Friday, March 13, 2015

Upstart Media Criticism Site Focused On Russia Launches Crowdfunding Campaign

Upstart Media Criticism Site Focused On Russia Launches Crowdfunding Campaign

Riding a global wave of discontent, Russia Insider is set to launch a campaign on the world’s largest funding platform.

By Danielle Ryan
The conflict in Ukraine has led to an avalanche of criticism in the alternative media arguing that mainstream coverage of the conflict — and of Russia in general — is woefully biased and inaccurate.

Blogs and websites that criticize this imbalance have seen their readerships surge, revealing a serious level of dissatisfaction with traditional media.

Leading alternative news sites like ZeroHedge, CounterPunch, Ben Swann,, and Truthout are seeing their Russia-related articles, which tend to counter the views promoted in the mainstream media, getting the most views on their sites.

In Germany, coverage of the Ukraine crisis has provoked a nationwide outcry. A poll by leading German TV station NDR found that 63% of Germans no longer believe what their media tell them about the Ukraine crisis. The readership on dozens of alternative news websites is surging.

Something is going on.

Perhaps the most prominent example of this trend is a relatively new website run by a global network of Russia experts, mostly hailing from the US, UK, and Canada, called Russia Insider.

Launched in September of last year as a modest platform to point out biased and inaccurate reporting about Russia in the mainstream media, Russia Insider saw its traffic skyrocket almost immediately.

In just four months, the site had more than 15 million page views and a substantial social media following. Russia Insider’s traffic, which is made public on its website, is now growing at a rate of 20% per month and it has become one of the leading global news sites dedicated to Russia-related news.

The site was conceived as an open platform for volunteer contributors, with the initial handful of writers soon joined by writers from around the world, many of them prominent in Russia analysis, eager to volunteer their time. The site now has about 50 contributors and the number continues to grow.

Regular contributors include well-known names like Pepe Escobar, Gil Doctorow, Vera Graziadei and Edward Lozansky. The editors also re-post articles from prominent Russia experts like Stephen Cohen, John Mearsheimer and Jack Matlock.

Responding to strong interest, the editors also began re-posting articles from the blogosphere and mainstream media with views dissenting from the mainstream, to provide a news aggregation function.

Now, the combined daily output of original and re-posted articles is roughly 40 headlines, receiving about 100,000 hits per day.

Undoubtedly, part of Russia Insider’s popularity with readers is its irreverent style, frequently using humor, satire and sarcasm to skewer Russia coverage in the mainstream.

Favourite targets are The New York Times, The Economist, and The Washington Post.

The site pulls no punches and relentlessly blasts and ridicules prominent reporters and columnists, raking them over the coals for alleged “Russia-bashing”.

Hardline Russia hawks like Edward Lucas at The Economist, and Anne Applebaum at The Washington Post, have come under withering criticism, time and again — as have reporters like the New York Times’ Andrew Kramer, dismissed as a “boob” in a recent piece.

The site was created by Charles Bausman, an American businessman working in finance in Russia, most recently specializing in agriculture, along with a handful of friends, none of them journalists.

Asked about Russia Insider’s free-wheeling style, Bausman explained that it seemed to emerge on its own, with nobody planning it that way.
“As a group of volunteers, we can’t really tell people what to write, so people send stuff in and if we like it we publish it. Yes, some of it is funny, but it’s spontaneous. It just happens. I suppose it reflects the popular mood out there,” he said. “We have almost no organizational hierarchy, and I guess a better way to describe us is a cooperative of very individualistic people. It’s almost anarchy most days. It’s more like a popular movement with a mind of its own.”

In the first month, Bausman contributed some articles of his own, but as volunteers flocked to the site, he now spends most of his time on running the business side and fundraising. “It’s like herding cats,” he said, but looking to the future “there’s a lot to build on”.

“We’ve been really floored by this outpouring of talent and initiative from all over, and we want to build on it. What we really want to do is hire journalists and drill down into stories we don’t have the resources to write about. We see so many excellent subjects every day crying out for coverage.”

In pursuit of that goal, Bausman has organized a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, set to launch in early March, and he’s been making the case to individual donors and investors.

“It’s a huge opportunity. Basically, you have huge swaths of this enormous country and economy which either are not being reported about at all, or badly with a lot of bias. We want to cover a lot more, and expand beyond Russia,” Bausman said. “One thing we’ve become experts on is media dysfunction, understanding why media does a terrible job in some areas. We understand why it’s happening on the topic of Russia, and we can apply that insight to many other areas”.

Bausman plans to use Russia Insider to delve deeper into US foreign policy, the NSA scandals and whistleblowers in general.

When asked about the strongly pro-Russia views which have dominated the site so far, Bausman said he’d like to get away from that to provide more balance and depth, something which he said can happen if the crowdfunding campaign raises enough money.

“We’re sort of limited to what people are willing to send in as volunteers. I can’t tell people what to write,” he said, adding that for now, it does make sense to have the site be a forum for views dissenting from the Western mainstream, because of how little airtime alternative views get in most markets.

Sites like Russia Insider can compensate for that, he said.

Bausman stressed that he has no connection to or funding from the Russian government or any other organizations for that matter.

“It was just me and a couple of friends, none of us Russian, who threw some very limited funds into this — and really, 90% of the site is the result of volunteers. It’s been a truly humbling experience.”

Danielle Ryan is a journalist from Dublin, Ireland. She blogs on media accuracy and has contributed articles to Russia Insider.

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