Our Position On Newslaundry

The method to the madness behind Newslaundry and why it’s time you supported us.

WrittenBy:Abhinandan Sekhri
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Why Newslaundry?

Many of you have been asking us how we are funded and what our revenue model is. You’ve heard of paid media – we’re unpaid media! Actually, we fund ourselves. And no, it’s not because we are sitting on coffers of gold. It’s because the founders of Newslaundry – Madhu Trehan, Prashant Sareen, Roopak Kapoor and I – figured we should try an alternative model for news since the conventional one seems to be running into all kinds of problems at many levels, commercial and structural. We activated a payment gateway a few months ago for a couple of weeks, a very imperfect gateway, but it was to test if people believe it’s possible for the public, rather than advertisers to support a news site. Would they pay? How valuable is the freedom of the press for them? The reaction we got was encouraging but we needed to really work on a payment gateway that was efficient and less buggy. It’s up now. Click here.

We want to get big enough to do in-depth stories that can take weeks or even months, and shows that can match the best in production values and content, and have a team more than the motley crew of seven that we are. An independent platform for diverse and independent views is important to us and, we think, for most people who value democracy and freedom of speech.

Why do we do this?

Because we believe a new format and a new model for the news space can be created. One that remains ad-free, independent and is supported by a community of Newslaundry viewers. Yes, we’ve been told by those with a conservative mindset that this isn’t possible and that people may whine, rant and outrage about news media not being independent but will never loosen their purse strings or do anything themselves. We think there are enough people out there who in fact will get involved. We think it’s possible to create a viewer-supported space. But to work towards that goal, we had to put our money where our mouths are. Which is why we’ve supported Newslaundry for over two years.

Does that mean we’ve made no money in the past two years?

Some. We made some money with the Facebook partnership for Candidates 2014 and for the Election Wash series. (And no, contrary to popular troll-view, we did not take any money from NDTV for Candidates 2014.)

We run a very tight ship. We have an extremely small team – seven people in a good month – and since we don’t believe in bonded labour, we need to keep paying their salaries. We also have freelancers whom we pay.

We’ve supported it for so long and it’s time for the viewer-funded model to kick in and see if a news platform free of ad funds can not only survive, but also do stories that others would be reluctant to touch.

Why do we think a community-supported website is the way to go?

Madhu started Newstrack during the times of VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders). Many of you reading this won’t know what VCRs are (if you do know, take a moment to reflect: you are old and congratulations on your seamless transition into the online world since most people your age find it difficult.).

This is what it looked like.

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Madhu was asked, will people pay to watch news? When there is Doordarshan for free? Back then, there was only one channel: Doordarshan (if you gasped in disbelief at that thought, congratulations, you are young. But you too will be old one day so stop gloating now). Ha! Right! People will pay for news! That was the standard reaction Madhu got.

But people did pay. The government-run DD News wasn’t enough. It wasn’t independent of government influence. Who knew people would actually rent or buy VHS tapes to watch anything other than blockbuster films and porn? But they did. Although to be honest, blockbusters and porn had a far bigger market, but Newstrack bhi chal hi gaya. And it changed how news was viewed forever.

The next couple of decades belonged to the private news boom, ending government monopoly. Advertiser-led private parties entered the fray. But as government influence on news reduced (not vanished), the influence of advertisers increased. What do you expect? The corporations fund it. That is what we have today.

We believe the time for the next big transition is here. The next step: a move from advertiser-led private news broadcasters to community-led online news and views platforms. This is when news will serve the public since the public can directly fund it or cut off the lifeline of money.

Those of you born in the Eighties or later wouldn’t remember the days when the only television news you got was through DD. The “noise” and hysteria we so often crib about on our many news channels is a huge step-up from the quiet, non-informative, pliable and non-combative days of government-run news that toed the government line and was anything but journalistic in its role as a whistleblower to serve the public. What do you expect? The government funded it – and still does so. Newstrack led the transition into private parties getting into news that led to a relatively more independent and informed – even if a more noisy – news environment. Relatively being the operative word. Baby steps led to bigger steps, then a trot, canter and now it’s time to gallop. And that is not possible without YOUR participation.

The idea is to make Newslaundry a collaborative, ad-free site where the Newslaundry community (not limited to just those sitting in office here) contributes to its growth, content and strategy. We will be initiating practices and systems that may surprise you or make you laugh. The more cynical may write those off outright as impossible, but we’ll never know if we don’t try and where is the fun in being safe?

