In overview, the steps, stages and ongoing tasks of GRADE are foreseen as follows:
GRADE sets up and maintains a network of European freelance journalists with pre-existing media contacts (i.e., media organisations they are already working for). RICSI and the EJC will be in charge of this network, assisted by n-Ost and the Partner NGOs: all participating freelancers from Europe will be automatically affiliated to RiCSI
GRADE sets up and maintains a database of independent journalism organizations in developing countries. Such organizations will help identifying the best local journalists to cooperate with. The already existing relation with FAIR will represent a model for North-South cooperation to be extended also to other regional organizations and will be the cornerstone for the media coverage of issues related to the MDG agenda in the Sub-Saharan Africa. RICSI and the EJC will be in charge of this database, assisted by IRN and Partner NGOs.
GRADE offers briefings/trainings for appropriate media editors in order to convince them of the benefit gained by covering development news;
GRADE offers briefings/trainings for journalists in order to better introduce them to the thematic field of development and to foster journalistic team-building between European and Southern colleagues;
GRADE offers briefings/trainings for NGO staff members to help them better inter-relate with media and journalists
GRADE sets up a European editorial office to systematically collect ideas (seed stories) for development-related journalistic stories, to select promising ones and to develop angles to pitch them to appropriate media. The editorial office will consist of a team of desk editors who will manage GRADE operational website, namely by regularly updating it with new story pitches. RICSI will buld GRADE operational website as an upgraded version of its current plateform, in consultation with its future frelancers members, and will subcontract its physical creation to an ICT developer. The EJC will be responsible for the management of the desk editors team
Participating freelancers from Europe, as well Partner NGOs, to share their media contacts on a confidential basis with the editorial office (incentive: more commissions) which will create a common media editors database and mailing-list broke down by geographic and language areas, in order to propose story pitches also via an automatic emailing system
GRADE will elaborate a Code of Conduct providing a set of ethic standards, quality criteria and financial rules, which will ensure: 1) fair relations between journalists and NGOs (both in Europe and on location); 2) a range of benchmark determining which stories correspond to GRADE objectives and qualify to be pitched to media editors: 3) an equitable distribution of commissions between the participating freelancers and a rational mechanism for the negotiation of remunerations and costs/profits sharing
GRADE will set up and maintain a cooperation framework (communication methods, themes agenda, coordination structures) with local journalism organizations and freelancers in target developing regions. RICSI will take of this task through an appropriate team-work at distance and on location, assisted by NGOs (both Partner and local) and IRN
GRADE will organize demonstrative field media workshops in cooperation with partners from the South (journalists and local NGOs) where investigative stories will be incubated and developped in order to 1) put forward on a regular basis a number of fresh story ideas and related material to be used by frelancers from both the North and the South who are willing to undertake joint investigations; 2) forge a concrete model of co-production to be possibly replicated in all other cases of cross-border cooperation between European and local freelancers. The EJC will provide the training format while RICSI will implement the practical apects of the workshops together with local organizations. Four media workshops will be conducetd the 1st year, with a special foscus on Sub-Saharan Africa in collaboration with FAIR, and 9 per each following year, equally distributed among the target developping regions (Africa, Asia and Latina America)
GRADE will create a “guarantee fund”, co-funded by network freelancers, to be used to pre-finance those stories which are particularly relevant but which might not reach a sufficient number of media commissions to compensate the production costs
The editorial office receives story suggestions from all stakeholders in this project, i.e., local journalists, local NGOs, citizens, European NGOs (both communication officers and field officers), European journalists. NGOs however retain the freedom to submit their story pitches through the editorial desk or submit them directly to the media with which they have direct contact
A first wave of stories will be circulated Europe wide through GRADE Associate media (Euronews, Ips, CafeBabel) in order to conduct a marketing campaign which will draw attention from media editors and consumers towards the operationanl website and its innovative news service
All the other stories deemed marketable by the editorial office are pitched to desk editors in European mainstream media in the name of the appropriate freelancer in each particular country (e.g., a German newspaper editor would receive the offer signed by a freelancer he knows already from previous cooperation);
In case that a media organisation wants to publish the story, it commissions it to the freelancers network connected to the Editorial Office;
The main role of the Europe-based journalist is to tailor the story to the requirements of his country’s audience and media market and to clearly develop what the topic means for European citizens;
