Crowdfunding for press freedom

A new platform called Press Start will use crowdfunding to finance stories and protect journalists in areas where press freedom isn’t guaranteed

Reporters in countries where journalists lack freedom have a new champion.

A new crowdfunding platform called Press Start is set to launch in November to help reporters get their stories told in parts of the world where telling the truth sometimes puts you at risk.

Initially, Press Start will be available only for journalists from and working in central and eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Ultimately the platform plans to expand to parts of South America and Asia as well.

The programme is an initiative of Transitions, a journalism training organisation in central and eastern Europe and publisher of TOL, a news magazine about the post-communist region.

“There are all these struggling journalists, but there is no way to connect them with the people around the world because they don’t know about crowdfunding, they don’t know English,” said Jeremy Druker, founder of Press Start and one of the founders of Transitions. “They are just caught up in getting the story out and not coming up with new ways to reach the international audience who will be interested in funding them and hearing their story.”

“So that’s what we really are doing; handpicking the people that can use the help best and connecting them with the audience who would be interested in funding them.”

TOL will also be launching a month-long crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to garner additional money for Press Start until the platform is able to fund the journalists’ projects. The Kickstarter campaign will go live later in October and Press Start a month later.

Each pre-selected journalist will have a public portfolio available that will contain the journalist’s proposed project idea together with details of their professional background.

“There are all these struggling journalists, but there is no way to connect them with the people around the world because they don’t know about crowdfunding.”

Partner organisations who focus on things like media development, journalism training, press freedom and professional journalist associations from each journalists’ country will vouch for the journalist and help monitor the work the journalist produces.

“They [partner organisations] will act as intermediaries, telling them [the journalists] what we can offer and what we expect done,” said Druker.

Currently, TOL is working with 12 organisations in different countries but they’re still searching for reliable and experienced partners. Press Start currently has four journalists – nominated by partner organisations – whose profiles and proposed work are available to view by the public for funding.

Each journalist will receive funding for a maximum of four months and will be provided a lump sum of $2,000 USD (£1,300) irrespective of location or nationality. Donors can give to individual journalists or to a general fund to support campaigns close to reaching their goal. Money raised from the Kickstarter campaign will go into a similar fund.

Security is a real concern for journalists in some parts of the world so public crowdfunding might seem out of reach. Press Start is working on that.

“What we have done is talked to some press rights organisations and what they recommend in that situation is that we do crowdfunding not just for stories, but also for some kind of package that would also help protect the journalist,” said Druker.

Such packages will provide preliminary training to the journalists on security matters and cover health insurance for four months.

A small number of those journalists reporting on sensitive issues that may irk governments will be allowed to write and conduct crowdfunding campaigns under pseudonyms, with profiles devoid of details of their careers and past projects.

“Obviously, this defeats the purpose of being able to get into the details of a profile [for potential funders], but the Press Start visitors will have to trust us that we know who these people are, that we know their identity. So this can be tricky,” said Druker. “These will be a very small percentage of people who will be out there, but that’s what we are going to do.”

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TOL will rely on a National Endowment for Democracy grant to get Press Start off the ground. Druker wants Press Start to become a sustainable social business within three years, financed from donations, advertisements, and article syndications.

If projects are successful, journalists can apply multiple times and produce a consistent sources of income. Additionally, TOL is also considering building a profit-sharing model with its partners.

“Often people ask you to be a partner and you do a lot of work, but you don’t get paid for it,” said Druker. “So we have a model set up that we will be taking ten percent of the donation.

“Part of that ten percent will go to the local partner, who has recruited that particular journalist. It won’t be a significant amount of income, but for small organisations it is non-grant income. Everyone wins; the journalists benefit, we would benefit and local partner organisations will benefit.”

Jaroslav Valuch, a TOL staff member helping to set up Press Start, said that the content deemed interesting for an international audience will be translated to English and published on various platforms and on blogs.

First published by Through the Cracks