When I first heard about Ricochet, the proposed new bilingual media outlet that sells itself as a counterweight to “corporate” journalism, I wasn’t terribly excited. As someone who works as a journalist for the so-called “corporate” media, I’m well aware of its faults. I know that the drive to stay profitable has led to the blurring of lines between news and advertising, cost-cutting that has gone beyond cutting to the bone, and a hesitation to be too critical of the hand that feeds you.
So I welcome new voices. I want to see people investigate where others aren’t, to hold accountable people who aren’t used to being accountable.
But what bothered me about Ricochet was three things: First, its business model, based on crowdfunding and actually asking readers to pay for the journalism being produced, while also guaranteeing that everything that will be published will be free.
The second was the people behind it: Ethan Cox, who regularly goes back and forth between journalist and NDP/Projet Montréal political activist; Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for the most radical student association during the student strike; and a host of others whose backgrounds include things like NDP candidate, Idle No More organizer, environmentalist, feminist, philosophy teacher, and the catch-all “activist”. Is this really an endeavour to create a new type of journalism, or is this about creating left-wing journalism, doing for the left what Sun News Network does for the right? (And if that’s the case, don’t we already have plenty of outlets like that, from Rabble to The Tyee?)
Finally, duplication. Why not join forces with The Tyee, or Rabble.ca, or any of the other socially progressive non-profit Canadian media outlets out there?
I spoke with Cox recently to ask him about his project and give him a chance to respond to my concerns.
We’ve all seen them. The Star Trek fan videos, kids living out their fantasies with the help of rudimentary production skills. Poor lighting, horrible audio, and even worse acting.
Eric Bernard wants to make it clear that this is not what he’s proposing. As I explain in this story that appears in Wednesday’s Gazette, Bernard and his Space Opera Society are trying to create a production company that makes high-quality science-fiction series set in space. It differs from mainstream television production in two important ways:
It’s funded by the consumers directly, rather than sold to a network
It’s distributed directly to the consumers, through the Internet
Bernard and his group of writers, special effects artists and others have proposed to set up a system whereby the networks are bypassed so that the fans themselves can fund and produce science fiction series. The purpose is so that the “suits” don’t stifle creative freedom or cut off high-quality cult series before their time. This system would also ignore boundaries, so people from around the world could be consumers instead of producing something for the U.S. market and then trying to sell its rights to individual television networks around the world.
He compares the structure he’d like to see with that of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, only with a much more modest budget. Most of the funding would come from private donations, but it would also be a business, with sales to consumers and salaries to employees.
Creators would have complete editorial freedom to produce, without the obligation to tailor what they do to maximize ratings. Fans would be able to communicate directly with those creators, and with each other. Bernard said SOS would be a social network, with people sharing the same passion for space-based sci-fi.
It would also be completely transparent, with funders knowing exactly where their money is going.
Bernard wants the series to be produced right here in Montreal, but with the help of people around the world. He said sometimes it’s easier to deal with someone in Germany who thinks the same way and can produce a visual effect exactly the way he wants it than to try to find someone locally and explain what he wants to that person.
Once produced, series would be distributed online to the fans. He has no interest in dealing with production credits or government grants or television networks because of the restrictions they impose. He’d rather collect money from fans, put it toward production and put what’s produced directly online.
He sees the economics this way:
“When you think about it, you’re paying 60 bucks a month for cable,” Bernard said. “Imagine if you would pay for 60 shows that you love $1, but $1 for exactly the shows you want to see — 60 shows in a month that you would love to watch for $1 vs. 60 you don’t on cable.”
In fact, it wouldn’t even cost that much. Current episodes would be free online. Paying members would have access to archives, forums, and even be able to see stuff in development and influence how they turn out.
But with only ideas for new series, SOS needs funding to get off the ground. So in September, just after Montreal Comic-Con, it launched a fundraising campaign through Indiegogo, setting a goal of just over $200,000. With four days left in this two-month campaign, it’s reached just under $7,000. So that goal seems unlikely unless some huge online buzz spreads very quickly.
SOS isn’t anywhere near that yet, mainly because of a lack of buzz. Bernard blames that mainly on himself, saying the launch, coinciding with Montreal Comic-Con, wasn’t done right and it was slow to get the word out. But the Indiegogo campaign is structured so that it’ll get whatever money is raised (minus fees). And the work that has been done so far, combined with the obvious passion these people have for the project, suggests that they’ll probably move on it either way, albeit with fewer means if they don’t raise much money.
I wish them luck, and hope I’ll write another story about their first series once it’s completed.