Culture  Exploring the ‘Ricochet Effect’

A media startup is gaining buzz for its progressive principles – and big-name backers

Everyone’s a critic – especially when it comes to mainstream media. There are many who enjoy complaining, whether about sensationalized murder trial coverage, the obsessive pursuit of a missing Malaysian plane, and even the companies that control what gets media coverage in the first place. However, a group of Canadian journalists and activists formed out of the Quebec 2012 student protests have recently decided to do more than just complain. With the goal of returning the power of the media to the people, the team is creating Ricochet, “a new media outlet that is independent, progressive, and grassroots.”

An online-based publication, Ricochet currently has a teaser site up and running while its full website is still being built. The teaser introduces the startup’s goals, claiming Ricochet will act as a “counterweight to corporate media.” In a world where most mainstream media is controlled by an oligarchy of corporations, it will be difficult for a new distributor to act in opposition while still maintaining a wide readership. Editor Ethan Cox explained to The Daily via phone that Ricochet will accomplish this by practicing “public interest journalism,” which is “all too often consumed by this false idea of impartiality: that journalism is to give equal time to both sides, no matter how ludicrous one side of the facts of a particular case are.”

“In a lot of ways this is a new model of journalism and in a lot of other ways this is about [re]turning journalism to its roots,” Cox added, elaborating that for Ricochet, journalism’s roots are “the people.” Ricochet will achieve this goal by giving its journalists the freedom to go wherever their stories might take them, to investigate, and, unlike most mainstream media, to challenge the status quo. “We’re not going to be partisan, we’re going to criticize the [New Democratic Party] and the Conservatives equally when we think they deserve it […] No punches will be pulled,” said Cox.

Ricochet is hardly the first publication to make such optimistic and oppositional claims. Due to the wide readership the outlet seeks, it will be more difficult for it to stick to its mission statement than for the average grassroots paper. What sets Ricochet apart from most larger publications, however, is its independent funding. Over the past month, the publication’s teaser website has been used to fundraise toward the target of $75,000, which will mostly be used to cover the high cost of investigative journalism (the startup has already commissioned two journalists, Michael Lee-Murphy in New England and Emma Pullman in British Columbia, to investigate the distribution of oil by rail and pipeline). Despite the fact that the fruits of this investigative journalism are just beginning to reach the public (sample content is gradually being released online), Ricochet’s pre-launch marketing is proving to be a success – the team has received endorsements from big names such as social critic Noam Chomsky and author/activist Linda McQuaig, and recently announced that they have raised almost $83,000, well past their target.

Half of this funding has come from people living in Quebec, a province that Ricochet’s teaser site singles out as one the publication’s primary focuses. The outlet wants to “provide a bridge between Quebec and the rest of the country,” according to Cox, “because the communication across that provincial border has been historically terrible.” One only has to look as far back as the 2012 Quebec student protests, which saw a huge disconnect between English and French coverage, to see the truth in this statement. With a team of anglophones and francophones, as well as several former activists for Quebec student group Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE), Ricochet will attempt to build this bridge by publishing both a French and English edition. “People have this perception that Quebecers are all sovereignty and hate Canada, but the fact of the matter is, no one is more desperate for this model of interaction and exchange than people here in Quebec,” said Cox.

Cox’s belief that Quebec is “desperate” for a new media outlet will likely prove crucial to Ricochet’s success as a startup. The challenge of gaining and maintaining a wide readership, one that many long-standing companies already struggle with, is even more pressing for an independent outlet. Ricochet seems to rely on the hope that people will see the good in paying journalists, and will in turn contribute to the startup every month. Cox explains that this method of crowd-sourced journalism will work because “we get the best quality of journalism when we pay journalists to do it, and the Canadians will respond and will reach into their own pockets to fund that bilingualism and that quality of journalism.”

Whether or not the system of micro-payment crowd-funding will last through time is a different question. Ricochet faces a constantly updating world, where relevance often trumps loyalty. It is one thing to generate excitement with a progressive mission statement and superstar supporters, but it is quite another to garner a loyal and engaged readership. It remains to be seen whether new readers will pay for news they won’t even be able to access on their phones. So far, however, the Ricochet team is determined and confident that people will choose to support them in building this new media platform.

While Ricochet portrays itself as a new, original, and essential publication, the concept is far from unique. However the project has been gaining enough attention that it may also gain some mainstream sway – provided that the people it serves like what it is serving. Ricochet has everything it needs to get up and running: the talent, the buzz, and the principles. But to succeed in filling the void currently left by the corporate mainstream media, it will also need the people’s trust.