Press Start: Crowdfunding to crowdfund

Michelle Trimborn

Crowdfunding for journalists is not a new invention – but Press Start will give the concept a new twist. Instead of supporting single articles or a whole media outlet, the platform launched by Press Start will give donors the possibility to support single journalists for a series of articles and a period of around four months.

Jaroslav Valuch, Project Leader of Press Start, explained to the ECPMF that many journalists face a lack of sustainable support – a problem that the new crowdfunding platform aims to overcome. In addition to this, Press Start does not address the regular journalist, but in particular those coming from countries where press freedom is restricted and hardly any investigative journalism can be done.

To get the project launched, the project itself relies on the Freedom of Expression-community – and collects donations with a Kickstarter-campaign, ending by 18th December 2015.


Read our interview with Jaroslav Valuch from Press Start to learn more about how crowdfunding can foster local investigative journalism and thus strengthen the global freedom of the press. 

Interview with Jaroslav Valuch – Press Start

by Michelle Trimborn, 14.12.2015


What is the idea behind Press Start? How did you come up with the idea to create an own crowdfunding platform for journalists?

Three years ago, when Jeremy Druker, our CEO and founder of Press Start, had the idea to bridge the gaps between independent journalists - especially from countries with repressive regimes - and the international community of individual donors. This would create a direct link, rather than just to helping them via media foundations. The idea has been under development for some time, because we wanted to make sure that we are not just building another journalism crowdfunding platform, of which there are several already. We wanted to make sure to get a proper feedback from all possible directions before we start, for example from media professionals, journalists, activists and the wider community and base the idea on solid ground. We do not want to build another fancy tool, but made sure that we identified the needs of the people we want to support and that they can be really met with this tool.

So what are the needs of journalists and how do you meet them better than other crowdfunding projects?

There are several crowdfunding platforms journalists can use, but many of the journalists we are aiming at do not even know about those or might not have the language skills to start a project there. So this is an added value we offer, as we serve as a guide to this type of funding. But especially journalists who are writing in their local languages have a problem to mobilize the international community to fund them. If you want the support of the international community, you usually need to write your article with this audience as a target group.

But also journalists working in their communities, at the very local level, also need – or probably even have a stronger need for support by this community. There, single articles or series of articles can have a big impact in this local level. They do not need to have English language skills, but still need access to this type of support. I am sure they would usually not be able to gather crowdfunding support for such localized events.

So this is one of Press Starter’s specialities to publish in the language they want to publish?

Yes, it is, but still they get access to the international funding and we will also track the impact of their work on the local level.

You have several big names from the media world on your board, it would have been an easy step to go for traditional fundraising methods. You chose crowdfunding – in a double sense: to first support Press Start with a Kickstarter project and then, via your own platform, start individual fundraising campaigns for journalists. Where do you see the advantages of this kind of funding?

First: We still expect that we will need some funding from 'traditional' donors who are willing to support our project, but at the same time we want to spread the word about our project – and the Kickstarter campaign is a good way to get people’s attention and make them support the idea. The crowdfunding is not going to be sufficient to keep the operation going, so we also go for traditional donors. But the Kickstarter-campaign is a first start to get the word out, to gather a community around this project.

So you basically use the crowdfunding campaign as a communication tool?

Yes, it is both a communication and fundraising tool. If we want to succeed with our own crowdfunding platform, we need to have the community ready and waiting. When we launch our platform, it is too late to start building the community around this project. So this is our opportunity and once our platform is live, we already have channels to reach out to and to mobilize.

At the same time, it is independent funding. When the money comes from big international donors or even governments, it puts the journalists at a certain risk. They might be attacked or blamed for serving the purpose of a certain donor agency. If the journalist is supported by a huge group of individuals with small amounts, the risk of being blamed for doing a job for a supporter can be mitigated.

But crowdfunding is always a risk as you cannot financially rely on it. So, is there a plan B in case you are not successful or if you do not get the amount of money you planned for the journalists at Press Start?

