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The powerhouse behind #WomenInMedia

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The powerhouse behind #WomenInMedia

Rappler began as a Facebook page and Ressa’s goal is to fuse broadcast journalism, social media and mobile technology with a social change agenda – one that helps empower women.

Her key focus remains leveraging technology to aid business model evolution as Rappler expands into Indonesia.

Ressa: If you look at the way industries work, the groups that made money off of journalism have been tech companies. The news groups haven’t evolved their business models enough to take advantage of the network effects that technology provides. So that’s one of the things that I’m trying
 to understand now – how can a journalist, how can a media organisation adapt more of these technologies, the platforms that allow us to grow beyond a linear structure to more of a tech kind of organic growth.

What progress are you making in terms of grappling with that at Rappler?

Ressa: I looked at it this way when we set up Rappler in 2012: we wanted to keep the discipline of journalism but to take advantage of the technology that’s available that provides network effects that would allow us to actually do more. As traditional journalists we’re used to telling stories and then
you throw that story out into the real world. You can inspire people, you can make people angry, but in the end technology allows you to do much more than just
tell stories. You can actually move people to action, and one of the major disruptors is social media. When social media really scaled 
all of a sudden, news groups could take advantage of network effects and that’s been part of the secret
 of Rappler. We grew it using social media, and we’ve grown at a faster than normal media rate. We’ve grown 100 percent year-on-year in our first three years both in reach and revenue and that is something that would have been impossible in my old groups. I handled the largest news group in the Philippines that had more than 1,000 journalists, and if you’ve got growth rates of 20 percent, you were so lucky.

These ideas were quite revolutionary five years ago
– you came to it early with a corporate response. How has your approach altered over the past three years,
 and heading towards 2016 how do you see it shifting?

Ressa: We started with social video and mobile as our first priority, and now social is part of our DNA. I think last year I spent a lot more time learning about technology and trying to understand platform thinking, trying to understand how to create a platform for journalists.

What Western journalists are struggling with is trying to hold onto the old ideas of journalism that don’t have anything to do with the core of journalism. What we tried to do is to get rid of the lens of the old world and try to put on the new glasses that technology offers us.

If you look at it in that context, the role of the journalist remains the same. But the tools have changed.

Maria Ressa will speak at #WNC15 in JuneMaria Ressa will speak at #WNC15 in June

Heading into the next year, how do you see your focus shifting?

Ressa: Another part of Rappler is called Move PH, which is our civic engagement arm. This is a group that started out with two people; now there are about six people, so it’s very small. Two people we hired used to work with NGOs. This is where the rubber hits the pavement for Rappler. If the stories that we create as journalists (are) the rock that you throw into the ocean that creates the ripples, those ripples are harvested by Move, and what Move tries to do is to actually work with communities who are trying to change their worlds.

We have four projects under Move PH, one is an anti-corruption campaign called #BudgetWatch, which is done in conjunction with the Office of Budget Management. We actually work with the group that 
is releasing the budget, because this is part of the open government programme. #BudgetWatch, tries to work with 19 civil society organisations to chase the money. If you follow the money, you can find where the leakage happens, where corruption happens. So, what we did is we tried to gamify it. We created a snakes and ladders game to show Filipinos what the budget process looks like, how we can keep track of it.

The second one is a disaster risk-reduction and climate mitigation project. Now that’s a mouthful, but we call it Project Agos. We 
live in a country where we have 
an average of 20 typhoons every year, and the government can’t do it alone. I want to help because we are the ones who are going to be at risk if we don’t help.

So, what we did is we built a platform that takes bottom-up civic engagement and social media – you can call for help on Twitter, on SMS or on this site. And then we closed a loop by partnering with the first responders from government, the Philippines police, the military, the local government units, and we give them logins on this platform where people are reporting through Twitter, through text and on this site, and the first responders can respond directly to the people who need help. That’s entering its second year, and it’s now being embraced 
by the Office of Civil Defence; we actually have our volunteers working with them. Right now, for example, there’s a typhoon coming into the Philippine area of responsibility. The Office of Civil Defence called us, and we’re activating our volunteers who are working in the Office of Civil Defence, so that’s the second.

