Can cute kittens save the news? | Inga Spriņģe | TEDxRiga

Translator: Ilze Garda
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Let’s start with a short opinion poll. How many of you have seen at least
one cat video on the Internet this week? Raise the hands, please. Well, a lot; it’s good,
they relieve stress. I’ve been a journalist
for almost 20 years. The last years were the hardest because people prefer
to watch cute kitten videos instead of reading serious news. That means that advertising money
goes to Facebook and Google, which profit from cute kitten videos. But for us, it means less money
for quality journalism. During the last decades, traditional media has had
two main sources of income: advertising dollars and subscription fees. But when the Internet was born,
this business model was destroyed. Advertising dollars from print
went to the Internet, directly to Google and Facebook, where they can meet their client
without an intermediary newspaper. Here you can see how the money shifted
from traditional media to Google in a five-year period
in the United States. Since 2004, more than 50 billion dollars
went to the Internet, to Google. Let’s see how it looks in Latvia. In Latvia, ten years ago, there were overall
108 million euros in advertising. And only 4% of them went to the Internet. Now, ten years later,
the overall advertising budget is less: 78 million euros, and 20% goes to the Internet. However, we have no idea how much advertising money
goes to Google and Facebook in Latvia. Local businessmen
with whom I spoke off the record estimate it being around 90 million euros. That money would be very useful if it went to the traditional media
instead of cute kitten videos. So the big question is:
how can media earn money to survive? The answer is: there is not
one single answer. It’s time of experiments. Some try to find their niche,
like regional newspapers, or The Economist,
or the magazine Ir in Latvia. Big giants like The Washington Post
and The New York Times experiment with paywalls. But all around Europe
and also the United States, a new kind of media is born: non-profit organizations
that survive on grants and donors, for example ProPublica,
the biggest non-profit in America, Mediapart in France,
CORRECT!V in Germany, and re:baltica in the Baltic countries. There are two ways
how we are experimenting: with our business model,
and creative ways of content delivery. We are an NGO,
a team of two and a half people. Our annual income
on average is 90,000 euros, and with this money, we hire around 30 contract-based
professionals a year, like video artists,
photographers, and so on. Our income comes from donations,
grants, and teaching fees. The main rule: the money should be clean. It’s very special, taking into account
that we live in Latvia, which is a money-laundering country. So, we work on a topic
from six months till a year. Last year, we did a research
on inequality in education, and it took us 386 hours of research. A team of 10 people drove 1208 kilometers and did more than 35 interviews. And then we gave all of this for free
to the mainstream media to get a huge audience in Latvia
and also in the region because we translate our stories
also in Russian and English. Our second area of experiment:
content delivery. Recently, I heard
this very excellent saying, “Don’t blame your competitors,
learn from them”. While researching fake news in Latvia,
we noticed a young, sexy YouTube guy who by blaming and shaming the government had collected more than
100,000 views on YouTube. We decided to do
a video annotation for our article as a parody of this YouTube guy. Let’s look at the video. (Music) (Video) Guy: (Latvian) Hello, Latvia. If that’s still your name. I hope you’re still together, however you’re pulled apart. (Music) Inga Spriņģe: Hello, Latvia. If that is still your name. I want to speak on behalf of all of us. I know that you already know, but I want to tell you
that we were robbed. I’m sorry that you screamed,
but we didn’t listen. We were reading news
and quotes on the Internet. And those kitten pics … they’re so sweet! [1. Always check where
the news is published – on a recognized media outlet
or on Facebook?] [2. Is there a reference to a source?
What kind of source is it?] (On stage) IS: (English)
At the end of this video, we taught people
how to recognize fake news. It went viral. While working on the education project, we wanted to highlight
that Latvia’s rural schools offer a worse education
than the city schools. It’s sad, but that is
what the PISA study showed; [it’s a study that] measures
education quality in 72 countries. To compete with kitten videos
on the social networks, we used beans to illustrate our point. (Video) IS: (Latvian) Here are the results
in rural schools ten years ago. And here – the results in Riga. As we see, the results in Riga
in the past ten years have improved, while in rural schools,
education quality has only deteriorated. Of course, that doesn’t mean
all rural schools in Latvia are bad. There are students
both in the countryside and in Riga whose results are as high
as in the international leader, Singapore. [Singapore: 556] However, those are exceptions, and in Latvia many of the
rural schools show poor results. (On stage) IS: (English)
We also used a very effective method of showing before-and-after
stories about the topic. In this video we showed how a physics teacher changed
his way of teaching in two years. This was our most watched video, and it reached almost
half a million people on Facebook. (Video) Voiceover: (Latvian) This is how the physics class
by Jānis Čilipāns looked like in Smārde elementary school in 2014. There was nothing special. Students sit in pairs,
each doing their own work. The teacher stands in front of the class
and teaches theory. But then Jānis realized
that this teaching method no longer works. Times and children have changed. This is how Jānis’ class
looked like two years later. (On stage) IS: (English)
And one more example. On Latvian Independence Day [in 2016], the member of the European Parliament,
the famous Iveta Grigule, sent out a postcard with congratulations
to every citizen in Latvia. She is a very controversial lady, because she had bought her seat
through a massive advertising campaign which consisted of many such spams, I’m sorry, postcards. Meanwhile, she run away
from every journalist she saw on her way. So we decided to make a gift for her too. We made our own postcard, which said: “Dear voters! Since you elected me
in the European Parliament in 2014, I’ve done this – performed
in plenary sessions four times, signed motions three times,
asked questions seven times, and for that I’ve received 351 000 euros. God bless Latvia!” It went viral. Of course, we are not
the only ones experimenting. Recently, the influential
American media company Buzzfeed attracted one million readers
by … let’s watch it! (Video) Girl: Like Rocky
or something … 678. Guy: 679. (Laughter) (Screams) Girl: 679! Oh, my god! Guy: 80! (On stage) IS: So, can you believe it? They blew up a watermelon, which attracted around, I was mistaken,
not a million readers, viewers – three million viewers! Even CNN, reported about
how Buzzfeed blew up a watermelon. Meanwhile, by attracting attention
with blowing up a watermelon and showing kitten videos, they can earn money
for important articles, like about Trump
and his affairs with Russia. So, that is the good part about it. So, don’t blame competitors,
learn from them. If you can earn money
by showing kitten videos and thus do important investigations, do it. Do it, even if your
older colleagues disapprove. One of my greatest authorities
in the media world is the Nieman Foundation for Journalism. It’s a primary journalism institution
at Harward University. It offers the most prestigious
fellowship programs for journalists. I’ve tried but never got in. Nieman fellows have collectively won
101 Pulitzer Prizes. I’m following them on Twitter
and reading every tweet. And then, one day, I saw this tweet. Yes, my path was right! Thank you. (Applause)

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