An interview with Florin Grancea, the one who wanted one day to see 10,000 citizen journalists writing for Romania’s biggest online newspaper!
Q: Please briefly describe your organisation. Tell us more about your team.
A: I started to work as a journalist in 1995, the second year of university, to pay for my journalism studies. In the mornings I was taking courses of journalism, ethics or law, during evenings I was working in a newspaper which was still printed on huge linotype machines, and late evenings and early mornings in a TV station I was writing the press review that another journalist had to read live from 7am every day!
22 years later I am still a journalist! But I am more than a simple journalist, I could say.
By 2002, bearly 7 years after starting my press career and 3 years after receiving my BA in journalism, I was feeling something is very wrong with my profession! The government was controlling the press with huge amounts of money spent on commercials bought by state-owned companies and most of the press could not dare to criticize the Cabinet or the PM, Adrian Nastase. Moreover, emerging tycoons were buying newspapers one after another and silencing noisy journalists by firing them or paying them off.
The transparency of salaries was abolished and in the same time a pact for non-hiring an ousted journalists was signed by all main media organisations. The glamour of journalism died for me that year. I felt being controlled, manipulated and suspected myself of self-censorship most of the time. Thus, I decided to go back to university and study the journalism to find a solution to the crisis I was seeing developing under my eyes. I chose Tokyo University for an MA degree and I stayed a bit longer.
15 years later, today, I can see I was right. The press industry in Romania lost about 90% of audiences compared with 2002! Some journals disappeared altogether while others print less than 10 thousands copies/issue! They did not even migrated in online! Newsrooms shrank from dozens of professional journalists to sometimes 3 or 4 underpaid and unprofessional staff! Journalism is dying in Romania and I am back after 15 years abroad to do something and save it!
Q: What is the type of your Organisation?
A: Online pure player
Q: Where is the project team located?:
A: In Romania!
Q: How many journalists does your organisation have?:
A: 32 so far, but only a handful are active.
Q: What is your annual turnover (in EUR) for 2016 (if applicable)?:
A: 0 euros!
Q: Are you, or any member of your organisation, currently employed by or working on behalf of a government organisation, in any capacity?:
Q: Does any government organisation hold any level of ownership, control or voting rights within your organisation?:
Q: Be more specific with your project!
A: I call this project „Citizen journalism for a rebirth of journalism in Romania”
Q: Please provide a brief overview of the project.
A: Fact one: The biggest Romanian quality newspaper prints about 10 thousands copies/issue!
Fact two: The most accessed news portals have less than 30 (!) news/day in Romania!
Fact three: Most of the potential news in Romania do not get to the point of becoming news!
Fact four: The Romanian profession of journalism is suffering a lack of credibility!
This is the sheer reality from which I started to think about a model of journalism and media that can address the problems of journalism in Romania one by one and can solve those problems one by one! Having studied the impact of „Oh, My News” in South Korea I decided that only a citizen journalism initiative can save the journalism in Romania, the public sphere and, thus, the ongoing modernity process and democratization process.
Without such a project, journalism together with democratization are doomed and Romania, unable to become a strong partner in EU, will forever be a problem.
My project is aiming to gather at least one citizen journalist in every Romanian city/town/village or every place abroad where Romanians live! With a target of 10 thousand journalists I want this online newspaper to become a major player of local media.
Q: Please describe your project in more detail, including the specific outcome you want to achieve and its broader impact.
A: I want to gather at least one citizen journalist for every city/town/village in Romania and at least one for every place abroad where lives a Romanian! It might be difficult as a construction but it will create an unparalleled public sphere that can push for a re-credibilization of journalism as a profession and for a better platform for the democratization of Romania!
Today the circulation of Romanian newspapers has reached an historical low! The biggest quality newspapers sells in about 10 thousand copies/issue! The online newspapers offer a maximum 30 news/day, letting thousands of potential news out of the image!
The result is having a majority of population misinformed or uninformed or under informed! The result we have communities that do not feel they belong in the bigger picture of Romania because they never make the news! We have bigger communities feel they are the scum of the earth because the nicer stuff that happen for them never gets in the news!
