Europe-based org shares crowdfunding journalism insights

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Jaroslav Valuch, project leader of Press Start crowdfunding platform, shares tips on how to start a crowdfunding journalism campaign to HKBU students during the TPG European study tour last Jan. 3, 2017 in Prague, Czech Republic.
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Jeremy Druker, Exec. Director and Editor-in-Chief of Transitions Online shared his good and bad experiences in crowdfunding journalism, and the lessons he learned from it.
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HKBU students visiting the websites of Press Start and TOL.

Wendy Funes is from Honduras, one of the most dangerous places in Central America to be a journalist. She does not speak English, and her network of friends and connections is not big. She does not have bank account either.  But she is very passionate in doing investigative journalism. In fact, she even faked her death once to prove that getting important documents such as death certificate is very easy in her country. She needed funds for her investigative work, and she had a hard time getting benefactors from crowdfunding websites because she lacked “appeal.”

Funes and her like is what Press Start works for. Per its website, Press Start is a crowdfunding platform designed specifically to support journalists where the press cannot report freely and it aims to revolutionize the way independent journalism is funded in the developing world and countries in transition.

In a talk co-organized by Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) School of Communication and Transitions Online (TOL), a Europe-based non-profit organization, TOL Executive Director Jeremy Druker and Press Start Project Leader Jaroslav Valuch shared their experiences and lessons learned in crowdfunding journalism to the Taught Postgraduates student-participants of Europe study tour in Prague, Czech Republic last Jan. 3, 2017.

Druker said that journalists from Third World countries usually don’t enjoy the same privilege the American journalists have in terms of crowdfunding, particularly in United States-based platforms, as donors prefer the latter because they already have solid base of networks. Institutions, such as Press Start, also get low donation throughput because benefactors think they already have money to finance projects.

“Individuals receive funds more easily compared to institutions because they have ‘face’ and donors easily trust them,” he said.

Valuch, on the other hand, shared some tips on how to become successful with crowdfunding journalism projects, and how to sustain it after the launch.

Both speakers said that the month before the launch is the most crucial as project proponents need to beef up their marketing and promotion skills to ensure the success of the campaign. They suggested that donors, particularly those who personally know the beneficiaries, should put at least 20 percent of the fund needed to steer more donations. And unlike other crowdfunding platforms, Press Start augments finances from their general fund to beneficiaries who fell short of target amount.

The speakers said the success of their campaign gave independent journalists from countries where media is oppressed the chance to be heard by the rest of the world and contribute to the development of the society.

In the end of the talk, the guests encouraged the HKBU students to spread awareness of their advocacy when they go back home and find journalists who can be helped by the crowdfunding platform.

As for Funes, she was able to raise the $1,120 fund needed through Press Start to write the story about the alleged cover-up of local officials on the series of gang rapes of young women.

Pulitzer winners inspire HKBU students

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Telling the truth and making change are the unified message of seven Pulitzer Prize winners to hundreds of Communication and Journalism students of Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) during the 7th Pulitzer Prize Winners Workshop (PPWW)opening ceremonies and public forum held on Oct. 25, 2016 at Shaw Campus’ WLB103 Conference Hall.

The theme for this year’s workshop is Bearing Witnesses: The Reporting of Human Triumphs and Failings.

Robin McDowell, Esther Htusan, George Rodrigue, Prof. William Snyder, Susan Snyder, Kristen Graham, and Ben Solomon, who all received Pulitzer Prizes in different categories, encouraged the students to work hard and expose inequality and abuses and make positive impression to intended audiences.

“Journalism is a serious profession that you have potentially profound impact on the lives of the people by telling the truth, or by failing to tell the truth,” explained Rodrigue who twice won the Pulitzer for his reports on discrimination in government – subsidized housing in 1986, and in 1994 for uncovering abuses against women.

“Maybe someone sitting in this audience someday will win the Pulitzer. All you have to do is to have the desire to make a difference and work really hard to expose injustices and to tell the stories of everyday people,” added Graham who, together with Susan, won the 2012 Public Service Award for their report on violence in schools.

McDowell and Htusan won the 2016 Pulitzer for Public Service for their investigative report on labor malpractices in the seas of Southeast Asia which led to justice and reforms. William has won the Pulitzer four times since 1989 for photography and explanatory journalism. Solomon, who works for the New York Times, bagged the 2015 International Reporting award for their stories on Ebola outbreak in Africa.

Students and faculty members were given the chance to interact with the speakers after the opening ceremonies. When asked about their personal safety and preparations before covering stories, the winners willingly shared their experiences to the audience.

“To be a good journalist, you have to be dedicated. You have to be sympathetic to people, and that is very important,” said Htusan.

The seven guests will stay in HKBU for the next three days and deliver talks and lectures as part of the biennial PPWW. The event is organized by HKBU’s School of Communication and this year’s workshop is sponsored by HKBU Strategic Development Fund. It aims to broaden the vision of journalists and enhance the quality of journalism education in Hong Kong and Greater China region.

The Pulitzer Prizes are the highest accolade bestowed on journalists in United States. Named after Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian – American journalist and publisher, the award covers major fields of journalism. It is celebrating its centennial this year.