By Marine Leduc, France
The crisis and economic pressure confronting the Romanian press gave rise to several online media projects that served as alternative news platforms. Rise Project and Casa Jurnalistului (The Journalist’s House) are two of them and both played a significant role in recent protests.
“Digital revolution” and “awakening” described the protests and gatherings happening over the past two years in Romania. It started in winter 2012 with demonstrations against the new health care legislation. Every Sunday from August to December last year, thousands of Romanians hit the streets to protest against the government’s support for the controversial mining project at Rosia Montana.
“People gather more than they used to. It has to do with social networks, it has to do with the Internet, and it has to do with the new generation who are more interested in getting good information,” Paul Radu said while sitting inside the office of Rise Project’s NGO in Bucharest.
“Good information” is the motto for this online platform of investigative journalism initiated two years ago. Radu and other journalists started the Rise Project after observing the declining space for investigative journalism in mainstream media, where most of them worked previously. With the alternative media, they combined their journalistic skills with technology. “We cooperate with civic hackers and artists, graphic designers, and activists in order to create better investigative reports and a better platform to disseminate this information,” Radu explained.
According to Radu, the Internet changed the research process for investigative journalism as well as the process of disseminating news.
“It is easier to get the information (with the Internet). We are collaborating with hackers to gather information and to re-index it. After publication, you can add images, texts, and documents on which we based our investigation. People can check if the reports are reliable and based on facts.”
In collaboration with programmers and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project -—where Radu is also working—they created Visual Investigation Scenario (VIS) , a data visualization platform that provides templates to illustrate complex networks. The template can be embedded on websites and blogs.
“Investigative reporting can be quite dry,” he said. “When we have to write all the names of companies and people involved in a case, nobody would read it. If we put it in visual form, then the presentation is simplified. We can say that this person is connected to 20 companies but we don’t need to name them all.”
VIS template about RMGC payments to major media
Outside Bucharest’s city center, one can find inside a shared-house on Strada Viitorului (the Street of the Future) three young journalists: Vlad Ursulean, Stefan Mako and Radu Ciorniciuc. Two years ago, they left their studies and jobs in traditional media to create Casa Jurnalistului (the Journalist’s House).
The concept is simple: produce objective and independent stories by opening an experimental space where people can collaborate. This journalistic laboratory became a good environment for producing high-quality multimedia reports and exploring various kinds of storytelling. They also work in collaboration with Rise Project for investigative reports and create events to share their latest publication.
Reliable media for a new generation
Vlad Ursulean states that Casa Jurnalistului had a “positive influence” on the recent protests: “With Rosia Montana, people started to asked questions. The traditional media didn’t answer to them. We were there to know how and where to ask the good questions.”
At the beginning of the demonstrations, mainstream media were supporting the government and criticizing the protesters. To get and spread the information, the activists used social media and alternative media platforms.
According to Zelist Monitor , a Romanian service motorizing and analyzing social media and online magazines, 63 percent of the discussions on the topic were done on Facebook between August, 20th and October, 13th. During the same period, only 25 percent of the discussions were done on press releases while 1,800 videos were posted on Youtube.
One of the reasons why major media could not talk about Rosia Montana controversy was because, based on Rise Project’s investigation, some of them were allegedly receiving money from Rosia Montana Gold Corporation. Rise Project proved it in December: “We released a secret document on Rosia Montana Business.” Radu explained.
“We showed that some state officials and some major media were paid by the company that wants to exploit the gold mine. Those media received money and this is why they couldn’t cover the topic properly,” added Radu.
Both Casa Jurnalistului and Rise Project are surviving through donations, funds, or crowd funding. Their kind of reporting earned them the people’s trust, proving that independent and investigative journalism still exists and young journalists are ready to step up to ask the hard questions in pursuit of the truth.