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How Revista 5W let readers decide what it wrote about
This case study was first published in Engagement Explained, a fortnightly newsletter that brings you in-depth and replicable engaged journalism case studies from news organisations across Europe. Sign up here to receive the next edition in your inbox.
In a nutshell
A platform that allowed subscribers and non-subscribers to vote for and financially support one of 15 story pitches from across five continents as a way of funding quality reporting in other countries as well as teach readers about the costs of reporting abroad.
Revista 5W is an independent magazine based in Spain that was founded in 2015 after a successful crowdfunding campaign. It was set up to highlight issues neglected by other news organisations and has the motto ‘Small stories, big explanations’.
It has five staff members including reporters, illustrators, photographers and designers, and between them they produce one online longform story each week, a monthly podcast and an annual 250-page hardcover magazine. There is a strong emphasis on photography.
Revista 5W has always charged a subscription fee and, at the moment, it has 2,600 subscribers mostly in Spain but with a growing base in Latin America. They pay either €36 or €60 a year although they also have a ‘pay what you want’ solidarity subscription tier.
The idea of letting subscribers decide a topic to cover was something the magazine had tried in 2015 during the crowdfunding campaign. After achieving their initial target of €25,000, they set a stretch goal of €50,000 and said subscribers could choose the story that Revista 5W covered first out of three options. They chose The Ghost of Boko Haram.
In 2017, the organisation applied for and was awarded €50,000 from Google’s Digital News Initiative to develop this idea further and to create the ‘How’ crowdfunding platform (more here in Spanish).
Quim Zudaire, Revista 5W’s developer, was assigned as the project lead and found two external companies to work with: one to design and develop a light-hearted game to help people chose a pitch, and another one to develop the payment and voting platform (which utilised the e-commerce module of Drupal to save development time and cost). The process took around 6-7 months.
The ‘How’ platform launched in April 2018 with 15 story pitches, from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and America. Each story was outlined and some information provided about the journalist and photojournalist involved, who were encouraged to promote the vote through their own channels.
Revista 5W also produced two Facebook Lives with the journalists and used its newsletter list and Twitter following to generate interest in the process. They also created a quiz game with a points system to help people find the story that they cared most about from the 15 pitches.
Over two weeks, subscribers and non-subscribers were able to vote for one story per region, and 9,822 people voted across all pitches. In a second round of voting, around 1,115 people voted and put three stories to go through to the final funding stage. The most voted coverage was Syria after the Islamic State, followed by Resistencia, about the rise of the far right in Europe, and Sons of Genocide.
At the funding stage, each pitch had a target that they needed to hit to fund the story. Donations were framed in relation to tangible things in order to make clear what the money would go to. For example, a €10 contribution would fund a bus trip in Colombia, whereas €40 would fund a night’s stay in Afghanistan.
Syria after the Islamic State raised its requested €6,900 in two weeks. Resistencia only raised €1,700 out of the €7,475 it needed and was not funded, meaning donations were returned. Overall, 167 people contributed donations to one of the three stories.
A Revista 5W journalist and a photojournalist went out to Syria to produce the story in late 2018. As well as the copy and the photos, the magazine asked them to produce short behind-the-scenes videos which have been circulated among subscribers via the newsletter (example 1, example 2, example 3).
Subscribers have been kept in contact about when the article will be published. After much editing, it will be published next week — look out for it.
What did they learn?
The two-stage voting process was over-complicated and it meant that fewer votes were registered in the second round due to ‘voting fatigue’. The magazine would skip the second stage of voting and move straight to funding if it were to run the process again.
The average donation to a pitch was €25 followed by €10 and then €50. This was higher than they expected and showed that people were willing to fund important stories if asked.
Also, after the Syria story was fully funded, it became hard to raise funds for the other two stories. The magazine felt this was because the people who wanted to contribute financially had already done so.
The team discussed open sourcing the tool for use by other organisations or creating it as a service that could be licensed to other publishers. However, they decided against it.
In their own words
Marta Arias, co-founder, Revista 5W
"We rely on subscribers so it’s right that we ask them what they want us to cover. We don’t want to stay still and we want to continue to find new ways of telling stories. We owe that to subscribers."
How would you improve it?
"Explaining 15 different stories was hard because there's lots of information and some stories were not well known so we had to explain them from the beginning. It was probably a lot of information for them to receive. We need to propose less for the next one.”