Top journalists' independent media fund invests in Rappler

 

MANILA, Philippines – Investment company North Base Media (NBM), which is focused on supporting independent media in growth markets, has invested in Rappler, a Manila-based social news network.

A triumvirate of top journalists led by Marcus Brauchli founded NBM. Brauchli, who headed both the newsrooms of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, pulled in veteran journalists Sasa Vucinic and Stuart Karle. They said that when they first heard of Rappler, the decision to invest in it was not a difficult one to make.

It was a perfect fit, Brauchli said. “Rappler is a perfect alignment of our interests and the goals of the founders. Rappler is a company dedicated – as Maria Ressa likes to say – to redefining journalism, keeping the soul and spirit of journalism, but adapting to technology-driven changes that have swept our world.”

He added, “We’re making ourselves available to give Rappler advice. In exchange, what we want is to be able to take many of their ideas, the pioneering concepts that Rappler is working with in the Philippines and deploy them in other markets. Because I think Rappler is one of the most innovative digital media companies we have seen in any market around the world.” 

Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa said of the partnership: "Rappler is actually the personification of what North Base Media’s ideas are – journalism at its center, technology built in, and our audience built into that. That is the core."

It's important to enable journalism, according to Ressa, "but you need to understand the business practices that gives it its independence. If you cannot bring in money for a news group, that news group is not independent."

NBM and independent media

NBM is no stranger to the importance of independent media. Brauchli's colleague Vucinic was thrown out of the former Yugoslavia by then Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic who was later prosecuted for genocide and war crimes.

Vucinic received seed money from philanthropist George Soros to co-found the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), which he ran for 16 years. Soros is the founder and chairman of Open Society, described as "a network of foundations, partners, and projects in more than 100 countries." 

The third of the NBM triumvirate, Karle, was former general counsel of The  Wall Street Journal, and COO of Reuters in 2013.

Aside from providing support to media start-ups, NBM also scours the world for technologies that can support media companies.

This is what NBM does – it searches for both media and technology companies which are doing interesting things, and helps them succeed. The network they are able to form will ideally exchange ideas and continue innovating as they tap one another and apply best practices.

The relationship is a symbiotic one – NBM hopes to help Rappler continue its growth as it strengthens its first international bureau in neighboring Indonesia, while taking its ideas and sharing it with others.

Brauchli said he feels Ressa and her team at Rappler understand how technologies are transforming the practice of journalism, evidenced by the new ways the news network delivers journalism to, and connects with, its audiences.

'Partnership'

“The investment is really a partnership. The way to think of this is that we bring to Rappler our experience and whatever counsel or advice the team of Rappler wants from us,” Brauchli said.

Rappler is the Philippines' first social news network. Founded in 2012 by Ressa, former ABS-CBN News Head and CNN Jakarta bureau chief, Rappler focuses on audience engagement, crowdsourcing, and citizen journalism.

Like Brauchli, she pulled together her friends: author and investigative journalist Glenda Gloria, co-founder of Newsbreak & former head of ANC, then the Philippines' only 24 hour English cable news channel; author, ethics professor & investigative journalist Chay Hofilena; former head of news production and newscasts at ABS-CBN Beth Frondoso; and Newsbreak's founding editor in chief, multi-awarded journalist Marites Dañguilan Vitug.

Rappler began with 12 people, and in a little over a year-and-a-half, became the 3rd most visited news website in the country, according to Alexa.com. Rappler had its 3rd birthday last January.

Ressa welcomes the partnership, saying Rappler and NBM are joined together by their like-mindedness and similar goals.

"We have the same values; independence is critical to that. And what they will do now is actually help us move from the Philippines outward. The minute you're on the Internet you’re a global news group. So how do you do that? These men are at the frontlines of trying to figure out what the future of journalism looks like. That’s where Rappler wants to be, and it's going to be a fun partnership," she said.

Rappler will remain fiercely independent, unchanged by the entrance of new partners. Editorial control remains solely with Rappler's editors, and it remains free of vested interests.

