Recently the Ad Council spoke with Bryn Mooser, one of the co-founders of RYOT.org. RYOT is a newcomer to the digital space, and acts not only as a breaking news site, but allows viewers the ability to take action after reading each article. As Bryn told us on our call, “A good story can create social change.”
Ad Council: In your own words, why did you want to start RYOT?
Bryn Mooser: I’ve been working in the nonprofit space for the last 10 years. I was in the Peace Corps, grew up in Zimbabwe, and then most recently spent time in Haiti working with an incredible nonprofit called Artists for Peace and Justice. As you guys know in the nonprofit space, the entire industry has shifted so much with new technology, where people are no longer just humanitarians building schools or clinics or digging wells. Because everybody has access to technology, people are also becoming storytellers, and humanitarians are becoming journalists in a way, too, especially when it comes to disaster zones. I met my partner David Darg years ago in Senegal, and we reconnected in Haiti and started to make films. We made a particular film called “Baseball in the Time of Cholera,” which was about the cholera crisis. That film had a great run, and David and I were inspired to see that a good story can create social change. So really the idea of RYOT was born from us asking: what if we could take the news and link those articles to actions? It can really recontextualize the work of nonprofits. I think a lot of nonprofits get sort of lost, and it becomes difficult for them to keep their message relevant. But if we are constantly linking back to what’s happening in the world, we are able to show that these nonprofits are tackling issues that are continuing to affect people and that there are solutions out there. RYOT was really born with kind of a simple idea – let’s empower people when they read the news rather than depress them.
AC: In your editorial meetings when you are looking at great causes, what makes an organization or issue something that you really want to write about?
BM: RYOT isn’t just about causes. When we built it, we really wanted to make sure that it this was a breaking news site and had the feel of a breaking news site – that you could go on RYOT, learn about what is happening in the Central African Republic and also find a video that is funny that you might want to share, or find something surprising. Our editorial meetings are: “How do we constantly find the best stories out there to cover?” They don’t necessarily have to be about a cause, but we link everything back to an action. When it comes to picking nonprofits, my co-founder David and I have been working so long in the space that we have a pretty great depth of knowledge, and also great contacts. We have about 200 official nonprofit partners at RYOT, and we are able to get in touch with nonprofits right away if we want to cover their issue area.
AC: Can you describe the role of your nonprofit partners?
BM: The idea really came with seeing the challenges that nonprofits have with content. My partner and I both understood these challenges – you just can’t create enough content. If you’re working in the field, you make a video a month and put that on your website, get your supporters to tweet it out, get a couple people to go on your site that day, but then there’s no reason to return to those websites because nonprofits are stretched so thin they just can’t create enough content. There was a study that came out last year that said the average nonprofit website got 7,000 unique visitors a month. We wanted to completely shift that model.
On a busy day on our site we’ll get 7,000 people every minute. We are able to use these stories to drive impact back to nonprofits, and they can use the RYOT content. This is how the partnership works: free content that nonprofits can send out to their networks.
With nonprofit partners we are constantly in touch – finding out what they are doing and about new initiatives. Then when there is a crisis or a hot story somewhere in the world, we send those stories back to the nonprofit to continue to inform their readers. This piece of content is really meaningful because not only does it educate donors or future donors about what is happening in that area, but it is also directly links back to their organization.
AC: How do people become partners?
BM: We are continually adding nonprofits. Anyone who’s interested can email [email protected]. Our demographic is very young on RYOT, so we love to feature nonprofits that are taking an innovative approach to development work. Nonprofits using technology, grassroots nonprofits, community organizers – all of those things are very interesting to our demographic. The landscape of being a nonprofit these days has changed and so we are constantly doing our due diligence to find out who is doing the best.
AC: Do the nonprofit partners pay?
BM: No, we support ourselves on advertising that comes up on the site
AC: What has surprised you the most since you started the site?
BM: I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the outpouring that we get from young people who tweet at us that they love RYOT, and that they never read the news before they found us. That’s why we started the site. To really fight hard to put out good stories and to have those be read and shared, that has been the greatest reward.
But I guess the biggest surprise is we sell a lot of RYOT shirts on the site, which is cool. It makes us feel great because I don’t think many kids are out there wearing Huffington Post or Washington Post shirts. That feels to us like we are succeeding in creating a movement rather than just being a news site. We are up against some big forces trying to fundamentally change the news model; it has been millennia since news has been just somebody telling you what happened. We’re trying to say: “Here’s what’s happening in the world and here is what you can do about it.”
AC: What’s next for RYOT?
BM: We are extending our video content, working on a bunch of original web series, a travel series and a couple of new documentaries. There is a lot on the video side and the TV side. Then we are rolling out a whole new redesign that should launch in the next month. That’s going to have a lot of amazing features and some fun gamifying competitions that we will be able to do on the site. So we are really excited about the future.