Serbian journalist Sasa Vucinic likes to compare the current digital media revolution to a gold rush.
New projects, technologies and ideas are “creating spectacular opportunities and inventions,” says Vucinic, former CEO and managing director of the Media Development Investment Fund (formerly known as Media Development Loan Fund), founded in 1995 to use venture-capital principles to support a free press.
But for all the great energy and innovation out there, independent media have too few sources of funding, Vucinic says, especially in the developing world.
Vucinic is on a mission to help change that. His new venture, IndieVoices, is a “marketplace” that matches innovative media ideas with socially motivated investors. The venture focuses on projects in the developing world.
The crowdfunding site is scheduled to launch in beta in the next few weeks. It will be fully rolled out over the coming year. Vucinic recently spoke with IJNet about IndieVoices and the need to fund media innovation.
IJNet: What is the thinking behind IndieVoices?
SV: We want to reinvent the system currently in place and create a new funding source, and we believe the new funding will come from the crowd. We plan to do it by creating a reasonable and efficient marketplace where people can meet investors. We will aim to match projects and investors whose interests are so aligned that there is no “us” versus “them.”
So the idea really is two-fold: To foster innovation in media ownership and to force companies receiving funding to rethink their engagement with the audience and rethink sustainability strategies. In the current environment, you have to engage the crowd.
IJNet: What sort of funding will the site help to provide?
SV: We want every type of media funding available. The way I like to explain it [is this]: We want to make available “Lego bricks” of media funding, meaning that there are different shapes and sizes that can be mixed into models unique to a media owner’s needs.
Most notably, we want to create an army of people investing a small amount – a big number of smaller investors. You don’t have to be as wealthy as [Amazon founder] Jeff Bezos to save your local media. You have to be part of a moment.
We also believe creating the marketplace will create opportunities for media companies, such as through investing or matching. There is no better way to show your corporate social responsibility than to fund other media companies in the developing world.
And lastly, we can also do types of funding not available before. We can’t currently envision the many ways the platform could be used.
Can you give us an example of a project IndieVoices is supporting?
SV: We are supporting MediaFactory.vc, a Buenos Aires-based startup accelerator [launched by ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow Mariano Blejman] which focuses exclusively on the business of online news and journalism. It will generate an ecosystem of media innovation in Latin America by working with new companies.
This is really the poster child of what we would like to fund. It is new, it features experimentation, and it is innovative, both in its funding and its model. And we’re delighted to be part of that.
Media innovators interested in crowdfunding through IndieVoices should ask themselves one basic question: Does the existence of your project make the media in your community better or not? MediaFactory.vc certainly does.
IJNet: Why now?
SV: With IndieVoices, we are allowing companies to walk into their future, where audience engagement is fundamental. To what extent you can engage with your audience is proportional to your chance of survival. And we’re asking media innovators not just to engage with the content, but also to engage people to chip in. This actually brings media owners to a different level of self-sustainability, and circumvents the necessity for advertisers.
Readers and consumers are totally liberated. If you don’t understand people have choice, you’ll stay doing what you used to do. Our goal is to create a big, educated, sophisticated and socially responsible group of investors who want to take responsibility for their media. Nothing’s going to change otherwise.
To subscribe to IndieVoices’ “coming soon” list and to provide beta feedback, visit indievoic.es.
Jessica Weiss is a Buenos Aires-based freelance writer.
IndieVoices is a partner of the ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellowships. Global media innovation content related to the projects and partners of the ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellows on IJNet is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and edited by Jennifer Dorroh.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Slack Pics under a creative commons license.