"At the core of Rappler is independence and in order to be independent, you don’t only have to be financially independent, which is why we created a business model that we believe works in this day and age, it is journalism and the way of doing online media that incorporates technology," Ressa said.

She added, "Rappler remains in the Philippines. It is Filipino, it is us creating it together with our audience."

Future of journalism

Having had years of experience leading long-standing journalism institutions, Brauchli has spent much time contemplating the future of the industry, deeply intrigued by the fast-changing world of media.

Digital consumers, according to Brauchli, are hungry for information about their communities and their world, making authenticity an incredibly valuable quality.

“Consumers of digital media are acutely conscious of what is authentic and real. And they know the difference between that and what is provided by the state and oligarch-controlled media which, in many countries, have been prominent media,” he said.

“When you have something like Rappler which is really the combination of great journalism, a great team of journalists from the top down, people who have vast experience in journalism, with content that is being shaped by readers of Rappler, content that is being driven by the needs, by the civic interests of Rappler – that combination together is very powerful. And it can work in any market.”

Media companies – both new and established – are all looking to each other to figure out which strategies are effective and should be adopted, as they themselves innovate in an attempt to get it right.

Brauchli named a few trends he has noticed: the notion that a media company needs to provide a place for its audience to come together to interact – all under the umbrella of a media company; tighter integration of technology platforms and the content so it is tailored to delivery on social media or smartphones or mobile apps; greater emphasis on personalization; and aggregation of content like the Huffington Post.

“The idea that you will figure everything out, and that it will stay that way is finished,” he said, when asked about the possibility of finding stability as newspapers and television did for decades.

“I think that’s a healthy thing. The constant change – in a more abstract way of thinking about it – is, our society is doing that healthy practice of rethinking its own behavior and trying to optimize and trying to figure out what is it that society needs and wants, and how can people engage with information? We, the content producers, we play a role in that.”

Moving forward

Rappler is one of NBM's biggest investments in the region. But as the industry continues to shift constantly, Brauchli emphasized the need for Rappler to continue to innovate as well – pointing out that “how people consume content today may have nothing to do with how people will consume content tomorrow.”

To start, Brauchli envisions the need for Rappler to expand both domestically and regionally, and to focus on audience-produced content.

“Rappler as you know has started in Indonesia, tiptoeing in the regional market, and there may very well be opportunities for Rappler to become a much bigger platform for voices across the region,” he said.

Ressa explained plans for Indonesia. "What we want to do is to give a platform for Indonesians to be able to find what’s important to them, define it together, and help – like what we’re doing in the Philippines – build institutions bottom up."

Brauchli said, “The way I think of Rappler is the way I think of a lot of digital media companies. They are increasingly venues for people to express their own voices. They have to be a reflection of the communities they are serving. They can’t be top down. They have to have information that is relevant and important and filtered, but also information that is, by and large, shaped by the readers and the consumers.”

Despite the changes brought by the dawn of technology however, Rappler, he said, also needs to maintain what he believes will remain invaluable regardless of the next trend or mobile app or invention that comes along.

Core values

“I think journalism is changing rapidly but I’m quite confident that the fundamental principles of journalism that matter to me and the folks at Rappler are absolutely critical to the survival of digital journalism: independence, fairness, quest for the truth is something that has to be ascertained, accountability of the powerful, transparency of issues that need to be made transparent, a sense of civic responsibility,” he said.

“These things are critical elements of journalism and the mix, they may all come from one place, they may all happen at the same time, but the mix of these that together ties good journalism is as relevant, as important, as central to the success of any journalism outfit today, whatever medium, however they convey that content as it ever has been.”

Brauchli is optimistic about Rappler and the future of journalism to which he has committed much of his life.

“I want to see how it plays out, but I’m quite confident that we live in a society full of incredibly smart and capable people, and the generation that created Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram or Line or Whatsapp is quite capable of figuring out how to look after its information interests. We, the media and journalism world, need to figure out our place in that,” he said.

Ressa stressed: "We will stay true to our ideals. We go back to journalism, the independence of journalism, community, technology - technology at the service of journalism to give a better life for the people." – Rappler.com