Christian de Boisredon: “Our goal is to give power back to the citizens in the mainstream news media”

Summary

The founder of Sparknews, a social start-up that encourages the media to talk more about innovative solutions, tells us how much of an impact journalism can have.

28Oct.
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Christian de Boisredon is the founder of Sparknews, a ‘social start-up that aims to share innovatory solutions through its open source and collaborative solution-based video platform and via the news media by developing Impact Journalism.’Through its website (a collaborative video platform) and Impact Journalism Day (during which 40 newspapers from all over the world publish a supplement consisting of articles ‘about solutions to contemporary issues’), Sparknews promotes the idea that journalism does not have to be pessimistic to sell. And that journalists can effectively encourage change by spreading the word about solutions that are already out there.

What inspired you to focus on “solution-based journalism”?

My first experience with social innovation dates back to when I was 14, in the 1980s. My brother Hubert and his best friend (Laurent Marbacher) lived in Chile, working in a bank and doing volunteer work on the side. But they wanted to bring about lasting change. Then one day, they read about Professor Muhammad Yunus in a newspaper – at the time, it was the early days of micro-credit. My brother’s friend ended up going to Bangladesh to meet Prof. Yunus and receive training. When he got back, they co-created Contigo, the first micro-credit bank in Chile. Over the past 25 years, it has helped to create 100,000 direct and indirect jobs. And so I thought: in a way, this all happened thanks to the journalist who had written the article about Yunus.

And I figured we should help journalists realise how much an impact they can have in nourishing inspiration, through what I call ‘impact journalism,’ rather like impact investing.

There really is a double impact: firstly, you allow readers to identify and learn more about a given social issue; secondly, you introduce them to a part of the solution, and show them that there are things to be done.

How did Sparknews come about?

When I was 24, after completing my studies in agronomy, I travelled around the world for a year with two friends of mine, on what we called ‘Le Tour du monde de l’espérance’ [The World Tour of Hope – Ed.] When we got back, we wrote a book that worked surprisingly well, and we realised that these topics interest people and inspire them to carry out their own projects. I then started to work on my first project, ‘Reporters d’espoir.’ (‘The Reporters of Hope’). The idea was to get the mainstream media to talk more about solutions that are out there. And to do that, we decided to tackle two main obstacles: firstly, this false idea that readers are not interested in solutions; secondly, the fact that traditional newspapers don’t know where to find the topics.

So in 2004, we went to see the French newspaper Libération and suggested that they dedicate one issue to solution-based articles. They agreed to do it on 26 December, and it was their best-selling issue of the year! The experience convinced the journalists that impact journalism does interest people and that it is not naïve. So that dealt with the first obstacle. Later, I went on to develop my second project, Sparknews, to address the second issue: ‘curating’ the topics. Sparknews is a video platform for a variety of reasons: since you can embed a video on the website, there are no copyright issues; videos are more accessible than plain text to journalists who do not necessarily speak the language; and the collaborative aspect makes it possible to unearth ideas we wouldn’t have found on our own. Our goal is to give power back to the citizens.

You have also initiated Impact Journalism Day. How does it work, exactly?

We started Impact Journalism Day in 2013 with 20 newspapers from all around the world: in each country, we work exclusively with the top newspaper (our criteria are quality, independence and print run). For the second edition, on 20 September, 40 newspapers carried out the operation, including The Sunday Times, Le Monde, La Stampa and Asahi Shimbun, reaching 100 million readers. Each one of them wrote a couple of articles, and at Sparknews we wrote an additional 20. Then every editor could choose which articles they wanted to publish in their supplement from this ‘pool’. All the participating newspapers saw an increase in sales on Impact Journalism Day. The next one will take place in June 2015 on the theme of “Feeding the planet.”

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What are the next steps for this operation?

We want to do more than one Impact Journalism Day a year – ultimately, the reason we do it is to convince journalists and editors that they do not need a special day to write about solutions, and that they can introduce them to their readers all year long. And we are starting to work on a new editorial concept with economic newspapers that are now interested in the idea.

Aren’t there limits to solution-based journalism? Do you think concentrating on local solutions makes it possible to develop in-depth analysis and thinking on the state of our world and its future?

Our role is not to provide strong analysis on the world of tomorrow, but to spot interesting initiatives, even if they are only at a very early stage. What interest us are concrete things that work.

How can these initiatives be introduced into people’s everyday lives? For instance, everybody talks about hacker spaces, but most people have no idea which door to knock on if they need help to get something done or repaired.

That’s true. Taking innovations into the mainstream is part of our mission, in a way. We do it mostly through the corporate world, because it produces more impact. We connect innovators and entrepreneurs with corporate companies, so that they can become either clients or investors. But we are also reflecting on how we can involve the public more in the social innovations we identify. For instance, this year, some of the articles published for Impact Journalism Day made it possible for readers to sign up to participate in a MakeSense hold-up [MakeSense is a web platform that connects social entrepreneurs with people who can help them solve a specific problem. A hold-up is a 90-minute creative workshop bringing together no more than 15 people, which focuses on solving a concrete challenge faced by a Social Entrepreneur featured on MakeSense – Ed. ]  We are thinking about how we can go further with that.

Photos © Sparknews