journalist reach their goal.
During Flores’ Press Start campaign, she felt uncomfortable putting herself out there because asking for money is difficult. But that experience allowed her to share her work with a new community.
“As someone who tries to focus on stories about survivors and victims of conflict, it was strange to talk about myself,” Flores said. “I usually like to attract attention to the stories, not to myself; however, I think it was a good exercise since it helped me to value my work and show the ‘behind the scenes’ of my work to a new audience.”
Flores is reporting on the science behind the search for Latin America’s disappeared. She aims to explore how the suffering generated by mass disappearances perpetuates a narco society and the hands-on mastery of forensic techniques in populations that often have not finished high school.
“She’s writing about how these normal people, some poor and uneducated, have been adopting forensic methods to identify loved ones,” Druker said. “She is writing about Colombia and comparing it with Mexico”
To date, Press Start has supported journalists including: Armen Melikbekyan in Armenia, who is reporting on what life is like for people with HIV/AIDS in Armenia, a taboo and under-reported issue in Armenian society; Douce Namwezi N’ibamba, who is investigating why many parts of her country in Congo are still struggling with drinkable water despite millions invested by donors into local water projects; and Zaklina Hadzi-Zafirova, who is putting Macedonia’s hospitals under a microscope to assess the state of her country’s problematic healthcare system.
Druker says Press Start aims to ultimately create local impact.
“The goal is for most of the stories that are being developed to be in local languages and to be distributed locally,” Druker said. “And to have local impact, they are not there to raise a lot of money and then write for international audiences. It’s really supposed to cause some change locally.”
Press Start hopes to expand and reach investigative journalists from Indonesia to Pakistan, Africa to Latin America.
“I think it’s a good alternative for freelance journalists who are trying to experiment with new forms of making journalism, and are taking risks with certain stories,” Flores said. “It’s also a good opportunity to create a community and talk to people about your work.”
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