An online newspaper of citizen journalists that are active anywhere and everywhere will change all that. We will notice more integration, more awareness, more implication, more participation, more solutions for the crisis we are facing and in the end will be a better country and a stronger partner for our foreign friends. And why not, a model!
Q: What makes your project innovative? Provide a quick description of the technological and editorial component and describe the deliverable product.
A: The project is innovative because is empowering thousands of people to produce, edit and distribute news without being controlled by political or economical entities! For these people to work together we will make use of cloud technologies and social media for brainstorming/working together on bigger projects/editing/distributing contents via social media, discussion and follow up via the same social media.
Only people with a confirmed identity can be part of the citizen journalism team and they will be able to upload their contents on the newspaper directly. Those with higher skills will be able to edit and correct any other information on the site, wikipedia style! Thus, every one will take responsibility to bring to the public the most complete, accurate and reliable information possible.
The final product will be an online journal that everyone will trust! Just working for our online journal will offer a status in society that everyone will look up to!
Q: How will your project support and stimulate innovation in digital news journalism? Why does it have an impact?
A: My project is a platform of horizontal democracy! No one will be in charge of the project and the gate keepers will be policing the newspaper only to maintain the quality of reporting by making sure everybody is respecting the 5 rules of journalism and everybody is using his/her own name and not pseudonyms. Thus, not setting a standard for the form of the reporting we could have video reporting form some people, mixed reporting form other, and even forms of reporting that we are not familiar as of now!
10 thousand people with a complete liberty for the way they convey up information and a public that will like or not the trends that these reporters are setting will certainly lead to innovation. But even if we ignore the innovative aspect of the reporting, having citizen journalists in every corner of the map will offer Romania a public sphere and a sphere of debate and dialogue, an image of its reality that so far is unparalleled! People from small and big communities will integrate!
Q: How would you best characterise the current stage of your project?
A: Initiation stage!
Q: How are other organisations tackling this topic and what approaches have been tried in the past? Feel free to mention successful or not so successful examples.
A: Oh, My News was a total success in South Korea with more that 100 thousand citizen journalists and a permanent staff of more than 30 people! In USA Oh, My News is doing fine and they even have a White House reporter! In Japan, the local Oh, My News failed to gain the public trust and was dismantled.
I mentioned Oh, My News because it is the closest organization to what I have in mind: they state that anyone can be a journalist and they make sure the identity of the citizen journalists is real.
In Romania there are not yet organizations with free access. Republica.ro is the closest, they ask people to send articles stating that „Only the best one will be published” but in reality it is very rare to see articles signed by outsiders.
Other similar sites are elitist and accept contributions only from friends or friends of friends. It seems that they do not gate keeping for the content but for who gets to distribute contents to the public.
I decided to create a site with an open access when I wanted to write something for contributors.ro and they not even bothered to answer my email.
Other approaches are using social media as a platform for news. The problem is they are closed groups and it is very difficult for readers to look up for information or similar information the newspapers on social media not being indexed.
Q: What are the key indicators you will use to track progress towards the outcome you described previously?
A: We will be looking at these variables:
1. Number of citizen journalists registered on site
2. Number of locations where we have citizen journalists
3. Number of news/day produced by our citizen journalists against the total number of news/day produced by all other media in Romania
4. Number of reach on social media
5. Number of access on site
6. Number of citations on other media or articles from our online newspaper.
Q: If available, please provide an overview of the monetisation plan of your project?
A: The project is conceived as being control free, so no political party or economical enterprise or tycoon could have the plug on us! As an NGO/NPO we will accept donations or 2% of tax revenue redirected from people that support us.
However, all citizen journalists will retain the copyrights of their work and will be free to sell it on other sites. We will advise on minimal prices and will support for free those who will suffer from plagiarism/piracy.
Q: Please provide specific milestones and planning (initiation, definition, design, implementation, follow-up).
A: The basic milestones for us will be:
10,000 following on social media
100,000 following on social media
1,000,000 following on social media
Q: What would be the next steps of the project should the prototype meet your expectations?
A: The next steps will be broadening the number and reach of collaborators with an incentive based PR. We will offer money for the best article written by people from a specific area or money for a best article on specific subject. While not all the citizen journalists will be paid, all will have their work published. With these kind of strategies I am planning to grow this online newspaper to make it number one in Romania.