The third is #HungerProject and this is working again with the government, the World Food Program, the Department of Social Welfare and Development. They have shown us that even as the GDP of the Philippines has increased, the incidence of hunger has stayed constant or has actually gotten worse. And so how do you make a story like this attractive to readers? As a traditional story, it’s boring, right? It’s a statistics story, but on the web, on your mobile you can do so much with it. So, again we gamified certain aspects of it: we do videos, we do infographics, it’s not the major hit driver on Rappler but there’s a community that gathers around it.

And then the final one is gender equality. This one is actually backed commercially. Pantene PNG came up to us and said ‘we want to do a gender equality campaign and we’d like you to do content for us’. It’s in a microsite on Rappler that is clearly labelled but they came out with an ad, that basically looked at when a woman is strong there’s a negative connotation, but when a man is strong he is confident. It starts with that idea. We did surveys, we crowd-sourced, we ran a campaign on it, we did a forum which we live-streamed, live-blogged, live-tweeted, and it actually rippled across the world to the point that Sheryl Sandberg the CEO of Facebook posted it. I loved that one because it shows you reach of media, that this little campaign in the far corner of the world, that something that we do here can actually impact other women in other parts of the world. These things are about moving our society.

On the question of gender, there remains an enormous problem of gender inequality in and through the media globally – with research showing only 25 percent of news sources are women and less than a third of news managers are female. How do you think we can work to achieve concrete change?

In the Philippines we’ve actually been really blessed - most of the heads of news groups in the Philippines are women. The largest newspaper, Philippine Daily Inquirer, is headed by a woman. The largest television station, after I left I handed leadership to another woman, the second largest television is headed by a woman as well. In fact, our joke here at Rappler is we need gender equality for men!

I don’t know what makes the Philippines different. I think part of the reason women stick to the need to become journalists more than men have is because of the lower income. Strangely enough, because media doesn’t pay as well as banking, men who come up through the ranks at a certain point leave because they need to feed their families. It does go down to pay. And if that pay is equalised and the women are given better opportunities, then maybe perhaps they would see better gender equality. Here, I’m surrounded by strong women who did buck the stereotype, the values of the women themselves are what keeps them from reaching higher. I think we see that in everyone - the balance is having a family and staying with a demanding job and then having to take care of your children and your household, that’s still kind of the woman’s job in our country.

What does the future hold for Rappler? How big can it grow?

Ressa: At the end of last year we expanded. We opened a bureau in Jakarta, Indonesia, and that’s our second market because Indonesia is very similar to the Philippines. We have a young population: the Philippines has 100 million people; the median age is 23 years old. Indonesia has 250 million people and the median age is between 23 and 24 years old, also very young, and in Indonesia they’re very connected. Jakarta is the top Twitter city in the world, but the infrastructure is so poor.

There is so much potential for what you can do with social media, with technology and its network effects. Indonesia is pivotal: the world’s largest Muslim population, and December 2015 is when the ASEAN economic community kicks in. And you know what? We’re small enough to take the risk. Why not?

Note: This interview is an edited version of a Thought Leader conversation with Maria Ressa featured in the upcoming World Editors Forum book Trends in Newsrooms 2015. It's shared here as part of our recognition of #WomeninMedia Month being highlighted by UNESCO's Global Alliance on Media and Gender. 



Julie Posetti's picture

Julie Posetti


2015-05-13 11:12

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The World Editors Forum is the organisation within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (, launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

The 71st World News Media Congress, the 26th World Editors Forum and the 3rd Women in News Summit took place from 1 - 3 June 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland.

In this blog, WAN-IFRA provides previews, interviews, summaries of the presentations and other useful information about the Congress.

Participants were also very active on Twitter throughout the event under the hashtag #wnmc19.

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