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Jakub Gornicki, Polish reporter and IT expert: „Journalism is a public service and we should go out to people to tell them our stories...”

18 August 2017
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Jakub Gornicki is a Polish reporter for his website Outriders (Outride.rs), available in Polish and in English. He established Outriders to bridge cultures and societies by original reporting and providing global perspective. Jakub Gornicki was one of the experts who supervised the „Fifth Power” Hackathon organized in Chisinau by the Independent Journalism Centre and Internews on July 15th and 16th 2017. As the topic of the media hackathon’s third edition was “How to make money with the internet”, we asked our guest about the possibilities for monetization the internet provides, as well as other details about his activities.
 
- Mr Gornicki, at this year’s hackathon a number of business models for online media have been discussed: advertising, donations, subscriptions, payments, paywall and so on. What is, according to you, the most suitable funding model for a pure player? 

- I am definitely against just being dependent on advertising because in Poland most of the media are financed through this model. The problem here is that usually those are the companies based on this model and for them it's harder to reinvent themselves. If suddenly they have to change the business model, it means they also have to change the philosophy and it is very hard. I think that there are multiple ways of envisaging monetization, because I am speaking from the perspective of someone who is running a rather small initiative in terms of people. We are much more flexible than big publishers, which means we can experiment a lot and we are able to take much bigger risks. 

I am also definitely against the idea of a paywall. I think that information should be available to everybody for free so a paywall, even if minimal, does still exclude some people. It cannot be like this that people who have less money or no money are basically cut out of good information. Because then we have a totally wrong system: you make money, you have good information; you don't have money, you have a tabloid or whatever worthless information. You can compare it with the food: the bad quality food is always cheaper than the good quality food and it is not how it is supposed to be.
 
The other thing is that with Outriders we wanted a different sense because paywall is very individualistic, you are buying an exclusive access for yourself -- it is like going to the cinema, it is like a reward for yourself. We want to have this community approach to it, in a way that we want to gather supporters, so they and others can enjoy what we do, read, discuss and so on. This is why supporting through subscriptions is our choice, because we are basically trying to find people who share a belief in what we do. Maybe there will be less people simply paying us through this supporting model rather than through a paywall model, but it is all about forming a community and this is very important to us. This is why here I believe in subscriptions.
 
The donation model is very similar, it is still the support model but in a different way, in a way that you can have a monthly campaign. Or it can be like the Wikipedia model: for two months a year Wikipedia asks for donations and then it is done. I think both are okay, in a way that there are simply two different methods, and both have advantages and disadvantages. With campaigns you have time to prepare for it and then you don't have to worry for 8-10 months about money; you can just focus on work and this is very nice. Payments are more regular: you have to measure your constant growth, see if you attract people and then monitor if the people stay with you. But you have a very constant feeling and it is very important to us to actually include the people in our story, so in our case we want to have this community more constantly present.
 
 - You offer your readers the possibility to make suggestions about what they don't understand in an article, and which part you should explain more. How important is the interaction with the readers for you ? 

- It is not about comments: we wants them to go one by one, we would like to give them the possibility to tell us what part of the story they would like to have context added to, and then we will see if it is something we can keep up with.
 
But the other thing about this relationship is that we want to be very transparent about our financials, because doing journalism in general is not cheap. I always hate when someone is trying to convince you that information is cheap -- it is not about us wanting big salaries, it is about costs, especially when you do foreign reporting. There are costs related to travels, paying fixers, research time, technology, equipment and so on. We want to do those monthly financial records, explaining how much money we will spend on it and trying to explain it. We also want to associate some part of the money to reporting funds, so if there is some bigger story developing somewhere and people want to follow it up, we can tell them. For example, there is a huge increase of migrants coming to Sicily, and we want to go there and cover it. This will cost us 8 000 €, let’s say, for being there 3 weeks. Maybe the total sum is considered big but they know exactly how much is sent and this is us being transparent and also forming some kind of relationship with them. I think that there should be in general more transparency in journalism, especially when you have this direct relationship between people.
 
Also, we are trying to build in this system, we call it “giving back”: if we have to buy paper, pencils or a new camera, we ask those people who pay us if any of them owns a camera shop and if so, we could buy with them. We have this sense of community. We want to include them in the process so we explain how the money is spent, they know basically the cost of everything. About seeking the community, we have a story and we want to present it in a way that we go and talk to the people; we really want to go back to the roads and I have the feeling that journalism is a public service and we want to go to people and tell them our stories.
 
We actually want to form a relationship: it is not about people liking us, because a good story is not a story that is liked. It can be a story which is actually challenging to a reader, but it can change what they think. It is more about building this respect, so we want to organize those meetups where we basically tell them the story.

                                                        

                                                                                                                                     Interview by Emilie Unternehr, IJC volunteer