This is how the most successful fundraising effort in Swiss history unfolds.
"The goal was to generate 750,000 Swiss francs (about $750,000) in 35 days by convincing 3,000 people to pay 240 francs each for a one-year subscription to an online magazine that has yet to publish its first story. Within two days, they had raised $2 million. (source CJR)
Constantin Seibt, one of the most famous journalists of the German-speaking part of Switzerland and actively involved in the project, describes the concept of "Republik" as simple: `No-bullshit journalism.`
The magazine, which will publish in German, promises to upload three pieces of journalism a day—articles, podcasts, photo reportage, or video—that will be well researched, well sourced, and factual. That material will sit behind a strong paywall, because content has value.
The fundraising success proves that Republik has hit a nerve. `No one was expecting this success,` says Anja Draeger, a board member of the Swiss Union of Broadcast Journalists. But, she adds, `The need was clear.`
With trademark Swiss attention to detail, the group has even created its own typeface. The Republik font is messy by design: `It’s not clean, not finished`, says Nadja Schnetzler, president of „Project R“. `It’s something that will irritate you, like we hope our articles might from time to time.`" (source CJR)
I stood and watched Nadja speak about "Republik" at the annual TEDx Zurich event a couple of weeks ago. I was kindly invited as part of the TEDx crowd to interview their incredibly interesting speakers. Needless to say, I headed to dinner that night after the event and after so many inspiring conversations with a notebook full of notes, a bag full of the most interesting business cards and a head full of inspiration and to do`s.
The next day I wrote notes about the presentations that had hit a nerve. Nadja`s speech stood out so clearly in my mind. Not only because of the initial contrast between her firm and passionate words on stage and her approachability and interest once I met her off stage, but because in the past ten years I have watched with increasing worry the damage that cheap press and social media are doing to human brains. And that is a soft way of putting it.
Social media should be intended for sharing of information, pictures, facts. It is great to keep people in touch, to give a voice to everyone (not in all cases), however what should be easy to understand and obvious, is often not. Social media information has no source verification, there is tons of fake information, or very personal views, it is a circus most often than not, and your circle is only that, your circle. Most people in your circle will likely think like you but by no means that is a representation of reality. Raise your hand if the day after the latest UK and US elections you were surprised by what your circle of people had predicted on social media. Our brains should be able to filter all this. It turns out often they are not. Just look at the damages we see hitting the political and societal scenes. Not only new generations and younger audiences but also and maybe even more so older generations must learn to distinguish truth from lie. It sounds easy. Sadly it is not.
Let us talk about free press - what are the budgets behind the verification of news of free press? So how authentic and verified do we think oftentimes their news can be? And now imagine with digital devices as extension of our bodies and social media, how fast inaccurate information fires up around the internet.
In the era of low-cost-everything and endless ongoing streaming of noise, call it cheap news, call it questionable "gurus", we must go back to the basics of journalism and understand that quality has a cost and often comes with a credible name. As simple as that.
If we are ready to pay for high quality food, holidays, IT, security, childcare, schools, universities, professionals, caretakers, good films, theaters, why have we forgotten that we should indeed be aiming for high quality when it comes to what we feed our brains with? How come have we forgotten that the information that we allow our brains to process, the way we understand the world, has a massive impact on the world itself? And paying is not even sufficient, we must train and re-train our brains to filter the noise too. Because while I recognize the value of it, I know only too well that social media is loud, as well as most free stuff is loud and often unsolicited. It distracts us too often. Personally I make distinct choices when it comes to reading newspapers, magazines, or "research": I trust and follow some journalists, writers and sources since years, I am happy to pay for what they write and I would argue we should be paying them more. I also read ‘free’ press rarely and occasionally social media articles, like everyone else, lightly paid by advertising normally or sponsored by household names, and I train myself to filter and check sources. We are talking about the proverbial strangers’ candies for children. Would you want potentially poisoned food for your brain? In today’s world, critical thinking should be taught in school starting with little children and stands as a key parental duty.
On the morning of June 15 2017 I must have been frowning so hard above my Financial Times copy on my iPad because my 4 year old came up to me and asked "Mummy, are you angry?". I am actually very worried little boy, about what the future holds. I was reading an article called "How Facebook is changing democracy" by Simon Kuper, full article here (yes, it is behind paywall, but a 14 days FT trial costs 1 CHF, please go ahead and subscribe).
