07 July 2015
The media revolution is enabling almost anyone with a story to get it published. Digital media has opened up the news writing process and startups, like Contributoria, are responding with new publishing platforms. Contributoria works by inviting people to back the articles they want to read and asking them to give feedback to writers as they develop their work. Matt McAlister is a co-founder of the platform as well as a business developer at Guardian Media Group. Following the GEN Summit 2015 in Barcelona, where he was a jury member for the Startups for News Final, GEN caught up with Matt for a chat about the growing concept of people-powered, crowdfunded journalism.
Q What is Contributoria?
Contributoria is a people-powered journalism platform. We've opened all aspects of the journalism process including commissioning, editing and publication so that people can produce the journalism that they want to see in the world.
Q Why did you decide to launch this journalism network?
We were very interested in alternative approaches to the journalism process. In particular, we wanted to explore ways of supporting quality journalism that were more democratic and open. While there are many options for distributing journalism of all shapes and sizes it seemed the things you need for quality journalism were still being controlled by traditional media. So, we created Contributoria to open up the journalism process and invite more people into it. People can fund the journalism they want to read, and they can get involved in the writing process and even engage with journalists and their stories before they are published. It's a more democratic and collaborative approach to journalism than anything we've seen before.
Q. Since Contributoria's launch last year, what sort of projects have been successful?
Contributoria has made it possible to do stories that wouldn't otherwise be told and to invite useful people who are normally excluded from journalism into the creation of the articles. We've had some shocking articles such as the day in the life of a high street bookie which posed big challenges to gambling laws in the UK in a very accessible (and horrifying) way. And we've heard inspiring stories from places all over the world such as the foundation working with young refugees living in a former Iraqi prison, helping them tell their stories through art.
From brutality to beauty: Syrian children take on the international art world.
We've been building on this alternative coverage by working with foundations and partners such as Friends of the Earth, UNESCO, Open Society Foundations, Arcus Foundation and others who have useful insights to add to the journalism process. And because of all that we've been able to attract partners such as Vivienne Westwood who is interested in how the environment and future generations will be impacted by the actions of politicians, corporations, banks and mainstream media. Contributoria is very good at surfacing journalism people want that traditional media is failing to deliver.
Vivienne Westwood at the Southbank Centre, London.
Q. Contributoria is a division of the Guardian Media Group. What can the selected projects bring to the Guardian?
The whole media industry is transforming, and Contributoria gives the Guardian a view into alternative approaches to quality journalism that also support the Guardian's values. The Guardian is always interested in innovations in journalism, and Contributoria is an excellent example of that.
Q. Do you have a vision of where Contributoria is going?
We think of Contributoria as a marketplace for writers. With 5,000 writers in the network now we can start to turn that vision into reality. The first step in achieving that is to partner with organisations that share our interests. For example, we recently announced a partnership with Vivienne Westwood. She shares our interest in a more people-powered form of media, and we're working together on a special issue that journalists can participate in now. We'll have more to announce on that soon.
Q. Why do you think programmes such as GEN Startups for News programme are useful for the media industry?
There are plenty of places for startups to pitch their ideas for money, but there aren't enough ways for inspiring ideas to be heard by media organisations. It's more important now than ever before that media organisations look at innovations and alternatives to the core activities that they have relied on in the past. If they don't look outside of themselves they risk losing everything as new concepts of journalism enter the market and capture people's time, attention, understanding of the world and their money. GEN's Startups for News programme is a brilliant way to join up entrepreneurs who care very deeply about the future of journalism and have fresh ideas on how to evolve it with larger established organisations that can bring their experience, brands and audiences to a partnership that may benefit both the startup and the publisher. GEN could be a great enabler of the future models of publishing that the market desperately needs if the startups and media orgs can find ways to partner.
Q. Do you think it's important for traditional newsrooms to be in touch with news startups?
Photo Credit: From brutality to beauty: Syrian children take on the international art world.
Photo by Amy McTighe