What we learned from funding Presspad’s digital launch via a crowdfunder

By Olivia Crellin, PressPad founder

This was the first time I have been involved in a crowdfunding campaign. The first time the idea of doing one for PressPad crossed my mind I knew I had to get an expert in.

Cue Nicola Slawson who, aside from being an  absolute pleasure to work with, has by now cemented herself as an invaluable member of the team.

I had heard from others (and endless articles on the internet) that crowdfunding campaigns were more trouble than they were worth: the risk of going home bust with the all-or-nothing formats; the hassle and costs of coming up with, buying and posting the rewards; and then of course the 24/7 effort plastering all of your good peoples’ social media timelines with carefully crafted informative, encouraging and guilt-inducing prompts to donate.

Still – when Nicola told me it would be exhausting it didn’t really register.

I’m glad it didn’t.

As with most worthwhile projects or ideas that take effort – rather like PressPad itself – I’m not sure we would have gone through with it had I thought it through properly!

Anyways, here we are: on the other side of the #DiversifyTheMedia campaign and as the metaphorical and digital dust has settled on the whole experience, I wanted to share some of the things we learned as a team through this process.

It wasn’t just about the money: we put PressPad out there, and that was scary!

There are easier ways (I’m told) to raise money than a crowdfunder. However, we wanted to “go public” with PressPad and start a conversation that we intend to fully participate in and move forward in the years to come.

That’s why we did a crowdfunder and used a hashtag as bold as #DiversifytheMedia.

Many of our followers pointed out that using a broadbrush statement of that sort was dangerous. I agree it wasn’t ideal – and social media, the best way to reach a large number of people, is not the most natural home of nuance and caveat. 

Nonetheless, I stand by us using that phrase because we believe that for ‘diversity and inclusion’ to be the reserve of a few minority groups goes totally against what that movement is all about.

PressPad offers a very specific and niche solution primarily to alleviating socio-economic, class & geographic barriers to those trying to enter the media industry.

Our scheme also helps women, LGBTQ+, disabled & ethnic minority communities due to the intersectional nature of diversity.

This does not mean we were trying to co-opt any one group’s struggles or issues with that hashtag: We would rather bring everyone together to share experiences and solutions – in particular in relation to what we focus on which is class – but also more generally in the pursuit of making a difference both practically (by contributing towards a project that is tried and tested and ready for roll out) and ethically in bringing together disparate voices and stakeholders to hold those in positions of authority and power to account on this.

We are not the only or first person or group to do this. We won’t be the last. But we wanted to be one of them.

It was also scary putting PressPad out there for other reasons.

I am not a social entrepreneur, diversity expert or businesswoman (well not except by accident!). Neither is my co-founder Laura Garcia or any of the other committed individuals who have come onto our team or helped us along the way with our work.

We are just journalists.

I came up with this slightly crazy idea a year and a half ago and have been riding this train ever since fully expecting to get off at the next stop every time we hit a small bump in the road.

But here we are and going from strength to strength with each person we help and with every person who helps us.

Putting a project that is your baby out into the world does, however, invite scrutiny and criticism. We embrace that with open arms as it’s the only way to make improvements to what we started as it continues, we hope, to grow.

We are also committed to surrounding ourselves with those who are much better at the things we lack expertise in: be that the fantastic web design and build team led by Darshan Sanghrajka at SuperBeingLabs and Joe Friel at YallaYalla Coop, the legal expertise of Electra Japonas from the The Law Boutique, the Sutton Trust, who assist with stats and research, or Nancy Roberts from diversity data analyst firm, Umbrella Analytics  who is a former journalist herself.

Anyone who thinks they can teach us a thing or two and wants to be involved please get in touch with us…or it’s just a matter of time before we seek you out!

We learned a lot about how hard it is to convert concern into action…

It is super hard in this manic, high-speed, digital world of ours to cut through the noise and get people to care.

If anything, this crowdfunder highlighted the challenges that still lie ahead for us as an organization in an attention-competitive world.

It also means that when we do get that attention we must make sure we are worthy of it and that we do not detract from the work and mission of other great organisations and groups.

Our society and economy make us feel like there is only a finite amount of resources and opportunity to go around and in a competitive field like journalism this can feel even more – but PressPad wants to support other groups and be very clear where we think we can add value.

In instances where we don’t think we can, we will pass issues and opportunities onto those more deserving of it as we’re already inundated with requests – we really aim to ‘Slay in our Lane’ – to use the words of Yomi Adegoke (one of our ambassadors) knock-out book. 

We also learned that everyone cares about diversity but that some care more about it than others.

For every person who went above and beyond with introductions, recommendations and direct assistance, there was someone who had equal access to such resources and contacts who fobbed us off and closed a door in our faces.

For every person who donated or offered a retweet, there were those who ignored us and made excuses for why they couldn’t get involved.

And that’s fine – that’s how it always will be. To those people who didn’t feel able to get on board so far, we welcome you when you do, because we’re not going anywhere especially if the stats from the crowdfunder show us anything.

We reached our target with a huge grassroots effort: 750 donations which averaged at £32 each! So, my message to anyone who professes to care about diversity really is to put your money where your mouth is – whether that is money in the form of time, cash, space or influence.

Our high-profile donors like Lyse Doucet, Dolly Alderton, the Words by Women gang – led by Joy Lo Dico and Marie Le Conte, Julie Etchingham and both the female BBC Today programme presenters Martha Kearney and Mishal Hussain to name but a few were overwhelmingly female.

It’s important that the burden on reforming these organisations and working practices that are unfit for our modern world doesn’t fall onto those who have the most to lose: Calling all white, well-paid men…we want you to engage too! (And to all those who did – thank you – tell a friend 😉 ) So this comes to my final lesson I learned through this process…

It really takes everyone to make a difference

As a team the limitations of any one person’s, or group’s, experience was reinforced.

In particular as founder and a white, middle-class, Oxbridge-educated woman, I understand the optics of someone like me doing something like this. It’s not lost on me although it was pointed out by several. That’s why I want to be as transparent as possible both with my background, my personal finances, how PressPad’s spent the money given to it to date and where future money will go.

I do, however, believe that PressPad was unlikely to have been started by someone without my background and privilege for the same awful reasons the industry remains exclusive:

I didn’t have the same barriers others were busy fighting and comparatively more time, stability, resources and confidence than many – and that’s how I could start PressPad.

It’s my belief that all those also in that situation have a responsibility to be allies: Why should change rest on the shoulders of those already burdened by the very obstacles they are up against in the first place?

This is why PressPad’s team exists – not to hijack or even lead a conversation – but to listen, facilitate change, and open doors inexplicably shut to most of society. This crowdfunder was about announcing that we want to work in service of that mission, along others doing the same.

So, to end, this brings me back to you guys: PressPad would not have a future without our supporters.

It was so important for us that this became something that the community would have some ownership of. We hope as well as bringing all of you individual journalists along with us to have a rafter of corporate sponsors in the form of the country’s main news organisations ahead of our digital pilot launch at the end of January.

PressPad’s model operates on building bridges between those who have and those who don’t, as well as to redefine the status quo of what is valuable: we match senior journalists who perhaps are out-of-touch with certain communities and younger people and give them access to such people who in turn benefit from their mentorship, connections and just as crucially the accommodation.

It’s important for that model that everyone takes part and takes responsibility for the kind of media industry, journalism and society we want.

We can’t wait for someone else who has more money, influence or a certain job title. If we wait for those people we may still be waiting decades from now.

PressPad needs to be the outcome of everyone’s ideas, for everyone who needs it and provided by everyone who can and should help.

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