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19.04.2016

#MakeAthensLive: “Getting paid as a journalist in Greece is innovative”

A team of young journalists and photographers is building a new online news service called “AthensLive” to be a good example of independent journalism in Greece. After years of negative headlines about the Greek crisis, they finally want to tell their own story. With a recently launched crowdfunding campaign they want to reach the international audience and make their idea of an independent journalism network come to life. Already they have achieved pledges of almost fifteen thousand euros at the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.

ECPMF: After a week, you reached the 20% goal of your crowdfunding campaign, which is great. How do you feel about this?

Tassos Morfis/AthensLive: Well, just recently numbers were growing a bit slower. People have met us now and they are waiting for us to pull out some new tricks. The question is how to continue now: whether to focus on content or on our campaign. We are journalists, not marketing experts and for us it is very hard to think as campaigners.

Did you hire a professional to support you in your campaign?

No, it’s a complete DIY-campaign. It has been six months in the making. Last autumn we were facing this existential question whether we are a news outlet that is going to be a very specific, focussing on one aspect, or if we’re providing alternative information from Greece in a more corporate way – and went for the latter. Counting the cost of our own unpaid work that has been used so far, we can say that the campaign costs around 100.000 euros right now.

What is the idea and the driving force behind AthensLive?

Here in Greece things are extremely polarised. This is why people now want to see a non-partisan news-outlet, which is something new - not only in its perspective, but also in the layout, design and way of storytelling. In the polarised climate, journalists lost their credibility. So we are trying to create a venture that is an example in some way. We might not publish as many stories as normal news outlets, but we prefer to focus on quality then quantitative output.

You are talking about a local problem, but you are planning to publish your stories in English.

Yes, our target audience is international, so mainly Europeans and the diaspora. As journalists we felt the need to tell the Greek story to an international audience. During the crises, Greek journalists were too busy fixing for the international press and debating about what was happening. There is no trusted source from Greece to the world. Greek outlets are often old-fashioned and amateurish. People who work for them are not getting paid. But an English language news outlet is needed: we think that the Greek story is a European story – whatever happens here affects European citizens in this globalised world. And apart from ideological reasons, this was a business choice: we just recognized this gap in the market.

So why does Greece need an independent news outlet?

There is a certain degree of press freedom. We as journalists are not getting killed or detained under the recent government. Everything can theoretically be published – but specific corporate interests don’t allow the outlets to publish. The triangle of interconnection between banks, advertising agencies and media outlets is an obstacle to independence as the media strongly depend on advertising money. The press is being controlled through the way advertising money is controlled. This makes the press politically independent – but it is another dependency that we want to avoid.

Why did you go for crowdfunding instead of applying for classical funding to finance the project?

Crowdfunding is our way to obtain the capital to start a business. Once this is done we will apply for other funding. As I said, here it is very vital to abstain from the advertising system. So funding from abroad should become our ‘signature’ in a way that it guarantees our independence.

Your goal is 60.000 euros to make a start. Do you have an idea how long this will last until you need other ways of funding?

The money is only going to get us through three or four months. We want the people who work with us to get paid very well because this also guarantees your independence. Because then those people don’t need to do anything else: no corporate media, no fixing for the foreign press. Getting paid in Greece as a journalist is very innovative. Very few companies here are correct with their payroll but to our way of thinking, this and also transparency are vital. 

To become sustainable, we want to collaborate with universities and foundations for investigative projects, we want to sell TV products that our film documentary team produces, we want to create some websites in Greek and we want to focus on data journalism, as this is still a rarity in Greece. And we want to profit from our nice building in downtown Athens. We’d like to build a journalism hub where foreign colleagues will be able to work or hold conferences, where we have a podcast booth and just create a space where people will come and discuss important topics.

So does your funding also come mainly from foreign sources?

Yes, it is mostly international money. First, the Greeks are totally broke, and we want the Europeans to understand that this venture is going to empower a wider network. Second, the media in Greece ignore us. They do take notice, but they ignore us because we are in a way undermining the way they have been working for the last decades. What we do is completely new. Here media launch pay walls, not crowdfunding campaigns. So some just might not understand what we are doing. And some others, mostly young journalists, support us. But then they can’t write about us if it is not their editors’ will.

Crowdfunding is a risky way of funding. You cannot rely on it completely. Do you have a Plan B in case your campaign fails?

The most important part of the venture is to stay together as colleagues. Then, from day one we have been shooting a documentary about our idea of the first completely crowdfunded outlet in Greece. So if this fails, we hope that we can at least sell our great documentary to TV channels in Europe! And then we just hope that we can show the campaign as case study, for example at universities so that we get visibility and funding from other sources.

But our success is important. I guess that in our society and as journalists we need something positive now. We want to shake people up and tell them that together we can achieve something. We can tell the story, get them out of their depression because many, also many journalists, are unemployed. So having a fundraising success is not only vital to get attention, but also to get the spirits up.

#MakeAthensLive

The crowdfunding campaign of AthensLive is on Indiegogo. As perks they offer access to exclusive content, a designer T-Shirt from Athens or have a meet-and-greet with the team members.



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