Tracey M. Romero
How we get our news is constantly evolving ever since the advent of the Internet. News is delivered by citizen journalists by means of blogs, Twitter and Facebook. The face of the news is so very different today than it was 20 years ago, but the purpose has always remained the same. Until today, that is.
Journalism’s primary function has always been to inform citizens of what is happening in the world so they can make educated decisions about political, economic, social and environmental issues. Reporters share information with the public, but they leave it up to each individual reader or viewer to decide what they will do with it. Bryn Mooser and David Darg of RYOT News are trying to change this by how citizens take in the news.
Become the News: The Beginnings of RYOT
RYOT News is an innovative way of looking at the delivery of news. Through their online platform, RYOT News reports the news of the day, but then goes an additional step and shows their readers how they can get involved in the issue. Each story has an action box which offers a link to a nonprofit organization that is working toward positive change on that particular issue. This revamped version of an editor’s note provides additional information about the issue as well as ways to donate money or to volunteer in some capacity.
Darg and Mooser’s inspiration for RYOT News was drawn from over a decade of work in the nonprofit sector helping communities in Africa, Asia and Haiti. Darg is vice president of Operation Blessing International, while Mooser is country director for Artists for Peace and Justice. The pair were originally introduced in Africa but met again in Haiti.
In 2010 after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Mooser and Darg focused their energy on helping to rebuild communities in the area. They also founded a film company, RYOT Film, to document the struggles of the Haitian people in order to recruit more help. They co-directed “Baseball in the Time of Cholera” as well as other films. During this process they quickly saw how challenging it is to get people to pay attention.
“From our filmmaking, we realized the importance of storytelling—how it drives people to action,” Darg said on the evolution of RYOT News.
He also explained how over the years, they would meet a lot of people who would want to help, but didn’t know how to get started. They told Mooser and Darg that they didn’t read the news because it made them feel powerless and depressed. They would ask the pair, “How can I help?”
Through all these experiences, Darg and Mooser decided to combine the power of storytelling with people’s desire to participate in the world around them. They took a step back and asked themselves, “What are people really interested in?” Instead of starting with a cause like helping the homeless and trying to engage people’s interest, they decided to look at current topics in the news and then link causes to those stories.
“We decided to use news as a tool to empower people to get involved,” Darg said.”If we want to see real change, we need to have more people act.”
Become Involved in the News: Sources of Content and Action
RYOT News covers all news stories. For every story there are interesting ways readers can take action on the issue raised. For example, many celebrities have causes close to their hearts so when doing a story on them, RYOT News links to their organization or for a story like Lindsay Lohan’s trouble with drugs, they might connect it to a group helping with drug addiction.
Mooser confessed that “the most fun they have at RYOT News is making the connections to action.”
This is Bryn Mooser and David Darg of RYOT News with the Tabbare Tigers in Haiti. Credit: RYOT News
The most common way people are asked to get involved is by donating to a selected nonprofit, but readers can also volunteer their time to the nonprofit organization. Other options are signing petitions or writing letters to government officials about specific issues. The team at RYOT is hoping to offer more types of action in the future.
Right now, Mooser describes the source of their news coverage as 70 percent newswires and other sources, and 30 percent original content. They work with McClatchy Syndicating News Service and the Associated Press. He added, “We hope our original content will grow.”
He went on to explain that when selecting sources, they were not just looking for stories with a natural action link. “We want our stories to be just as current and fast as other news outlets,” he said. “We pride ourselves on comprehensive coverage.”
A special feature of RYOT News is the cause of the week. They try to pick an organization that is linked to one of the week’s top stories. For example, the week World Water Day is celebrated they focus on a water conservation organization. Darg emphasized that the chosen nonprofits get 100 percent of the donations and a portion of the advertising revenue.
One of the main driving forces behind Mooser and Darg’s decision to start RYOT News is that they wanted to help nonprofits get more public attention. Darg was shocked that even with online marketing strategies, nonprofits do not get a lot of online visitors. According to him, a 2011 survey found that on average the largest nonprofit sites only saw 7,000 people a day.
“We started to ask why this was,” he continued. “Why should people return to the site? Most nonprofits don’t do a lot of updating with new content. But news sites are constantly being updated. There is more of an incentive to visit everyday. RYOT sees about 12,000 visitors a second.”
When choosing nonprofit organizations to partner with, they make sure they research the organizations thoroughly. “We give due diligence with partners,” Mooser said. “We reach out to friends, go visit programs on the ground and make sure they are really serving their community.”
“We want to be able to show people how their money is making an impact,” Darg added.
The RYOT News team encourages the nonprofits to retweet the RYOT news stories and share them with their contacts so that they can attract a larger audience to their own sites.
On whether they think their way of looking at the news will start a new trend in news coverage, Mooser said, “We think others will follow suit because it makes sense but we are happy to be the first.”
Darg is very frustrated with the current model of news. “I think it is ethically wrong that they don’t do it,” he said. “We know there are solutions to many of the problems we see in the news, but no one is making the connection.”
As for the future of RYOT News, Mooser and Darg have great plans. The goal is for more original content, more nonprofits and more readers. “We have big changes coming up,” Mooser teased.
Learn how you can become the news at RYOT News.
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