As an antidote to grim March weather, here are two stories to lighten gloom. Struggling to keep up with new media, older people burble that digital social networks carry nothing but trolls and trivia. Many (older) journalists remain sternly pessimistic that their work can survive its bumpy transition to new technologies whose users seem so little interested in serious news and opinion.
At a supper last week organised by Tech City Insider, I had the good luck to sit next to a bearded, energetic man called Michael Sani. He began life as an actor and teacher and founded one of the campaigns trying to improve the falling voter registration rate among young people.
The campaign is called Bite the Ballot and early this year it organised a week-long registration drive. There wasn’t much choice that promoting the apparently-boring cause of registering to vote had to be done on social networks. Besides being the natural online conversation of the 18-24 age group that Sani and his volunteers were aiming at, getting people to relay your message by making it go viral is cheap. Which was good because bitetheballot didn’t have much money.
Long story short: 441,000 new voters were registered in that week. That set a world record for the numbers of voters (as a proportion of the potential electorate) put on the list in a week, outstripping America’s Rock the Vote drive in 2004. New voters registering had a 72% completion rate doing the 5-page form, which might also be a record. The campaign projected pictures onto Big Ben, went to community centres, worked Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat…and spent a grand total of £200.
I was telling this cheering story to someone at a conference in Valencia at the weekend when she pecked and swiped her phone to show me another world record, set in Spain.
Pedro Ramirez was one of Spain’s best known newspaper editors for two decades when, last year, he was pushed out of the editor’s chair at El Mundo, a vigorously opinionated and investigative paper which he had founded. Ramirez is not the kind of person to take this kind of thing lying down and he hasn’t.
He is starting an online news site called elespanol.com and raising money from supporters to see it through its opening phase. Nothing any longer unusual in that, for the success of collecting money for journalism from large numbers of individuals – most often for single stories or projects – has turned out to be one of the surprise discoveries in the desperate search for income to sustain journalism.
But the figures are striking. Elespanol had raised €3.6m from 5,595 investors when I checked just now. Elespanol’s blog claims this as a world record and it is certainly the largest sum I’ve yet heard of for crowdsourced journalism support. A fund – of goodwill as well as cash – is not the same as business model which can produce recurrent income, but it’s a hell of start. Good luck to Pedro Ramirez and his crew.