How Authentic Journalism Is Retooling Away from the Internet Middlemen

By Al Giordano
 
 
 
Two key things have fueled the authentic journalism renaissance that has grown up with Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism: the commitment of the writers, video-makers and other talents who have done the work and trained each other through the school, and the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism through which so many readers and friends have supported that work.
 
This month, the Fund gave its website an exciting new upgrade, thanks to the volunteer work of graduates of the school. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:
 
 
We’re also in a life and death battle to make the 2015 School of Authentic Journalism possible, through a Kickstarter campaign that lasts ten more days. So far, 117 supporters have pledged $10,513 toward the $25,000 goal. We have ten more days to reach that threshold. The way Kickstarter campaigns work is that unless enough pledges add up to cross the goal line, the pledgers’ credit and bank cards won’t be billed and the Fund won’t receive any of that money. This would be a great moment to add to the momentum and help get us over the top, via this link:
 
 
I mentioned a few days ago that the fate of “Narco News as you know it” also hangs in the balance of this campaign.
 
However it goes - "Plan A" is to meet the goal and hold the school, but we have a "Plan B" as well - the authentic journalism renaissance will keep marching on. The Fund’s ability to continue supporting the work of independent investigative journalism and the production of top shelf viral videos like the recent NNTV premier of “Danger: Journalists Crossing,” will continue to count on all our support.
 
We understand that in a global economy where not everybody benefits that it’s not easy for many readers who want to support this work to do so with a donation. And our friends at the Fund have been thinking hard about how to retool in a way that makes it easier even for readers and friends without expendable cash to participate.
 
We recently found one way we can all – including the journalists who are supported by the Fund – help to build the resources for this work through a new social media platform that shares 90 percent of its ad revenues with its users. It’s called Tsu (pronounced “sue”). It was launched last October, now has 3.7 million users, and in recent days has really started going viral in a massive way.
 
The Fund for Authentic Journalism set up a new page there – in a moment I’ll give you the link – and is already receiving both a share of the revenues as well as direct donations from its users. It’s very exciting how quickly and easily this has proved to work. 
 
I should note that nobody involved with the Fund or any of its supported projects owns any part of this new social media. It’s that it shares 90 percent of its revenue with those that participate that may revolutionize how nonprofit projects like the Fund, Narco News and the School of Authentic Journalism assemble the resources so they can survive and thrive for years to come. Nobody puts any money into the social media to be able to participate. But those who participate – because they are generating value simply by spending time there – share in the proceeds.
 
I’ve had a chance to test-drive the Tsu platform in the past few days and we've set up an outpost for the Fund for Authentic Journalism there. With a very small number of followers, the fund has already received more than $22 dollars to its bank account, and just in the first three days. As a user, just doing the kinds of comments and sharing of links I would normally do in Facebook, I’ve received more than $8 dollars in these three days. That’s not a lot of money, but if multiplied by hundreds or thousands of us it could add up to fund a significant part of the work of authentic journalism – as well as benefiting every supporter individually, depending on how active he or she want to be on the platform.
 
The Fund for Authentic Journalism is not the first nonprofit to find the Tsu way of sharing proceeds helpful to our work. There, we join nonprofits like the Aids Outreach Center, the African Wildlife Foundation, Bike to Beach (for support of autism research), Habitat GTA, Water.org, Amazon Watch, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Cape Cod Fisherman's Association, and others who have found in this new model a better way than "middleman media" had offered us.
 
I should say that the Tsu social media site is already not like other failed start-ups that attempted to become alternatives to Facebook (where the owners keep 100 percent of the profits generated by all the time and creativity its users pour into it). Tsu is already not a “ghost town” like other start-ups have been. I’ll give you a couple of examples shortly but first I’ll give you the link with which you can take your own test-drive:
 
 
Simply click that link (if you type it remember that it’s a “.co” and not a “.com”) and you’ll be brought to a sign-up page. You decide your username and password – along with your email address – and click “enter.” Within the next hour or so – sometimes it happens in seconds – you’ll receive a confirmation email from Tsu. Click the link in that email and, voila, you’re in, and can start posting your profile and background photos as well as begin doing the kinds of things one does on any other social media.
 
Once I did that, I was surprised to find how many people of talent had discovered this place before we did.
 
Last night I was looking at my feed there and saw a post by Elliot Randall – hey, is that the musician from Steely Dan who I loved as a kid? Ah, yes, it is! Some months ago, he said, he had been hanging around his flat in London when two members of the original Blues Brothers band stopped by, in town while on tour. They turned on a video camera and jammed a version of the jazz classic “God Bless the Child.” So he posted it on Tsu. It sounded fantastic. Here it is:
 
 
 
 
And so, like I sometimes do on any other social media, I made a comment underneath it to express my happiness at having been able to listen to and see this great music being made. Four minutes later – poof! – the great Elliot Randall replies to my comment…
 
 
Just another night on Tsu hanging around and chatting with a music legend…. It's a social media filled already with moments like that.
 
Another thing that happened there: I saw that another member of this site is an athlete I follow on Twitter, the NY football Giants running back Andre Williams, and he had launched a contest there for graphics about him from which he’ll pick a winner and award some fan paraphernalia. As the third generation of Giordanos to love the NY Giants I couldn’t resist. But I don’t know much about Photoshop or design programs like that and some friends helped me out. I posted the image to Tsu and suddenly an NFL player from my favorite team is publishing it on his page.
 
 
Given, that’s the silly, sometimes stupid – and fun – stuff of the sort that many of us do on social media sites while we connect with our friends at long distances there. But for the first time in my years of doing it, I was getting paid for my time and effort, and a very fair 90 percent of the value it was generating.
 
And I thought: this is the future of social media. It’s going to be irresistible once people hear about it, especially for the kind of people we all go on social media to read and enjoy what they say and do there.
 
