Leveraging engagement into activism
Levering engagement

In commerce, engaging content always comes with a call to action. This way of thinking has been adopted and embraced by, a news site with a difference. RYOT and its work was the subject of a session entitled “From Passive To Active – The Future Of News: Combining Awareness and Activism” at this week’s Social Good Summit. Pete Cashmore, CEO and founder of Mashable, led the panel, alongside RYOT co-founders Bryn Mooser and David Darg, and actor and RYOT supporter Ian Somerhalder.

RYOT originally stemmed from the development work that Mooser and Darg were doing; they identified a “disconnect” when it came to trying to get people interested in development and aid. “We wanted to flip the model on its head,” explained Darg. “What are people interested in? First and foremost, we realised, it’s news… We thought if we can harness that, and link it through to an action, we’re onto a winner.”

Every news story that is posted to RYOT is accompanied by a link to a related charity or initiative. So, while other networks are reporting on global events in a manner that Somerhalder likened to “one way traffic”, RYOT actively tries to capitalise on the emotional response that comes with reading about crises like what’s going on in Syria right now, and empowers them to contribute to a relief fund for the victims.

How do they source their content? Largely like any other news site, Mooser says, via the Associated Press and Reuters. But they also continually appeal to people all over the world, to send them photos and videos through networks like Instagram.

They try not to be too earnest, though. For example, RYOT also posts cat videos (because what self-respecting website wouldn’t?) “We’re using cats, because again, it’s about what people are interested in today,” said Darg. “If it’s viral and everyone’s talking about it, we want that on the site, because we’ll relay it back to an action you can take.” In the case of their popular cat videos, that action might be supporting an animal shelter.

“Why, then, doesn’t every news site have an action embedded?” asked Cashmore. Darg suggested that the rules of journalism, which historically rely on an objective outlook, have created a culture of non-interference. He compared it to a wildlife documentary, wherein a lion attacks a gazelle – news organisations have taken a “step back” attitude which precludes involvement. However, he concedes that while these rules are set in stone at institutions such as CNN and Fox News, a “sea change” is happening on sites like Mashable, Huffington Post, and of course, RYOT.

“You shouldn’t be able to report on the crisis in Syria,” he said, “without reporting on what you can do about it.”

Darg, Mooser and Somerhalder all believe that the increasingly participatory nature of the news cycle has been made possible by a youth culture that concerns itself less with talking the talk, and more with walking the walk. Modern technology has created a generation of people who are not content to passively observe – they want to start conversations and to become a part of the story. “Slacktivism” could well be a thing of the past.

To paraphrase Somerhalder; the world’s youth is its most underutilised, undervalued resource.  “I encourage anyone, whether you have five followers of five million followers,” he said, “to use that platform, to use that microphone to amplify the voices of people around you, and spread information. We need to be able to use [social media] for progress, and to show quantifiable change.”

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