Journalists, help Pactio pay you — and rebuild trust in journalism

Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash

The end of 2016 was a rollercoaster for me.

I became father for the third time, completed the sale of my last company and watched in awe as the pernicious fake news epidemic spread. I started talking to a lot of people, both friends in my Bay Area “tech bubble” and “regular people,” including students and occasional Lyft drivers on both sides of the Atlantic.

I quickly came to realize that misinformation was just the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem — the erosion of trust in news, and in news organizations in particular. One person told me:

Look, I share a lot of what CNN says but I don’t trust them. How can I know what their agenda is? Who are their shareholders? How can they be independent from their advertisers?

And then I looked at the data.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in news media went from a high of 57 percent to 43 percent in 5 years.

Source: Edelman Trust Barometer

In truth, trust in all organizations is in free fall. Oxford University researcher Rachel Botsman explains that in the digital world it’s much easier to trust fellow humans than organizations.

Aha, I thought. What if we had a way to directly connect with and financially support the actual people who report the news, also known as journalists?

The idea of Pactio was born.

Latin dictionary by Charlton Thomas Lewis, Hugh Macmaster Kingery

Pactio, Latin for “pact”, is a curated platform where people can better connect with and directly fund the work of vetted journalists around a shared, almost contractual idea of a pact. The pact works like this: to support in-depth reporting on one issue, members pay a low monthly fee that unlocks a front seat to a reporter’s journalistic journey, gives them commenting and posting rights (to the community page) and makes them feel they’re helping offer to the world something that should exist, as Jay Rosen and Emily Goligoski’s Membership Puzzle Project explains.

We want journalists to share their thought process, be open about the backstory of what they cover, curate pearls they find and, yes, collaborate with their audience. We believe that exercise is not only needed; it’s also a way to make them money.

A first look at Pactio’s user interface

Good news is, you only need a couple thousand paid members to make a living. So what we’re doing at Pactio is lower the bar for financial viability of high-level reporting.

Now, there have been several crowdfunding journalism projects in the past and none of them are around anymore despite some incredibly pioneering work that has been done. Why should Pactio succeed?

First, we focus on ongoing financial support rather than one-off donations. Support is part of a membership model whose cornerstone is the pact between a journalist and her audience.

Second, Pactio is centered around individual journalists (be they independent or employed) rather than news organizations, which will streamline trust.

Last but not least, timing is everything. After Brexit and the 2016 US election, there’s a growing sentiment in the overall population that journalism is the best insurance policy a democracy can ever hope for. Just look at a recent Knight Foundation/Gallup study.

The data back this up. According to the Reuters Institute at Oxford, the percentage of Americans who pay for news went from 9 percent in 2016 to 16 percent in 2017.

Source: Reuters Institute at Oxford

But that growth is not sustainable unless we rethink the way news is created and funded around the idea of a more intimate and direct relationship between journalists and their audience.

That’s what we are building with the awesome team at Pactio. We are lucky to be based at the JSK Journalism Fellowships at Stanford which is an epicenter for journalism innovation. I’m also excited to announce today that I’ve been named an Lenfest Entrepreneur at the Lenfest Institute, which fosters innovation in local journalism, a big priority for Pactio.

What’s next for Pactio?

We are warming up the engines to launch our public beta in a few weeks.

We are selecting the first cohort of journalists who are gifted with talent and passion for covering a beat that can resonate well with an audience of paid members. If you’d like to be considered, please drop your name and email here. We are especially interested in local beat and community reporting in the U.S. that has a real impact on people’s lives. That said, we will be on the look-out for delightful surprises, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

Pactio. It’s up to us.

The Nieman Lab has a great piece about Pactio. Check it out!