Crowdfunded news site about Russia blasts corporate media as readers cheer

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Russia Insider, a volunteer based media criticism site, becoming one of the world’s largest news sources about Russia, announces Spring crowdfunding campaign. (https://goo.gl/Ald1a4)

But once the degree of discontent in America and Europe became clear from the Trump / Sanders campaigns ... we realized that we just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

SUMMARY

An upstart, crowdfunded, volunteer news site which started a little over 1 year ago as a small blog about Russia, and which now covers other topics, has seen viral growth. In November 2015 alone, it received 12 million views and 7 million visitors and is now becoming one of the largest global news sources about Russia.

The site, Russia Insider, has just launched its third crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo (https://goo.gl/rRtTT8).

Russia Insider is created by a global network of experts who think that the mainstream media have been dangerously misleading in their treatment of Russia, and they have found an enthusiastic audience in the US and Europe. The popularity of the site mirrors the Trump / Sanders phenomenon in the US and similar movements in Europe.

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Moscow, Russia, May 5, 2016. Riding the wave of discontent with Washington’s hawkish foreign policy among Americans and Europeans, an alternative news site, staffed mostly by volunteers, has seen blistering growth; and therefore has turned to crowdfunding in order to keep up. Russia Insider has just announced the launch of its Spring crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo (https://goo.gl/rRtTT8).

Started in September 2014 as a blog by an American who was appalled by US policy in Ukraine, and what he believed was the media’s extreme dishonesty in reporting on it, the site, Russia Insider, quickly became the world’s leading platform critical of the interventionist, neocon policies towards Russia pursued by Washington and its EU allies, and one of the largest news sources about Russia in the world.

By March of 2015 the site had received 40 million page views, and by April of 2016, together with its Youtube channel, over 100 million views. In November 2015, at the height of Russia’s intervention in Syria, it received 12 million views and 7 million visitors, according to Google analytics. In addition, RI has a very popular Facebook page, with a daily reach of 4 million. Russia Insider’s audience is evenly split between North America and Western Europe, primarily the UK, France, and Germany.

RIDING THE TRUMP / SANDERS WAVE

Founder and editor, Charles Bausman, a 52 year old American businessman who has lived and worked in Russia on and off since graduating from college attributes the heavy traffic to the popularity of the Trump and Sanders campaigns in the US, and similar political trends in Europe.

The site’s latest crowdfunding video from May 2016 gives a good idea of what RI is all about. (https://goo.gl/we5BCj)

CROWDFUNDING, VOLUNTEERS, AND A LIVELY COMMENTS SECTION

In the first months Bausman funded the site himself, but when his resources couldn’t keep up with ballooning growth, RI turned to crowdfunding, first on Kickstarter (https://goo.gl/z08FBT), and then on Indiegogo (https://goo.gl/utS8T8). The site has just launched its third crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo (https://goo.gl/rRtTT8). Previous campaigns and donations brought in $130,000, from thousands of donors, with most people giving about $20. “This is real, reader-supported journalism”, explains Bausman, “If not for that crucial support, RI would never have gotten to the size it currently is.” Despite this public support, the site still requires Bausman to subsidize it from personal funds. May 2016 crowdfunding video - https://goo.gl/we5BCj

In addition to donations, RI benefits from a large group of volunteers who do everything from writing articles to comment moderation, to video editing, and much else. David Curry, RI’s volunteer coordinator explains: “Remarkable, talented people just keep showing up and offering to help, explaining that they just like what we are doing and our message. Many of these people are just extraordinary - writers, translators, video editors, professors, retired journalists, retired diplomats. It explains the high quality of the content on the site. It turns out a lot of people around the world love Russia and are very unhappy with what the media says about her, and are just happy to contribute in some way.”

Further evidence of Russia Insider’s community support is its lively comments section. To date, the site has received in excess of 280,000 comments, currently about 1000 per day. The comments are very lightly monitored for obscenity, but pretty much anything else goes, resulting in a boisterous daily forum.

MEDIA CRITICISM AND HUMOR

Bausman is adamant about where he thinks the problem lies. “The true heart of the problem is the mainstream media”, which Bausman believes are “completely dominated by neoconservative ideologues who badly misrepresent what is going on around the world, but who have an undisguised and bizarre hostility towards Russia.

Russia Insider staffers scan 1000s of headlines from 100s of mainstream and alternative publications daily. In addition to original submissions, they repost articles about Russia they find worthwhile, and criticize articles in the mainstream media which they think deserve it.

Much of content on the site consists of humorous criticism of items taken from the American and European mainstream media. “Humor is a big part of what we do,” explains Bausman. Sometimes what they publish is so bad, “You have to either laugh or cry, - we prefer the laughs”.