This is a groundbreaking solution to the problem in which writers (including journalists), filmmakers, artists, musicians, artisans and cottage businesses of all kinds have in recent decades had a harder time making a living because big gigantic companies have stepped in the middle between us and consumers and established new and unfair rules that allow them to take the money that the creators used to make. And I’ll bet that if you’re someboy who would like to support the School of Authentic Journalism Kickstarter drive but can’t afford right now to contribute, you’re probably one of those people.
 
Facebook’s Bait & Switch that Hurt Nonprofits
 
The biggest social media, of course, is Facebook. Maybe you never got on it. If you’re one of those folks, I salute you. Here's the story of what happened to those of us who did get on it.
 
Five or six years ago friends urged me to open a Facebook account. The promise of it was that we could meet and hang with our friends all over the planet, follow what all of them were doing and saying, and they could similarly stay in touch with us. 
 
And for a while, Facebook became a great organizing tool for projects like Narco News and a way to find talents all over the world who would be great additions to the School of Authentic Journalism.
 
Narco News started a Facebook page and built it into a platform to reach 27,000 of our readers. And in 2012 I realized that if I spent a small amount of advertising dollars on Facebook we could reach even more of the people we wanted to reach. So we invested not just time, but also resources into expanding the audience for all the good work done on Narco News.
 
And then Facebook pulled the rug out from under us, as individuals, and from the nonprofits that had been doing good work there. It changed its “algorithms” so that users could no longer read every one of their friends' updates there, reducing that access eventually to just five percent of our friends.
 
What Facebook did to nonprofits was particularly heinous. Suddenly, on the Narco News page there, our news stories and videos were not reaching the audience we had spent time and money to build. Our articles and videos, instead, reached just five percent of those folks on average. My opinion is that this was an effort to extort us to purchase more ads on Facebook in order to reach the same community that our work had built there: as if our readers were held hostage and a ransom was being demanded. So when, for example, applications were available to apply to the School of Authentic Journalism, we’d then have to spend a little money to make sure as many of our readers as possible knew about it and could apply. And yet as time marched on, those ads were less effective, I suppose because they were buried in a sea of so many ads on Facebook that many readers probably developed an aversion to clicking or reading any of them. Whatever it was that happened, whatever the reasons for it, it stopped working for us.
 
And all that organizing work to build an online community went up in smoke. It’s not the only reason why the School of Authentic Journalism and Narco News are threatened today. But it’s one of the big ones.
 
And so no matter whether the Kickstarter campaign succeeds in the next ten days to make a 2015 school possible or not – and we still think we can, and are working around the clock, to do it – we’ve learned an important lesson: for the work of authentic journalism to continue to succeed we have to retool away from these “middlemen sites” that vacuum up all the value of our work and turn it into profit for them, and toward new platforms that share with the artist and journalist and the nonprofit organizations that support them.
 
After all, wasn't that the mission of authentic journalism to begin with? To eliminate the middleman?
 
We need to now apply what we've done to old media, and do it to those "new media" that have become so big they merely behave just like the old media projects like ours have challenged.
 
As more and more people learn that it’s simply not true that 100 percent of the value of the time and labor they expend on the Internet must be snatched up by middlemen, the existence of a new way is going to be the meteor that hits Planet Facebook, and others like it, and sends them the way of the dinosaur.
 
The New and Better Frontier on the Internet
 
And so we invite you to join us in this new frontier in which your time and creativity is going to be valued and will help you out, as well as helping out those who recruited you into it. (And on the new media - Tsu - it's different from Facebook in a very important way: you own the rights to everything you post there.)
 
We have a pretty good track record over the past 15 years of getting ahead of the next wave in media. All the great things we've pioneered - from online journalism and its First Amendment protections to viral video to small-dollar fundraising and more - are now possible for a great many.
 
If you sign up via this link, the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism will become the beneficiary of 30 percent of the value of the time and energy you choose to spend there. Nothing will obligate you to do anything. But you may find, as I have, that’s it’s a thoroughly worthwhile place to spend time.
 
The way this new form of social media that shares the proceeds with users works is that to get in on it, you have to be invited by someone who is already there, and the recruiter will then benefit from that 30 percent part of the value you generate. Likewise, when you recruit friends to accept your invitation, you’ll receive that 30 percent part of what they generate. So why not accept the invitation from the nonprofit Fund for Authentic Journalism that you support already? (And in full disclosure, to a lesser extent of 10 percent, you’ll also be directly supporting my work there, because I’m the user that invited the Fund in; you already know that whatever resources I assemble go mainly to support other journalists and their training, too.)
 
Interested? Use this link as your pass code to sign up and see for yourself if what I’m telling you is too good to be true, or just plain true:
 
 
That new page will also share the future work of journalists, video-makers and others that the Fund supports, so you’ll have one-stop shopping to read and view the work that your time on social media will be supporting.
 
Once we reach a critical mass there, we may well pull out of Facebook altogether.
 
If it’s not your cup of tea, no problem: nothing lost, nothing gained. There are still other ways to support this work and make sure you can keep reading it.
 
But after already having recruited more than 10 percent of my “Facebook friends” to join me in this new social media, and seeing how pleased and active they are, I bet you’ll find it worthwhile and fun, too. And that’s especially true if you are a writer, journalist, artist, musician, creator or small businessperson of any kind, because for once in our lives we’re receiving a fair value on the time and energy we put into a social media experience.
 
If you have any questions, or I can help you navigate onto this newest part of our fifteen-year project, you know my email address: narconews@gmail.com .
 
Victor Hugo once wrote, “There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
 
I’m betting that moment is now.
 
From somewhere in a country called América,
 
 
Al
 

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About Al Giordano

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Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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