After any article/broadcast segment has appeared in the media, it will be further promoted through both the CMD and the operational websites, as well as through national campaigns conducted by Partner NGOs in the six target EU Members States. These campaigns will be run primarily through each NGO online network by using web social networking tools, such as Google and Twitter. The current increasing use of such tools by the new generations will enhance the involvement of a young audience. The campaigns will partly derive from mainstream media coverage, as one of their objectives is the further networked dissemination of articles and broadcast segments produced throughout the project implementation. Online activities aim at creating groups of stakeholders (citizens and civic organizations, decision makers and NGOs) around the issues covered by the published or broadcast stories, where each user will be in a position to provide feedback on media coverage. Different thematic groups will be eventually created, where stakeholders who are particularly interested in a specific development theme will be alerted and able to discuss on every new story coming out on that theme. These groups will expand in a self-sustaining fashion and particularly encourage interactivity, Alerts to users will concern not only stories produced by network freelancers but also stories self-produced by media staff reporters, namely those resulting from a cooperation with Partner NGOs, to the extent that they fulfil the quality criteria set out in GRADE Code of Conduct.. Each new story alert posted in a group will directly link the users to the media (websites) which published/broadcast the story, thus recompensing with a growing and long-standing audience those media which ensure a regular publication/broadcasting of quality contents on development issues.
All national NGOs online networks will be linked to GRADE operational website (and, trough this, to the CMD website), so that users will be able to tip the Editorial Office in real time with new or follow-up topics worth exploring and national angles which will help freelancers to better target their stories on a specific national audience. As a result, media coverage will turn from being a mere top-down product into a bottom-up process where citizens will play an active role: they will perceive and look forward to read/view/discuss development issues as an everyday life social experience, thus ultimately encouraging media to increase coverage of those issuers. A kind of virtuous cycle will be triggered, where the increasing media coverage will generate a growth of the audience which, in turn, will stimulate further media coverage, etc. An appropriate filtered public space on GRADE operational website will list the feedbacks and tips for new stories received by online users and highlight those which will be or have been used to elaborate further story pitches. As a result, media coverage will turn from being a mere top-down product into a bottom-up process where citizens will play an active role: they will perceive and look forward to read/view/discuss development issues as an everyday life social experience, thus ultimately encouraging media to increase coverage of those issuers. A kind of virtuous cycle will be triggered, where the increasing media coverage will generate a growth of the audience which, in turn, will stimulate further media coverage, etc.
The major node for the entire project will be the editorial office, which doubles as the project management central. There are a number of reasons why this kind of hub is necessary and why it is essential that it be operated by professionals well-versed in journalism, editorial work, and the typical transactions between freelancers and commissioning editors.
Firstly, well-researched articles on development aid and the issues of developing countries are relatively expensive. This is because all articles and broadcast segments will require a co-operation between at least one European and one developing country freelance journalist, might incur some travel or logistics costs, and will need to be translated into several European languages and adapted to different audiences. As a consequence, this entire project will only be able to achieve financial self-sustainability if one and the same story is successfully sold to more than one publication in different countries. As a rule of thumb, we will need on average three publications per story in order to pay for the contributing journalists’ fees, costs, and the running of the editorial office itself.
As it was said above, desk editors deal only with journalists they know personally and with whom they have worked previously. It is very hard for newcomers to land commissions, let alone for journalists from another EU member state or from a developing country. Furthermore, any journalist is best equipped to tailor a story to the audience demand of the country he or she is used to working for. This means that in each participating country, GRADE stories must be pitched to mainstream media editors in the name of freelancers with proven track record in that same country and publishing outlet.
In addition to this, it would be counter-productive to flood media editors indiscriminately with development-related story ideas and thus risk reactant behaviour, i.e., an unfavourable attitude towards the topic area of development in general and GRADE pitches in particular. Hence, in a multi-country and multi-actor programme such as GRADE, it is essential that a qualified and efficient filtering mechanism and co-ordination hub be inserted between the field workers and the commercial media.
The editorial office will thus collect all seed story ideas coming from all participants and stakeholders, irrespective of whether these are journalists, NGO staff members, or interested citizens in Europe or in developing countries. Stories will then be processed by the editorial office. This means that professional journalistic editors will sift out all those story suggestions which have a strong enough potential to be realistically and successfully featured in the mainstream media of more than one European country.
