Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Asian citizen journalism website set to launch

A new pan-Asian citizen journalism website that claims to have found a sustainable web publishing model is launching on Monday.


Asian Correspondent has managed to attract some of the region’s top online scribes thanks to its rare pledge to pay “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”.

(Those signed up include blogger-turned-MP Jeff Ooi and former editor Ahirudin Attan (aka Rocky’s Bru) from Malaysia, Danny Arao and Tonyo Cruz from the Philippines and Atanu Dey and Sriram Vadlamani from India.)

The new site, which is going live on Monday and will launch officially in November, will combine content from 50 socio-political and lifestyle bloggers across Asia with syndicated news and pictures and Associated Press, the American newswire.

I was initially rather skeptical when I found out that the Asian Correspondent was founded by an Australian business-to-business media executive based in Bristol, in the west of England.

But when I spoke to 35-year-old James Craven, who was formerly chief executive of a business publisher called GDS International, it was clear that he had the determination and business nous to give it a good go.

“The challenge is to monetise content online,” he said. “Rupert Murdoch thinks you can sell it and Arianna Huffington thinks she can rely on the charity of the blogosphere but I don’t think either approach will work.”

“I’ve got a unique business model in the blogosphere – paying all our writers a monthly fee based on the quality of their content, its appropriateness to the site and the number of followers they have.”

At present, even Asia’s most successful bloggers can only earn peanuts from placing Google adverts on their sites – an approach that Craven described as “highway robbery”.

“There’s a huge disparity between the traffic a blogger can generate and their ability to monetise that traffic,” he explained. “In the business-to-business publishing world, 30,000-40,000 readers is a strong audience. But in the fragmented world of blogging, single authors are receiving 40,000-50,000 viewers a month and are only getting $100-$200 a month.”

While he accepted that blogging for Asian Correspondent will still be just a “part-time income”, he said that his bloggers can expect to earn between $2,500 and $10,000 a year, which is 5-15 times what Google is paying them.

But how will Craven make any money?

It’s simple, he claimed. He’ll bypass Google and sell online advertising space to companies and media agencies himself.

Other pan-Asian news websites such as Asia Sentinel (which I contribute to) and Asia Times Online, which have tried to replace the gap left by the closure of print publications such as the Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek, have struggled more with the commercial than the journalistic side of the business.

So perhaps this is where Craven’s business background will come in useful. He said that he has signed up “an experienced sales team” based in the New York office of Hybrid News, his UK registered company.

“Our audience will be defined by the content we run,” he added. “We’re targeting a demographic of hard-working Asian people looking for progressive viewpoints from this progressive newspaper.”

He is hoping to break even by the middle of next year but was well aware that targets don’t mean much in a start-up business.

Craven has put in £250,000 of his own to cash and has some funding in place from HSBC. His operation seems pretty professional – he has recruited 12 full-time staff and is relying on a team of almost 60 freelance writers, programmers and web developers.

With most traditional newspaper business models failing dismally, a number of people have suggested setting up a professional news website where the content is produced by low-budget bloggers and citizen journalists rather than expensive journalists.

Asian Correspondent seems to be the first such initiative in Asia. As with any new publication – particularly a new online publication – it will be very difficult to attract decent first-time advertisers without offering them massive discounts.

But I wish Craven and his team all the best. It’s only by trying out new approaches such as this that a solution to the seemingly inexorable demise of proper reporting in Asia and elsewhere will be found.

P.S. For anyone who's read this far, an 'alpha' version of the site is currently visible here. For the view of a Thai blogger who turned down Craven's advances, see here.

6 comments:

  1. You get paid using www.allvoices.com, there are also other citizen journalism websites such as www.nowpublic.com, www.ireport.com, www.digitaljournal.com then in asia I have found www.cplash.com, and a few small ones in Australia like www.norg.com.au, www.theword.com.au and www.typeboard.com

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  2. At the moment their business model appears to involve sourcing uncredited content from AP:
    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2009/10/14/2009-10-14_gunmen_attack_lahore_pakistan_police_academy_as_gunmen_also_strike_federal_law_e.html vs http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2009/10/14/2009-10-14_gunmen_attack_lahore_pakistan_police_academy_as_gunmen_also_strike_federal_law_e.html

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  3. Adrian - I mentioned in the piece that they are also syndicating AP content.

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  4. Why are they syndicating AP content without crediting AP?

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  5. I don't know - try asking them yourself

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  6. Hi Ben! Wonderful write-up there. I must agree with the Thai blogger who turned down the offer that writing on Asian Correspondent means less freedom over site layout and comments, but having a larger audience is much more appealing.

    I'm also hoping that Asian Correspondent will provide for greater interaction between readers from all over Asia and help to shape international opinion on Singapore's political realities.

    Cy from the Secret Political Blog

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