Paris-based online magazine OWNI is to reinvent the way to finance quality information. With a sustainable alliance of for-profit and non-profit worlds.
Whereas the flutter of a butterfly’s wings in American media causes a storm in France and elsewhere, the links between European public spheres remains almost zero.
OWNI aims at echoing the best of news and ideas about the digital world from our European neighbors. First, a network of European watchers will be set up. From 2011 onwards, an English version will be launched, as well as the European deployment of OWNIeditors, the non-profit organization bringing together all OWNI editors currently being created; thanks in part to transnational subsidies and partnerships (see Adriano Farano’s interview).
A lab for innovative journalism, OWNI must always remain on the cutting edge of what’s new in datajournalism, a new way of presenting information with visualizations, dynamic infographics, database journalism and interactive tools.
OWNI has already shown strengths in datajournalism, thanks to a team that includes Nicolas Kayser-Bril, Caroline Goulard, Elsa Secco, Leo Gourven and Antoine Roesslinger, young specialists in the area. Previous projects include a map of CCTV in French high schools and a tool to locate your polling station for the 2010 regional elections.
Coming in the pipes are visualizations on penitentiaries, a map of migrations in Europe, visualizations about wind energy in France and the G20 and an application showing the strengths of a media brand in the social web.
Keeping in line with its motto of innovation, OWNI is also researching new journalistic formats, such as linkjournalism. Launched in the US with successes such as the Drudge Report, linkjournalism stands for a carefully selected assortment of links serving a specific audience.
OWNI is also working on a LinkTV, a webTV based on quality video links hosted on YouTube or Dailymotion. This comes in the wake of previous experiments such as Aaaliens (a link aggregator bringing together the links from the best watchers on the French-speaking web).
To support its editorial project, OWNI poses as a non-profit enterprise, made of a 501(c)-like association, OWNIeditors, and of a non-profit fund (fonds de dotation), OWNIpedia, that will finance other news-related innovative projects.
OWNI carries one of the most fundamental democratic principles there is: that every citizen should access culture and knowledge as part of the promise of social equality. This concept of public interest, as thought by the heroes of the French Resistance, states that in order to make well-informed choices, citizens must muster a basic level of education.
Values and tools: Entangled concepts
OWNI was born in April 2009 in France as part of the grassroots movement hostile to Hadopi, a law attempting to regulate internet access and setting up the now-infamous three-strike approach. Committed to protect digital rights in France, OWNI wanted to offer its audience constructive, critical and technophile ideas.
Today, OWNI goes well beyond its one-year history to aggregate the very best of blogs and websites thinking today’s and tomorrow’s digital era. All content is published under a Creative Commons license, so that ideas can travel as far as possible.
So far, more than 400 journalists, bloggers, students, researchers, experts, and entrepreneurs have joined OWNI to share their analysis, news, opinions and reports on digital journalism, online business, e-politics and everything that sheds light upon the way the internet impacts our society.
OWNI is developed using open-source tools from the Wordpress family (WordpressMu + BuddyPress), the most widespread content-management system in the world. This is a fundamental strategic choice contributing to our media’s philosophy, in line with the online values we fight for (sharing, collaboration, openness, transparency). It’s also a formidable advantage in terms of collaborative research and development.
Last but not least, the working environment, the code, the services and the third-party applications we use are constantly being updated and tested by millions of users throughout the world. Wordpress’ developer community is very dense and very active (much more so than any other CMS-related community such as Drupal’s). Automattic, the company that leads and runs the Wordpress code (that’s the wordpress.com service, plus professional solutions), helps the system evolve around volunteers, online entrepreneurs and plain geeks, without any systematic money transfer between members (see at wordpress.org).
The usual business markers are collapsing
In a constantly evolving world facing a global identity crisis, usual business markers are collapsing.
Economic agents must rethink their models through. They must transform themselves. The alliance between profit and non-profit is part of the answer. Fair trade is a glaring proof of this. Grossing €2.3 billion in 2007, boasting 79,000 points of sale, of which 55,000 are supermarkets, and a year-on-year growth over 20%, fair trade is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. This success holds to the combination of private-sector agents (producers and distributors) with the non-profit (NGO, foundations), that both address a fundamental need of the modern customer: to live in a better world. Thus, companies keep their margins high while helping 1.5 million farmers around the world.
In the media business, the overabundance of information, especially online, provoked a collapse in advertising revenue everyone felt. This situation forces us to rethink the role of cultural mediator.
US billionaire Herbet M. Sandler did exactly that with the online outlet ProPublica, to which he gave an online budget north of $10 million. Lead by the former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, the newsroom produces investigative articles published either through partnerships (of which the New York Times is part) or directly on its own website. Financing comes through non-profit structures with benefactor giving €66,000 on average. Thus, the enterprise’s sustainability is assured while giving the world clear and objective news.
This model mixing profit and non-profit has just been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for a story published on ProPublica.
The attractiveness of the hybrid profit/non-profit model allows for fiscal synergies, thanks to donations mechanisms. Launched in 2007 by Jean-François Daniel (disclaimer: he’s consulting with OWNI), an operation called ‘La Rose Marie Claire’ is a concrete example of this. Companies can claim a tax return on their corporate income tax when they sell roses for the benefit of a schooling initiative for underprivileged girls. Non-profit allows for increased sales (traffic up 20% in points of sale on average) and gains in terms of public image.
For OWNI, the synergy between profit and non-profit will be embodied by the creation of the 501(c)-like association OWNIeditors. This new vehicle will take over the editorial development of OWNI, which is currently run by 22mars, a Paris-based factory and consulting firm. This is done in the same ecosystem and totally in line with previous developments, since 22mars founded OWNIeditors and gave some of its own shares to all members of the newsroom (Guillaume Ledit, Sabine Blanc, Adriano Farano, Nicolas Kayser Bril). Developers also own part of the company (Tom Wersinger, Aurélien Fache), as does our head designer, Loguy aka Logule. This structure allowed for a €250k, 0% APR loan from 22mars to OWNI, which will be paid back by non-profit mechanisms: donations, subsidies and patronage.
This structure will allow for OWNI’s editorial vision to grow and flourish. The new version of the website is one of these incarnations. Continually in beta, the flying saucer is a utopian community in its own right, experimenting to produce content that serves the general interest and allows a better understanding of the cultures that were born from this new social order – the World Wide Web.
Our strategy – as well as the months and years this projects has gobbled – is an answer among a few, too rare others to the media crisis. This ecosystem allows a media strategy in the interest of the public, lead by craftsmen and women. These craftspeople constitute the dream team that our high standards and our patience brought together.
An editor will always be the one who ‘takes care’. And who sublimes.
They also helped us on the way: Pierre Bilger, Eric Scherer, Pierre Bellanger, Jacques Rosselin, Jean-Christophe Feraud, Jean-Marc Manach, Olivier Missir, Sébastien Ravut, Remi Vincent, Pierre Romera, Isabelle Mirri (…)