We look to Greece’s history for the template of modern democracy. Are we about to look to modern Greece to find a new template for the future of independent news?
In 2013, The Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, the Greek equivalent of PBS or the BBC, was shut down as part of general austerity measures in response to the nation’s ongoing economic crisis. 2600 staffers, responsible for operating dozens of radio and TV outlets that conducted original reporting, lost their jobs, leaving Greece without a source of non-commercial news for the first time in almost half a century. Commercial news networks in Greece still function, but the Greek people and many in the international community have complained that they can no longer find an unbiased picture of Greek society and politics.
In response, an ad-hoc coalition of Greek and international journalists have launched an independent news initiative called AthensLive. On May 20, AthensLive completed a crowd-funding campaign on IndieGogo that will allow it to graduate from a Twitter- and Facebook-only distribution model to a daily digital newspaper.
AthensLive stands apart from other recent crowd-funded news start-ups in the EU (including Krautreporter in Germany, Direkt36 in Hungary, and Zetland in Denmark) because it is the only one urgently proposed as the sole replacement for a traditional national news service.
The AthensLive experiment is in effect the only case study in what a disintermediated national news platform might look like. It is a swift, dramatic, and concentrated example of the future of media disruption.
For starters, we’re seeing that the independent journalistic impulse persists even though traditional platforms may not. The journalistic impulse is keenly aligned with the democratic instinct. In Greece, the relationship between an independent news media and a functioning democracy has proven to be resilient.
But when the journalistic impulse expresses itself in a digital-native, democratized form, some key differences emerge. From its beginning, AthensLive has had a global rather than a merely national audience in mind. Reporting is done in English, not Greek, and part of the stated mission is to offer a more complete picture of Greek life to the whole world.
AthensLive is not only digital-native but mobile-native. As the vast majority of access to the web goes mobile, more and more media businesses of all kinds—not just news—will likely be conceived on social media and smartphones, with a web browser presence a secondary step.
As it gains momentum, AthensLive is attracting an impressive roster of both Greek and international journalistic talent. This is something else we’re seeing across the communications landscape, including the world of public relations and strategic communications. Driven by a sense of mission more than an allegiance to any particular medium, talent is following audiences wherever they are.
AthensLive’s crowd-funded rather than advertising-based model is also indicative of where journalism is going. For serious journalism, the ad-supported model is giving way to one subsidized by foundations, universities, individual subscriptions, or governments.
This doesn’t mean that traditional news outlets are going extinct entirely. Scattered parts of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation have managed to soldier on through a combination of local funding and sheer persistence. The history of communications shows us that even though new platforms arise and may become dominant, they always end up co-existing with older platforms rather than replacing them. After half a millennium since the printing press, a century since radio, a half-century since television, and a quarter century since the Internet, you can still find all of these platforms present in our daily lives.
The key lesson to take away from AthensLive is this: the economics and distribution models of our media will change, but the need for trusted platforms, staffed by talented individuals, disseminating serious news will persist. And every important institution and brand will need to have a voice on these platforms and pay attention to the conversations happening on them.