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June 5, 2017, 10:21 a.m.
Business Models

In Italy, Il Giornale is turning to crowdfunding to help fund its reporting from conflict zones

“We’re a news site so we need to cover these things, but there’s not a lot of money to do everything. So we thought, maybe we could help solve this by using one of the main resources we have — our readers.”

As newsroom budgets have gotten tighter, reporting in war zones has often been one of the first things to go.

In Italy, IlGiornale.it, the digital arm of the country’s fifth-largest national newspaper, has experimented with reaching out to readers directly to fund its reporting abroad. In late 2013, the newspaper created Gli Occhi della Guerra (“The Eyes of War”), a crowdfunded reporting project that at launch offered readers the option to help fund reporting trips to either Afghanistan or Libya. Most readers opted for the former, and within weeks, had financed the Afghanistan trip — and, soon after, the Libya trip as well.

Since the project’s launch, readers have helped fund 90 trips across the world, including multiple expeditions to conflict hotbeds like Iraq and Syria. The site has sent reporters to other areas in Europe as well, such as Belgium to cover extremist Islam and Ukraine to cover the conflict there. (Readers have contributed roughly half of the total funding for the reporting, with ilGiornale.it providing the rest.) On the first Thursday of every month, Il Giornale publishes a special print supplement with the foreign reporting in the newspaper. The project has also produced photo essays and video documentaries, such as as one it published in May about the rape epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Without the reader support, many of these projects would have been out of reach for IlGiornale.it, which has a staff of just 20 across all its departments and a pool of a few dozen freelancers, said Laura Lesèvre, project manager for The Eyes of War. “We’re a news site, so we need to cover these things, but there’s not a lot of money to do everything. So we thought maybe we could help solve this by using one of the main resources we have — our readers,” she said. “If you get the news only through the agencies, everything’s the same. We wanted to have stories covered by sending people where things happen.”

The Eyes of War’s reporting has gotten some attention internationally. The International News Media Association gave ilGiornale.it an award for the project last year, noting the way the reporting has helped attract new readers (the site said that its unique visitors grew 67 percent in the first year after the project’s launch). While the site already translates some of its projects into English, IlGiornale.it plans to launch an English-language website in the near future.

While IlGiornale.it has so far made its appeal to readers largely online, it’s trying to talk to audiences in the physical world as well. With its first Reporter Day in Milan later this month, the organization will let interested freelancers pitch the site’s staff and readers on potential foreign reporting projects. They will present their project ideas, discuss their previous work, and get into the specifics about how much money they will need. While 650 people have applied so far (some from as far away as South Africa and Russia) just 150 will be invited to the event, and just two projects will be funded. “We want to bring together all interested parties — the website, freelancers, and readers — to make stories happen,” Lesèvre said.

Trust and transparency are key parts of the equation with The Eyes of War. Reporters whose work is funded via the project keep detailed records of how much they spend on travel, translation, and local fixers. All of this information is then published publicly, giving backers insight into how their money is being spent.

Beyond producing new projects and building its audience, IlGiornale.it also wants to give journalists, particularly young ones, a viable outlet to do the kind of work fewer outlets are able to pay for, Lesèvre said. “It’s nice to see how young reporters come to us really hungry and looking for a chance to do important work. They come to us and say, ‘You are actually doing what traditional newspapers will never do with us.’ We are opening our doors and trying to make their ideas reality.”

POSTED     June 5, 2017, 10:21 a.m.
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