More particularly, the editorial office will match seed story ideas from both EU side and developing countries side in order to produce story pitches showing as much as possible to the media editors the inter-relations between the issues emerging in remote countries in the South and the areas if interests of their specific audience. It will then give priority to those stories pitches which have the highest potential impact on the European audience at large and more specifically on the national audiences of the six target EU countries.
The editorial office will then start working out the appropriate angles (or “hooks”, as journalists say) for media in the countries covered by GRADE. It will subsequently distribute dedicated pitches to selected commissioning editors in as many regions and media categories (i.e., print, online, radio, television) as possible, yet always with national and or category exclusivity in mind. The editors will find the pitches in their in-boxes under the name of one of their usual supplying freelancers.
As soon as a story eventually receives a commission, the editorial office will start co-ordinating the production process. As a general rule, a minimum of three orders is required for a story to carry its own cost and to actually elaborate the seed idea into a full-fledged media article or broadcast segment. However, certain exceptions will be necessary. During the early stages of GRADE, sufficient media uptake will be harder to achieve than after the project has reached operating temperature. In order to prove the viability of GRADE-suggested stories under the conditions of commercial media, the editorial office will, after careful consideration, consider appropriate measures to allow for a number of articles to be fully developed even if there are fewer than three outlets committed. In such cases the editorial office will consult with network freelancers in order to decide wether it is worthy or not to cover cost risks throught the guarantee fund. Timing issues must be taken into account as well, as certain media organisations will be reacting more quickly than others. It therefore requires the oversight of the editorial office to decide which stories can be given the go-ahead with tolerable financial risk, i.e., which articles or segments are highly likely to be taken up by additional clients.
After the editorial office gives the green light for the production of a story by informing the appropriate freelancers that one or more media organizations requested it, it will assist with putting the appropriate collaborating journalists in touch with each other. The editorial office will also assure the necessary information flow between all parties concerned, such as NGO staff with background knowledge, or desk editors and freelance journalists in more countries where the story is scheduled to appear. Concrete journalistic production will be organised according to two basic principles:
One European journalist produces the story in co-operation with a partner in a developing country. After completion of the original article or segment, network journalists from other countries translate the story and re-work it to better match the expectations of their respective national audience;
A number of European journalists commissioned with producing the story do so independently from or cooperating with each other, and in co-operation with one or more local journalists, so that one seed idea results in many entirely different products targeted on the different national audiences.
The secondary, yet no less important role of the GRADE editorial office is to operate as a clearing house for the fees generated. With few – if any – exceptions, commissioning media are required to pay typical market-going prices for the pieces they order through the GRADE network. Price levels vary by such factors as the respective media category (e.g., television is more expensive than radio), the requested production value (particularly in the case of TV segments), the respective country’s general economic shape, or organisational governance (i.e., public or commercial broadcasting, where German pubcasters for instance tend to pay much better than their private counterparts). Fees and prices will be negotiated independently by the European freelancers, in whose names the pitches are made, with feedback from the editorial office.
The editorial office will collect all payments and re-distribute them in a fashion which makes sure that all journalists involved receive their fair share and that the editorial office itself becomes sustainable. While the participating freelancers make part of their living off work brokered by GRADE, the GRADE project itself and the editorial office are non-profit-making ventures. In other terms, the editorial office will be just a joint secretariat which will use the most appropriate online and offline marketing tools to help freelancers maximize the multi-country sales of their stories. By the time EU funding expires, the editorial office will retain only the smallest possible percentage of the overall income to warrant its ongoing operation. All other revenues will be paid out to the contributing journalists who own the copyright to the articles anyway. In the unlikely case that the project generates any other revenues, these will be invested towards the general objectives of the consortium or allocated to a contingency fund.
It is important to note that the combined activity of GRADE Editorial Office and operational website does not have the ambition to become an exclusive, and even less an industrial-like, development news provider. It only intends to offer an innovative news reporting model based on North-South cooperation. The aim is then not to produce a high quantity of journalistic products, but a few samples of high quality stories to be circulated across different Member States in order to encourage media editors to replicate the same model through a flexible range of options which include: using their own resources to establish direct contact with both NGOs and journalists in developping countries, out-sourcing the entire work to freelancers networks such as the one launched by GRADE or encouraging cooperation between their staff reporters and such networks