Why don’t we want a paywall?

We want young people – and the not so young – of this country to be in on information. We believe we can create content that they will consume. Irreverence, independence, informality and humour are engaging. If there’s one constant over the decades, it is that students are always hard up on cash. While we think readers of The Economist and Forbes can pay for online content, students can’t. So, the site remains free for students and those who can’t pay. Those who pay will get newsletters, behind the scenes video clips, and the opportunity to take part in discussions and online editorial meetings. And don’t be a cheapo and go free pretending to be a student. Come on, 100 bucks a month won’t rock your world.

What if you want to support us but have no money to spare?

Then you can always pay us in kind. Going forward, we will be writing and shooting stories that are collaborative efforts between our viewers and us. If you’d like to support us, you can provide us logistical support to make it easier for us to report these stories: a room, a vehicle for local travel, a guide to your city. If you can think of other ways to contribute, we’re open to suggestions. We want Newslaundry to be a truly collaborative effort where public interest will be served since the public is involved. We will be unrolling many such joint initiatives in the future.

Why do we seem reluctant to go down the ad-funded model?

It’s not that we think advertising is evil or always has strings attached (although it often does), but we believe if one goes down the ad route, one builds a certain kind of brand and organisation. The priorities, direction and culture of that organisation will be based on those fundamentals. There are strengths and weaknesses in that model, as in any other.

If one goes down the collaborative community-funded approach, one builds another kind of organisation. That organisation will have different priorities, direction and culture. There are good and bad things about both. There are several news organizations built on the ad-funded premise. We want to attempt the second and see where it goes. Will we ever take ads? You will decide that. The direction Newslaundry will take will be decided by the collective decisions of the Newslaundry community.

Is there a “Newslaundry position”: economic/political/ social?

There’ve been several criticisms (many valid and understandable) about what “the Newslaundry position” is on some issue or the other or on supporting one party over another.

There is no Newslaundry position”. If there is one, no one’s told me what it is. I’m assuming everyone at Newslaundry has a similar position on some basic human values; things such as being against slavery, racism, caste and gender discrimination. We all probably believe killing babies because they are girls is a bad thing. We believe bride-burning and human trafficking is horrible. I’ve observed a consensus on such issues since I think centuries, and generations, of discussion and debate have come to a conclusion on them. So, there may be a “Newslaundry position” on these, not because we have stated it but because we find most people here and all over the world feel similarly about these issues. Even so, if someone has a compellingly argued piece on why we should bring slavery to India or why we should reintroduce untouchability or female infanticide, we are willing to read it to see what kind of case the person is making.

However, for a political prescription offered few years ago (Food Security Bill, NREGA, SEZ act, Lokpal Bill etc) or whether Modi, Raja, Tejpal, Kalmadi, etc are guilty of innocent or whether the Congress, BJP, AAP or CPIM are better, or whether Gujarat is a better-developed state than Tamil Nadu, or if capitalism is a better system than communism, and many such issues – there is NO Newslaundry position. Individuals will have their own positions and neither I nor anyone I know here at Newslaundry will thrust his or her position on everyone.

An organisation having “a position” on a contemporary issue is very 20th century. I don’t understand how that can be. I am amazed no one has challenged it so far. I see a newspaper’s editorial with “Our Take” or “Times View” as a caption. So everyone in the organisation shares that view? Really? Does everyone who joins The Times of India or Hindustan Times plug their mind into a mother-board so everyone suddenly thinks similar thoughts and subscribes to “Our Take” or “Times View”?

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At Newslaundry, there is me, who is deeply sympathetic to AAP; there’s my cofounder Roopak, who is a former Congress voter and now Modi voter; Prashant, who was a hardcore BJPwala and now an AAP-tard; and Madhu Trehan, who is equally dismissive of all or none depending on her mood. Our colleagues and reporters all have their independent views and are free to express them. There is no “Newslaundry position”. We don’t listen to anyone, or as Madhu says: “Hell! We don’t even listen to each other!” You should see what an exercise in patience it is agreeing on the Clothesline script we write together. Give us West Bank to solve, we’ll get it done – that’s how collaborative we can be even when we violently disagree.

Why this attempt when there’s such a high possibility of failure?

Because we can always blame it on you if we do fail. But you can’t accuse us of not trying the alternative.

So, now that you know the whys, hows and wherefores – visit our payment gateway and show us the love. Will you pay to keep news free and independent? Just click here.

The author can be contacted on Twitter @abhinandansekhr


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