Why should we “support Rappler”? Good question. Rappler is, supposedly, a business venture. It’s got investors who expect a return on their investment that is proportionate to the risk they’ve taken parking that money in Rappler’s books (i.e. more than, say, what they could have earned in interest had they invested those funds in a term deposit instead).
Rappler is, as far as we know, not a cooperative. A cooperative is a community enterprise funded by its own customers and members who collectively enjoy a common benefit from the services said enterprise delivers. There is no evidence that Rappler ever pitched itself as anything resembling a cooperative in the past. It has, for the most part of its trade since it bubbled up from out of the political muck in 2012 operated as a media business. Indeed, much speculation surrounded what its business model was considering that it employed a lot of people and did not have a readily-evident revenue stream (it did not serve ads on its Web pages and did not sell print versions of its content in the real world).
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Back in 2012 the text on its ‘About’ page was as follows:
Rappler is a social news network, whose journalists have worked for global news organizations and top Filipino news groups. We are proud to be “online journalists.” We promise uncompromised journalism that inspires smart conversations and ignites a thirst for change.
The blurb has since expanded to define a bit about how one would “join” Rappler in this mission from God to deliver “uncompromised journalism” to the Filipino people…
We won’t be complete without YOU.
Technology now allows us to work in ways never before possible to create connected communities and to tap “the wisdom of crowds,” the process of harnessing a group’s collective answer which, under the right conditions, have proven to be better than any single expert opinion.
In effect, the original deal was that Rappler’s audience and readers’ input into the enterprise was mainly around data much the same way as the big great Internet data collection behemoths like Facebook and Google currently work — harvesting data from day-to-day user interactions with their online services and turning these into intelligence to drive marketing and, perhaps, political decisions and actions. Rappler, it seems, was meant to operate that way; by (1) harvesting insights from users’ tapping on the colourful circles on those “mood meters” and correlating these “moods” with topics and key words in their articles to derive insights and identify trends, and (2) “crowdsourcing” information from user-generated content such as readers’ comments and online discussions on these comment threads.
Any further user input into Rappler beyond data was not part of the original deal. Yet, today, it seems money is now part of the equation. Rappler is no longer just “crowdsourcing” now, it is also crowdfunding — specifically soliciting funds from its users.
And why should one “support” Rappler by forking cash out to it? Well, because, we are told, we owe it to ourselves to help them “stay free and independent of political pressure and commercial interests.” It seems that says something about the effect on its editorial direction of funding sources its CEO Maria Ressa tapped earlier in its history (wink, wink). No, this time, soliciting money from Rappler readers will assure its true independence, right? But of course.
God’s Gift to Journalism, after all, cannot survive on data alone.
In short, Rappler has resorted to begging for funds from its own users because its business model of monetising analytics derived from data collected from users has failed. It has also most likely failed to deliver a return to its traditional investors — shadowy entities and parties that sought to either (1) use these analytics to influence public sentiment or (2) directly influence public sentiment through the sheer audience reach of Rappler’s online presence.
As explained earlier Rappler seemingly failed on the first point and, on the second point, whilst it does have the audience reach, its content has for some time now suffered crises of credibility thanks to the glaringly evident slant in its editorial direction in favour of, shall we say, “liberal” Filipinos. As such, the ability of the content published by Rappler’s “thought leaders” to influence has seen a marked decline.
The writing on the wall is quite clear. This “Support Rappler” initiative comes across more like the frantic thrashing of a drowning enterprise. The only thing that will really save Rappler now is conventional business sense, like developing a less pathetic revenue stream and finding a real investor. That, of course, means, in their very own words, that having conventional investors and conventional revenue streams (i.e. being a viable business) will no longer keep it “free and independent of political pressure and commercial interests”. Such is the media business. That is a lesson Rappler seems to have learned the hard way.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.