RISE Moldova informs people about corruption in Moldova and neighboring countries. To help boost revenue, it wants to start a subscription campaign. But low incomes are hindering the process.
RISE Moldova is a Moldovan start-up founded in 2014 for investigative reporters. It focuses on cross-border crime and corruption.
RISE stands for "Reporteri de Investigatie si Securitate Editoriala," which translates as Association of Investigative Reporters and Editorial Security. The start-up has 10 employees and 15 freelancers. Roman Fillipov joined the platform in April 2019 as a video editor.
Focus on cross-border crime and corruption
The goal was to create a platform for local investigative journalists to publish their work and investigate cross-border crime and corruption, Filipov said. "Moldova is a small country and things that can be investigated like contraband, organized crime, arms trafficking and money laundering do not just happen [within] one country [alone]."
Moldova, which borders Romania and Ukraine, is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Approximately 1 million Moldovans permanently work abroad to earn a living.
"A lot of people in Moldova, including good journalists who could do great investigative reports, are leaving and it's harder for us to find people we can collaborate with," Filipov explained. "We have tried to do trainings to inform people and popularize investigative journalism but it's a hard job."
Low incomes hinder subscription campaigns
RISE gets 90% of its financing from foundations like the Open Society Foundation, established by George Soros, and the US Embassy. To boost its income, the platform plans to launch a membership campaign.
But with an average income of €450 per month in Moldova, a monthly membership fee of €5-10 may not be feasible.
"Not a lot of people can actually afford this," said Filipov. "It's not that they wouldn't want to do this or are not interested in our work… but it's hard to crowd-fund in Moldova."
Juggling multiple roles
Moldovans who live abroad are a more likely audience since they inform themselves primarily online — they can easily be reached via social media or RISE's website. "Moldovans living abroad are very into what's happening at home," said Natalia Sanduta, who is responsible for the platform's fundraising. "Sometimes they're surprisingly more informed than the people who live here."
In media start-ups around the world, reporters are often responsible for not only reporting, but for communicating with financial backers such as foundations. This usually includes writing project proposals, reporting to donors and maintaining relationships.
"You have to really focus on [funding] and if you're also doing journalism, it's really difficult," said Sanduta, adding that organizations should hire somebody to manage fundraising, if they can afford to.
Since its launch, the start-up has aimed to inform people about corrupt activities in Moldova. While there have been successes, tangible changes are yet to be seen.
"I think the biggest problem plaguing Moldova in general is probably corruption," said Fillipov. "This also affects the media because it is concentrated in the hands of oligarchs. Therefore most of the media is biased and serves their interests."
Over the coming years, Fillipov would like to establish additional multimedia projects and launch a database called "People of Interest" to make background information about powerful actors accessible. He would also like to see more videos on the website, YouTube and Facebook. The long-term goal is to establish a distinctive style.
"We do videos because we want to reach a broader audience. Long-form, investigative journalism is hard to read," he said. "If you have a lot of documents, especially from courts or official sources that are really hard to understand, video can help to get this information to the [user] because it's easier to understand and more engaging."