Nearly six billion people worldwide live in countries with suppressed or partially free media, as global press freedom has dropped to its lowest level in over a decade. Internet freedom is also in decline. Crippling political and financial pressures hinder the ability of independent media to earn enough funds to survive and pay their reporters, no matter how talented and brave they are. The lack of vibrant, independent journalism removes a key watchdog over governments and stunts democratic development.
Do you live in a country where the media are not beholden to political or business interests? Where journalists are free to write what they want, without fear of fines, beatings, imprisonment, or worse?
If so, consider yourself one of a privileged few – a mere 14 percent of the world's population, according to Freedom House.
Today, the vast majority – more than six billion people – live in countries where journalists risk their careers, and sometimes lives, to report on governments, businesses, and other powers, exercising what is a democratic right in other nations.
Yet crippling political and financial pressures mean independent media struggle to survive, to produce quality journalism, or even to pay their reporters – no matter how skilled and courageous they are.
While we can't end the repression, we can help keep alive this flame of independent journalism by supporting those journalists brave enough to keep writing, despite the threats.
They deserve our attention and support – especially as authoritarian states and movements grow bolder in the world and are ever more ready to clamp down on those who would hold them to account.
In response, we have introduced Press Start. The site will become the first global crowdfunding platform for reporters in countries where the press cannot report freely, potentially revolutionizing the way independent journalism is funded in the developing world and countries in transition.
Press Start will connect journalists seeking to report the stories important to their communities with people around the world who believe in a free press and appreciate its importance to democracy.
How then is this different from past and present crowdfunding platforms focused on journalism?
Now is the time for transformative initiatives. Without reporters serving as watchdogs, corruption and bad governance will flourish, anger will build among disgruntled and disenfranchised citizens, and fragile states will continue to deteriorate, with unforeseen consequences for the rest of the world.
1. We are teaming up with leading media development groups and training organizations to locate talented, dedicated journalists. They will vouch for and verify journalists according to their past performance, commitment to the profession, and potential to create wide-ranging impact with their reporting.
2. Journalists who pass through the screening process will then create, with our help, detailed profiles on Press Start. They will state areas of coverage they want to pursue and the content that they will deliver for the funding goal (whether features, news, investigations, multimedia, etc.)
3. Once we post the profile, we will launch a month-long campaign to help the reporter reach his or her goal. We're betting that once people get to know these journalists, through their profiles - see and hear what's inspired them to tell truth to power and why they keep at the job despite the obstacles - they will be prompted to give and make ground-breaking stories, which would otherwise not be told, come to life.
4. If the campaign is successful, the journalist will work on the proposed content over the next few months. His or her work will be published or aired in the journalist's own media outlet; by partner organizatons; and on blogs and other platforms. Selections will also be run on Press Start to highlight the excellent work being done by featured reporters.
We are currently putting together the profiles of the first journalists to be featured on Press Start, testing the site, and lining up additional partner organizations (let us know if you are interested!). Our plan is to launch the beta version of Press Start this spring, with a selection of amazing journalists from Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
Press Start is thrilled to be among the amazing projects and initiatives that Google selected to support high-quality journalism under its Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund. This new fund is, as Google put it, "designed to spark new thinking and give European news organizations of all sizes the space to try some new things, experiment and innovate in the digital space." We are especially proud that Press Start has been selected in the fund's first round as Google received over 1,200 applications from over 30 countries, and only selected 128 organizations to receive awards.
“We are delighted that Google supports our plan to foster independent journalism in countries where there are obstacles to reporting freely,” said Gary Regenstreif, chairman of the Advisory Board of Press Start. “We now invite the public to join us on this mission by donating, when our site goes live, to bolster the ability of the press to shed light on the governmental, business and other powers impacting the lives of citizens."
If you’re interested in staying up to date with Press Start developments (when we launch the beta version, when the first journalists hit their funding goals, etc.), please provide your email address below. We’ll send only valuable information about the project and will never spam you or sell your data.
How you can help
Phone: +420 702 170 427
Press Start is an initiative of Transitions, one of the leading journalism trainers in Central and Eastern Europe and publisher of a respected newsmagazine on the post-communist region (www.tol.org). Some of us behind this project have been running journalism training projects for almost 20 years. Thousands of journalists have gone through the programs we’ve organized. Those experiences have taught us what it’s like working with journalists who struggle against repression on a daily basis, and we’ve designed a platform precisely tailored to their needs. Our advisory board brings similar expertise to this project, comprising media and business professionals from a wide range of backgrounds.
Gary Regenstreif, former editor at large, Reuters.
Danforth Austin, former vice president and general manager, The Wall Street Journal; director, Voice of America.
Greg Beitchman, vice president, Content and Partnerships, CNN
Alan Chelko, Cisco International Corporate Development.
Robert Cohen, managing partner, Benson Oak Capital.
Joerg Floeck, former president, Global Sales & Customer Services, Thomson Reuters.
Graham Griffith, public radio producer and independent media strategist
Hana Huntova, professor of marketing, Prague campus of New York University
Abigail Levene, director at financial and corporate communications firm Stampa
Chouchou Namegabe, co-founder South Kivu Women’s Media Association (Congo).
David Rennie, Washington bureau chief and columnist, The Economist.
Michal Simko, senior associate at McKinsey & Company
Iryna Vidanava, founder and project director, CityDog (Belarus).
Press Start is a project built around the concept of collective impact – that only by teaming up with like-minded organizations worldwide who have a shared understanding of the value of a free press can we hope to have large-scale impact. This common agenda of aiding and defending courageous journalists and this shared vision of crowdfunding as a mechanism to build international solidarity and support will bind the network together.