TRANSLATIONS FROM GERMAN AND RUSSIAN MEDIA

An unusual aspect of Russia Insider is that they carry a substantial number of articles which have been translated from the German alternative media. Bausman, who is half-German and born in Germany, reads German fluently, follows the German media, and travels there frequently. According to Bausman, there are a lot of high quality analyses in the German alternative media that are critical of EU and American policy towards Russia; thus, making it an important source of good articles which are not getting much coverage in the western media.

Another important source of original material for RI are translations from Russian media, which Bausman also claims produces some excellent journalism.

INFLUENCING THE GLOBAL DEBATE

According to Bausman, Russia Insider has had an influence which goes well beyond its impressive audience size. “We are carefully read and followed by journalists, government officials, academics, the military, and others. Serious people now want to be published on RI because serious people are reading us. It is real influence. We often notice narratives, facts, and arguments appearing in the mainstream media that we were the first to be talking about. We are frequently cited quoted, and re-published in both the mainstream and the alternative media.”

Bausman estimates that due to prolific republishing of his articles on websites around the world, his actual audience is at least twice the number of visitors to his site.

TALKING ABOUT MORE THAN RUSSIA

While RI got started writing about Russia, it has followed its audience’s interests to other areas. Recently RI has been writing about the US elections, the Trump phenomenon, the Middle East, and the neocon movement in general. “Our bread and butter is still Russia - there is just so much to tell about this place, it is seriously under-reported.”

COMPARISON TO RUSSIAN STATE-FUNDED MEDIA LIKE RT.COM

“There is no question that the Russian state-funded media aimed at audiences in Europe and America have scored a massive PR victory. Like us, they benefit from an extremely mendacious neocon media who oppose them. When the truth is on your side, it makes it a lot easier”, explains Bausman. “The main difference between us is that since we are a grassroots popular movement we are not vulnerable to the accusation of being foreign funded propaganda.” “It is one thing when a foreign government’s media arm criticizes you, and another thing altogether when your own citizens do.”

A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

Another story Russia Insider writes regularly about is what is going on with the Russian orthodox church in Russia. Bausman argues that, like the German story, this is a huge issue which is going largely unreported. “The resurgence of Christianity in Russia is one of the most important and fascinating social movements happening in the world today,” argues Bausman.

“It is important because it is the exact opposite of the trend in Europe and America, because of the appeal it has to conservative Christians in Europe and America with enormous foreign policy implications, and because it is profoundly changing and influencing one of the most important countries in the world, from the poorest of the poor right to the top leadership.” “It is also simply a great human story because Russian Christianity is so exotic by western standards, so colorful, so rich in recent historic tragedy.”

Bausman’s thinking on this subject is influenced by the fact that he is Russian orthodox, having converted from Episcopalianism 15 years ago, as are other key team members. “Most of our audience are areligious and come here for the politics, so we don’t cover it heavily, but when we do, the articles are very popular, because people find it fascinating regardless of their religious views.

It’s a big, important story which I wish we had the resources to cover more thoroughly. It helps that we see what is going on in the churches and monasteries, that we talk to the priests and monks. What is going on here is simply remarkable.”

A GLOBAL TEAM

Bausman lives in Moscow with his Russian wife and family, and maintains a small office and support staff there, but the serious writers who power the site are dispersed around the world. “We are a truly networked group from around the world. Our writers, servers, programmers, volunteers, and much else are all in different countries, ranging from Japan to California, but concentrated in Western Europe and the US. Most of us work from home.”

AN IMPORTANT RUSSIAN MEDIA PRIZE

Russia Insider has been noticed in Russia too. In part this is because Bausman, who speaks fluent Russian, appears regularly on leading Russian political talk shows.

In April of 2016, Bausman was the recipient of a prestigious new Russian journalism prize, for excellence in journalism, awarded by Russia’s international news agency, Rossiya Segodnya (not to be confused with RT.com), formerly known as RIA Novosti.

The prize is given in 7 categories by the Alexander Zinoviev club, which exists under the auspices of Rossiya Segodnya. The mission of the club is to memorialize the ideas of the legendary 20th century Russian philosopher, Alexander Zinoviev, who along with Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was one of the USSR’s three most famous dissidents and exiles. The club is an important participant in the Russian government’s efforts to articulate a national ideology, an issue that, unlike most other countries, Russia attaches great importance to.

The prize is named after the extremely popular and loved pro-Russian Ukrainian journalist, Oles Buzina, who was murdered by neo-nazis in Kiev in May of 2015. (http://goo.gl/HOlmQ2) Buzina has become a powerful symbol of Russia’s outrage at what is perceived as Western aggression.

Other recipients of the prize in 2016 were Iosif Kobzon, the popular Russian singer who has been outspoken in his support for the Ukrainian separatists, and Pavel Gubarev, an Ukrainian separatist author, journalist, and political leader.

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