"Recently, a political operative came to my office, opened his laptop and showed me how he fought an election campaign on Facebook in a European country that he won’t let me name. Let’s say that, in the UK election, you wanted to sway fortysomething women in a particular Kensington street who own homes abroad. You make a video of Theresa May saying “Brexit means Brexit” and you experiment with formats. One might be a question: “Is hard Brexit risky?” Another is a statement: “Hard Brexit: Insane.” You vary colours. You pay Facebook to send out the videos, and see which gets the most clicks. Then you re-target those who clicked it. Only they, and friends with whom they share it, will see your ad. So you can send an entirely different ad, maybe even a pro-Brexit one, to voters elsewhere. It’s practically a secret campaign. And it’s cheap. My friend spent about €50,000 to reach four million voters. His country’s election regulator will probably never find him, especially as he wasn’t working for a party. These methods are going global. Matthew Oczkowski, head of product at Cambridge Analytica, the big data company that worked on Donald Trump’s campaign and reportedly advised the Leave campaign in the UK’s Brexit referendum, says: “We have elections going in Africa and South America, and eastern and western Europe.” Facebook has changed democracy. That may help explain recent surprising election results." (Source: FT)
I know. Shocking. However, unexpected? Not really.
So with the above in mind, can we still afford to feed our brains with uncontrolled, often unsolicited, often fake, information? Luckily, like me and like you, if you are reading this, increasingly more people have understood that something must be done. Now. That is likely why Republik raised more than $2 million in two weeks (along with $3.5 million of investor money) to do long-form journalism. (Source CJR)
Below is an extract of my conversations with Nadja Schnetzler, president of „Project R“, the force behind "Republik", made of 10 founding members, five men and five women of different ages and a variety of backgrounds.
Nadja, you are an alumna of Ringier Journalism school, and a serial entrepreneur. Co-founder of BrainStore, founder of «Word and Deed», co-founder of the soon to launch "Republik" and president of Project R cooperative, which aims to strengthen democracy through the continuous evolution of journalism.
An innovation pioneer is safe to say. "Word and Deed", reading from your blog, was born to "inspire other people to try new things when it comes to innovation, collaboration and communication".
Question. What inspired you and led to your current direction?
Answer. During my two decades at BrainStore I got curious why many teams do not implement the great ideas they create and I noticed that teams are having a hard time dealing with change and incorporating change into their teams, systems and organisations. I wanted to help change that.
Q. What impact you wish to make on others and the world?
A. My purpose is to inspire others and to be inspired. This is my compass that helps me select work, direct my attention and choose the things I focus on. I recommend everyone to define their own purpose, ideally it matches both work as well as personal life.
Q. Why do you think "Republik" was such a well received and successful crowdfunding operation?
A. There are many reasons, but I would say that it was a combination of a very important purpose, the right timing and excellent collaboration in a diverse team.
Q. Did you ever have a change of direction in your career, if so, when did you feel it was right for you and why?
A. I breathe change with every part of my being. I cannot live without change and I hate routine. So I am always looking for new challenges. No two days should be the same in my opinion.
Q. What challenges did you encounter?
A. As an entrepreneur, I have lived through every kind of challenge imaginable. The trick is to adapt to change gracefully and to accept change and insecurity as your friend. Only when you can do that you can survive challenges like financial crisis, debt or help a team that is insecure navigate change.
Q. How do you balance life and work?
A. Work is life and life is work. I really do not make any distinction or try to artificially “balance” anything. My personal purpose and my work purpose are the same. Be inspired and inspire others. Also having different people in my life who support me and are my friends or partners in different circumstances helps me keep a healthy balance. In times of stress I do practice transcendental meditation.
Q. Increasingly more bright minds are choosing to leave the "old corporate world" and start their business or join start-ups that are thriving to make an impact. What will the future hold for large corporations who are no longer able to retain their talents in your opinion and what could be the impact on society? Is the balance of power shifting?
A. The corporate world has yet to realize (they do, but they are slow at it) that they need to create environments of purpose. If there is no purpose, talents cannot develop. In systems with purpose, self-organisation and self-direction is key. It is crucial for large corporates to make that shift now.
Thank you Nadja, we look forward to the launch of Republik in January!