Just over a year ago my wife Emily and I founded a non-profit media company; Wedia. The idea is to connect media volunteers with non-profits, in order to generate media for humanitarian crises around the world. So far weâ€™ve made a difference to people in Niger, Mali, Pakistan, Congo and Guatemala, and have managed to get humanitarian crises stories from these countries covered on Fox, CNN, CNN International, The BBC, Reuters, AP and through many other media outlets worldwide, helping raise awareness and donations for the non profits weâ€™ve been working with.
It works like this: we identify a worthy cause, find a volunteer and arrange and pay for all the travel expenses to get them where the story is. The non-profit provides support on the ground such as food, shelter and security, and the footage is shared by the non-profit, the volunteer and Wedia. The NPO has footage for fund raising, the volunteer has a great story and we have video coverage and b-roll footage we can offer to the American news networks, which are becoming more and more reluctant to cover international stories the way they once did.
Wediaâ€™s first year has been pretty great, but something has been bugging us the whole time weâ€™ve been acting as this middleman between non-profits and media volunteers: Why does there need to be a middleman at all? We now know there are non-profits and camera-people all over the world who want to work together, but we donâ€™t have time to connect all of them. So why not let them connect themselves?
A few months ago we partnered with software development team 6around to do exactly that, and are in the process of developing a site that will allow media people and NPOs to find each other and work together independently of us. While the site is being developed, weâ€™ve started out with a simple Digg-like interface for people to use to get underreported stories more exposure. Itâ€™s a small step in the right direction, but it made more sense than an under construction page. I didnâ€™t want to write much about Wedia here until we had some more to talk about, but something happened to me that compelled me to act: Over thanksgiving at my in-laws, I tried to get some news from a television. It was like getting blood out of a stone.
I woke up to the news, via my Blackberry, that Kasparov had been arrested in Russia and Howard had been toppled in Australia. Not exactly a slow news day. But reception was bad (my in-laws live in the woods out in Connecticut) so I switched on the TV to get the news, something I havenâ€™t done for a long time. Being involved with Wedia, I know the numbers on this, but that didnâ€™t prepare me for this morning.
I flipped between CNN, Fox and MSNBC for an hour. Nothing but fires in Malibu. Undoubtedly newsworthy as they were, the fires didnâ€™t warrant an hour of uninterrupted attention on national news (except for the interruptions every five minutes for prescription drug and SUV adverts obviously). But that was it. Not a single mention of Russia or Australia. Two minutes on the day in Iraq, a minute on the Natalie Holloway case, and less than that on Pakistan. Other than that, it was the same one shot of a burning house in Malibu. Through our work with Wedia Iâ€™m all too aware of how reluctant the media is to cover humanitarian crises overseas, but now it seems theyâ€™re becoming just as reluctant to cover international stories, period. If we donâ€™t have a working, independent media, and informed citizens, we canâ€™t have a workable democracy. Itâ€™s as simple as that.
Which is why something new is forming, something I was discussing Global Voices founder Ethan Zuckerman last week, which he calls the â€œunderreported news industryâ€. Ethan, like Wedia, is in the business of getting unheard stories out there, and there are many others (such as Witness, and their incredible new project The Hub) working toward this goal of replacing our broken mainstream media. Like I said, I didnâ€™t want to talk too much about Wedia until the new site was up and running, but I now think is urgent. If you think there is something wrong with the way the media works, grab a story youâ€™re passionate about and post a link to Wedia. Join up. Find out more. Vote up the stories you think are important. Contact us. Donate. Get involved with The Hub. Contribute to Global Voices. Whatever. Just help us do something good if you can. The underreported news industry needs you.