Below is a Q and A that I conducted with Bryan Farrell, one of the founders of “Waging Non-Violence”: a blog that focuses on grassroots environmental movements. Their tagline? People-powered news and analysis. Check it out below!
Tell me about your publication
Well…we’re coming up on our third year this May, and we started it three years ago. Me, my friend Eric and my other friend Nathan had all discovered this common interest of ours in non-violence. We felt like there should be some kind of news publication that focused on the kind of work people do using non-violence. There were some websites for organizations that were really old – War Resister’s League, for instance - these are old school pacifist groups that have been around since WWI. Consequently they are filled with old members and they’re not savy with the web or journalist per say.
We were all coming from a journalism background. I met Eric at the Nation, and we both went on to Rolling Stone, Nathan worked at NY times. We had this combination of an interest in non-violence, social justice and journalism. So we said we’ll give this a try and start a bog and see where it goes. We didn’t have high hopes for it exactly but we thought we’d take it from there.
We were surprised from the wealth of material that was out there and we thought “Oh my god this is really something…there’s just so much to comment on.” Initially we’d do our best to pick out the hot stories and cover them, but it’s tough when you’re writing a story that takes place in India.
So we reached out and cultivated writers, and we cultivated our own editorial role.
We knew we had a vision that we wanted to pursue. We got some funding last summer, and since then our site’s has really taken off. We’re seeing seeing our vision come together, and we’re paying ourselves and our writers.
Our grand vision is that the site would have bureau chiefs around the world in different regions and they’d be responsible for finding the right people, and it would filter up. And the site in itself would be a hub or a wire service for news on activism.
We’re really just trying to produce quality content, to synthesize and it and make it entry level for people who aren’t activists or scholars. This stuff comes up all the time: within the last year we had Arab, OWS and many many other big stories involving non violent action. These stories never get covered from the start, they only get covered when they become something [big]. So we try to cover stories from start to finish.
Where did you get funding?
We did it pretty informally through group in DC that put out publications on non-violence. Once we started gaining a little momentum for the first year we were on their radar; they seemed interested and we knew that they had the funds to support this kind of work. We pitched it to them very informally and we got a modest amount .
What about your Platform?
We want to be online, we don’t have any interest in doing print. We want shift the site more towards magazine style. Long essays and such, high quality. If you look at the site now it’s blog structured and you can’t feature all the stories at once, so we want to break out a little more [with design].
How did you do your marketing?
Having been journalist we all had connections. We’re in the progressive media and we’d also been freelancers, so we’d written for most of the top progressive news sites. We had contacts their editors and they’d republish our stories.
Our goal was getting our stories republished: Common Dreams, AlterNet, Truth Out, they get a lot of traffic and don’t generate a lot of their own content - they aggregate the top stories. We’ve also gotten things picked up in publications like the Nation, in the progressive media world.
And that’s how we’ve been doing it – we would send out an email blast to these places using our connections there and letting them know we had a good story and they’d publish it. Still that’s the case where most of our stories are being read elsewhere, most of the traffic to our stories on other sites. But, our sties really grown, minimum a thousand hits a day.
Do you use Social Media too?
2/3 of us aren’t very good at Social Media; it’s not where my mind is at. So it was a real challenge to force myself to tweet and put things on FB but within the last couple months we actually brought on a social media person . Good mutual relationship- they finding the right avenues for us, so that’s really become very important. Just two weeks ago I wrote a story and it spread like wildfire thanks to Facebook – it’s good to really get something out there. FB is the real generator, I’d say.
Advice for people wanting to start their own blogs?
Narrowness, to some extent. Our site is both narrow and general I feel – many news sites cover all these different regions and issues, yet it’s through a certain lens, so in that sense it is narrow.
So I think what makes a blog successful is if it has a clear lens. eventually would like to have the kind of reliability where a huge story like Eypt is happening, that people would be like “Oh, I need to go see what they’re writing on Waging Non-Violence.”
We don’t really know hat kind of audience there is for this stuff quite yet. We have a small committed group of who are similar to us, really into non-violence, but it’s not something that most people are into. So we also have to figure out a way to make it broadly appealing. I think that’s also really important, depending on the kind of blog you’re running. If you have a subject like ours, you have to try to explain why it’s exciting and why it’s interesting and draw people in.
The power that comes from non-violence, it’s not just pacifism, it’s not just opposing violence, it’s actively doing so using strategies that plug into basic human dynamics that we generally over look or forget. And it’s kind of amazing when you see how it work. For me, it came mostly from reading so much about it: where you learn that non-violence was used effectively in cases against some of the worst aspects of humanity, including the Nazis. Almost every country in Europe has a story where non-violence worked, and in large scales. In Denmark, they saved 8,000 of their Jews overnight by a covert mission of smuggling them into boats to Sweden, and the managed to kick out the Nazis from their country by using work slow downs and being non-cooperative. So that’s powerful, it works against the worst dictators
Once you realize that this stuff works you just want to share the information. You want people to understand that they have the ability to make change and we don’t have to wait for our politicans to do it. Obama is gong to raise over a billion dollars and all the news coverage that’s going to come out of that, the hours. So much money and attention, and for what? Imagine where that could really go to use.
And I think people need to remember the power they have within themselves and really use it. Using the tools of non-violence you can put pressure on the “pillars of support” of any institution to get what you want, to get the justice that you need.
And a quick word on your funding model?
We have a fiscal sponsorship, which essentially makes you a project of a non-profit. We want to move in that direction; it’s expensive, so until we get the money to go through that process we’re going to stick with this.
I don’t think we had many other options. We could have gone into advertising but hat’s really hard off the bat, if you’re just starting out, you don’t have any readers to promise advertisers. It was sort of out of necessity. We weren’t going to find support from businesses and also we all honestly had ethical dilemmas with that anyway. But we knew we had support from some of the organizations that actually do produce material around non-violence, so that relationship worked. So partially necessity and partially our morals and wanting to not be beholden to advertisers and that whole system. So much of our content is about activist opposing corporations, so it’d be kind of silly to have Google Ads on the side.
Thank you Bryan!