There is a crisis plan. We are planning to fundraise money from traditional donors, so we will somehow be able to keep going. If we do not succeed with this campaign, it does not mean the end of Press Start. In addition, for the Press Start crowdfunding, we are planning a specific fund: If we manage to collect 50 or 75% of the funding for a journalist, we can use this pool of money to support the project with if it has the potential, which we see when there is a certain number of supporters for the journalist. We will thus mix the crowdfunding approach with traditional funding. Apart from this, we have a strong business plan and want to be independent in three years and have a sustainable platform by then, only relying on a small percentage of donations.

Jaruslav Vanuch Picture by Press Start: Jaroslav Valuch Project Leader of Press Start

How will your Press Start crowdfunding look like in practice?

We are still having discussions about it. The amount of 2,000 USD per journalist is not fixed yet. Also, we have not yet made the final decision about the funding model: Either a journalist gets all the money collected after a certain threshold, even if he did not reach the campaign goal, or only successful campaigns will receive the money by the crowd. Those are details we are still planning to polish based on the feedback we collect in this phase.

So when Press Start is running, you want to support single journalists, display their profile and let the community fund them. But how do you choose those journalists who will be featured? Can people apply for funding?

There is the possibility to apply, however, this is not our primary approach. Transitions (TOL), the organisation behind Press Start, has a long experience in working with journalists, especially in the post-Soviet region. This is a strong point of Press Start, as we know very well what the work in such countries is like for journalists. We trained a lot of journalists, we are part of many networks of international media organisations, so our idea is to identify suitable journalists through our network. We are send profiles of journalists by our contacts, who know them, know what they are working on and how they do it and we choose out of this pool those who might be featured on the website. Speaking about priorities, it should be people with a proven professional record as a journalist to be sure that he or she really needs and uses the money in its intended way. Another criterion is also geographical diversity. We do not want to over-represent a certain region and this influences our choice.

And for the final publication of the articles which got funded, you are saying in your campaign that you want to see it published in media that usually do not have the money for investigative journalism…

Yes, this is a gap that we identified. But if we see that some of those investigations have the potential to also address international audiences, we will do the translation and publish it in English on the Press Start platform. So we also want to support local journalists in giving them international attention, if the topic is of interest.

So Press Start is not only about mere financial support.

No, not at all. We also want to support them by mobilizing very specific international audiences who have an interest in funding certain journalists, for example an LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersexed)-group supporting a Russian journalist who otherwise cannot write about this topic. The purpose of Press Start is to speak to this specific global community interested in this topic and say "Hey, have a look, this journalist needs your support to cover the issue in his local community!" So we see us also in this role of mobilising communities and helping journalists to get their funding. This is what makes Press Start different from other simple crowdfunding campaigns.

But you do not fund single articles. The aim is to fund reporting series for several months…

Yes, that is actually the niche we identified. Other crowdfunding journalism platforms work around individual stories. But for journalists we are planning to fund, there is need for longer continuous support. We want to offer some stability and a lifeline for journalists working under difficult circumstances.

Are the journalists free to choose the medium where their story will be published or do you use your own contacts and media network?

It is totally up to the journalists to choose the medium to publish their investigations. Often, they already submit their work to a specific medium and they are free to continue like this, but we are also happy help them to find ways to publicise their story if it is, for example, too sensitive to publish it in their own country.

So they own the rights for they stories?

Yes, they absolutely do.

And do you already know when you will get started with Press Start?

The plan is to launch the platform by the end of January 2016. The concept is ready, we have the team, so once the campaign is over, we collect the feedback and turn it into action. Also the journalists are waiting to get the project started.

Have the journalists already been chosen?

There are some which will be definitely featured, for example from Macedonia, Honduras and Lebanon, working, for example, on corruption and women’s rights. But we have another ten amazing journalists’ portfolios. We have to decide if we launch with a lot of different profiles, or only with a few chosen ones, which seems to be more likely right now. I hope that the first individual campaigns will be launched in spring.

Michelle Trimborn, PR and Communications Manager, is responsible for both internal communication with the Consortium Partners and external communication/PR.

Read more

In the upcoming months, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom will take a closer look at the funding of independent reporting in Europe. More information here.


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