Can crowdfunded Ricochet survive to create a journalistic utopia?
Ricochet is the latest attempt to unite crowdfunding and journalism in Canada.
On October 2, Ricochet launched as an independent, interactive, investigative and not-for-profit online news outlet with a promise to embrace Canadian identity by producing bilingual content. Their campaign video was posted on Indiegogo on May 20 and managed to raise an impressive $82, 945 from 1,548 funders within one month. The ambitious video could be the reason for their crowdfunding success. In it, Ricochet cofounders and contributors label mainstream news as sensationalistic and conformist. They offer their utopian journalistic model as a replacement, while asking for money to produce it.
So far, Ricochet is living up to its promises. They advertised accessibility and delivered a simple web design that adapts to all devices. They promised a diverse range of topics and voices and delivered with in-depth stories that range from “Canada’s education apartheid” to “Female DJs tackle gender bias.” Readers can easily switch between English and French versions of the site and the content changes depend on what language they’re reading in. For example, on October 6, the English feature story focused on the environment, while the French homepage featured politics with focus on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
Ricochet was born out of the founders’ frustrations with how English news organizations covered the Quebec student strike and protests in 2012. In an interview with CBC, cofounder and editor Ethan Cox calls the current state of mainstream news a “cannibalistic system” dependent on unpaid or underpaid journalists. Ironically, Cox and 10 other Ricochet editors will not be paid. Divided between Ricochet’s Vancouver and Montreal offices, the editors will be volunteering their time and paying the bills with various communications jobs. All funding will go towards web development and paying their writers. Their tentative plan is to pay $100 for standard pieces, and anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for investigative pieces. It’s a noble model, but one that may be unrealistic. If Ricochet gains in popularity, it could be a race to whether the funding or patience of the volunteer editors will run out faster.
With a paid membership, they promise readers the chance to pitch their own story ideas (the application won’t available until November) and the ability to embed videos and photos into the comment section—just in case a web troll would rather flip the bird instead of write out their hateful ramble. They also vaguely tempt readers into membership with “exclusive offers,” without giving any idea of what they are.
Why would a reader pay $5 a month when articles are free to non-subscribers? And why would someone donate $300 for a lifetime subscription with no guarantee that Ricochet will still be producing content by the end of year? A belief in the vision is one thing, but consistently opening up wallets is another.
Incentives like a mention on “The Wall” or a free T-shirt may not be enough for those who are happy getting their daily news from any other free outlet. Buyouts and budget cuts don’t affect those who only have time to briefly scan the headlines while gulping down their morning coffee. Ricochet may only appeal to Canadians who regularly read investigative journalism and enjoy pieces of analysis.
I would like to say that Ricochet has the potential to compete with powerhouses like CBC and Radio-Canada. But realistically, their model doesn’t seem sustainable.
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