As the year draws to a close, looking back to how things have played out is a regular concern for many and media folk could be accused of being especially absorbed in reviewing the year that was.
At Contributoria we recently released the figures on the right of this page to do just that, take stock of what’s felt like a remarkable first year for the independent journalism network myself, Matt and Dan launched into the world on January 1 2014.
Only in existence for a year and already it seems like a lifetime ago we won that Google IPI News Innovation Contest with the basic idea for its prototype.
But, exciting as they are, the stats only tell part of the story. Behind those blunt measures, there’s been plenty of conversations, plans and dreams too. And for me, a major pre-occupation throughout 2014 has been thinking about ‘what journalists really want.’
The easy answer is to say, ‘proper financial recognition’ and of course, money is always going to be an issue. But once the payment question is out of the way, what then? What really matters every day?
Measure of everything
Publishers spend plenty of energy working out metrics and measures for just about everything – page views, dwell time, shares on social platforms etc. etc. and that’s great to get a feel in aggregate but, what really gets a writer fired up?
I don’t know m/any journalists who get out of bed in the hope that the shareholder will get a better return on their news org’s holding! Without being puffed up about it, didn’t we all get into this to ‘change the world’ in some small way?
Looking for common threads running through the work of many of the Contributoria writers, a really important outcome would seem to be around the impact their work has, its influence.
And that’s one of those things that’s hard to measure despite being easy to spot when it does happen.
Stories with impact
We saw this recently with the startling piece by Harry Vale who wrote about his first hand experience of working in a High Street bookmakers.
It was one of those pieces of writing that couldn’t be ignored – it screamed, snarled, swore and spat in the faces of those who think having access to gambling machines on every poverty-hit spew-splattered street corner is acceptable.
To date its been widely read and shared from the Contributoria site; prompted complaints to the Gambling Commission (the Confidential intelligence line is at 0121 230 6655 if you feel moved to do that too); been read and tweeted by campaigning MP Tom Watson and featured on the primetime BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Show (last Friday if you want to listen again).
Harry’s on his way to writing the second instalment just now and my gut feeling is that this still has some way to play out. Follow what happens next here.
Perhaps another interesting measure of influence can be seen in the global reach and appeal of a story and the places it travels. We’ve seen this many times over the year and do our best to help writers track what happens after their articles are published under a Creative Commons non-commercial share and attribution licence.
Rich McEachran’s piece on the feasibility of eating insects was one such piece. While it was a popular read here in the UK – where we’re seemingly happy to eat bacteria-filled chicken but wince at the idea of grubs – it also had resonance in parts of the world where eating insects isn’t quite so taboo.
The topic was such a good talking point for South Africans that the Big Issue magazine there used the story for its cover issue – and sold out.
The Big Issue in South Africa
As well as the arresting image, the editors there provided a useful recipe and asked ‘crickets or beef?’, providing an informative nutritional breakdown.
I asked Rich about the article’s popularity:
Some people don’t like to be told what to eat, but they do like to be intrigued. Others are concerned about the environmental impact of their meat consumption … I guess the article has been popular with both camps because, even though the thought of eating insects is yuckish, the idea that we could all be consuming them in the form of cookies and tortillas, snack foods that we love, made from cricket flour, makes us want to taste them and find out more. Well I do anyway.
Back in July, two of the Contributoria writers, Jen Wilton and Liam Barrington-Bush travelled to Spain to find out more about the unusual town of Marinaleda. They couldn’t have known as they packed their passports just how that story would mushroom into publications around the globe, including:
- Truth Out (1,900 Likes)
- Yes! Magazine (1,500 Likes)
- New Internationalist (1,000 Likes)
- ROAR Magazine (1,000 Likes)
- The Ecologist
and then last month it was translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil.
I wondered if they could explain the huge success of that article. Liam said they both felt it had something to do with the positive message expressed:
“Lots of progressive press can be as guilty of just writing more and more stories highlighting the bad stuff out there (with good cause), but which can have a really demoralising effect on peoples’ outlook. So when alternatives come to light, I think they provide a bit of relief, that the world isn’t as bad as it can sometimes appear from reading the news…”
Here’s to even more of that in 2015!
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