Investigative team hope to launch ‘for the price of a bulletproof vest in Ukraine’

A team of Swedish journalists are hoping to launch an investigative journalism project which will uncover the untold stories around the world in authentic and immersive ways, by using a business model more familiar to charities than news publishers. Jake Evans spoke with Martin Schibbye, who is leading the project, and has become a champion for investigative reporting since being imprisoned in Ethiopia while investigating a Swedish oil company’s activities in the Ogaden province in 2011.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | February 17, 2015

When Schibbye was released from this Ethiopian prison after 438 days in captivity, a fellow prisoner whispered to him: “Tell the world what you have seen.”

Now, he and his colleagues are hoping to use a crowdfunding campaign to launch the Blank Spot Project, which will equip foreign correspondents to be able to safely work and cover issues in-depth.

“We have a situation in the world where on the one hand, the world is on fire, you have wars, conflicts, epidemics, and a lot of stories that needs to be covered,” says Shibbye, “On the other hand, there is a crisis in the major news houses and the thing that’s expensive is foreign reporters, and so that’s the first staffers that are let go.”

“I thought to myself, along with a couple of colleagues and editors and photographers, why don’t we just ignore this crisis in journalism, and build something else instead?” says Schibbye. His team hope to dispose of the traditional selling and advertising business model and instead consider their readers as ‘members’, though the crowdfunding campaign (which is becoming an increasingly popular method of funding investigative journalism) will determine whether the project gets off the ground or not.

“For about the price for renting a bulletproof vest in Ukraine – that’s the limit we set for membership – then you are a member, and you will get a login to the inner palace of the project and you can then follow our reporters and photographers on the field,” says Schibbye.

No doubt there is a hunger for this kind of journalism, but is there a market?

“In three weeks we’ll know.”

The crisis in journalism must be met with something new: Blank Spot ProjectThe crisis in journalism must be met with something new: Blank Spot Project

The Swedish journalist is not exaggerating when he says members will be able to follow reporters on the ground – the group will use their social newsfeeds as their stories develop in real time, where they will: “take you behind the scenes in the world’s conflict zones and hotspots. But you’ll also be along when we bury ourselves in annual reports, studies, and policy documents. Often we’ll need your help, often you’ll know more than we do. The reportage will begin to set a fire inside you before we are on the scene, and you’ll be able to help us all the way to the end.”

“That’s really what I’m looking forward to on this project,” says Schibbye, “Usually you’re away for a month, and then you spend a couple of weeks writing, and you publish your piece, and people say ‘yay’ or ‘boo’ and then you go for the next story.”

“I mean imagine [being able] to bring the readers with you from the first day you plan this assignment, and then you take them with you on the field, all this material, all these small stories that you find that don’t make it to the finished article.”

Their storytelling potential looks promising. The campaign lists the celebrated New York Times Snowfall and the Guardian’s Firestorm multimedia stories as examples of how they hope to present their journalism. Schibbye also gives his colleague Martin Edström‘s 360° Reportage project Zaatari as an example – which drops the audience in the middle of a refugee camp in Jordan, where they can wander and discover stories around the camp for themselves.

“Now in the digital world it’s still mostly text and picture, no one is really using the format.” says Schibbye.

“[The Blank Spot Project’s] reportage will be unique in its storytelling, we’ve had a few brainstorming sessions. There’s so [many] ideas and everything, we just need this one million Swedish Crown!”

360 Reportage: Zaatari: Martin Edström360 Reportage: Zaatari: Martin Edström

Three examples from Schibbye of blank spots in current reportage

“When we launched this project in Sweden on Thursday we had a web broadcast from nine in the morning until five in the evening, and we called a lot of freelancers, broadcasters, photographers, out there on the field, and asked for: ‘What are the blank spots’, and there were just so many untold stories out there.”


  • “In general the development in India and sub-India, South Asia, is [underreported], and all the things that are happening kind of slowly under the radar, that kind of development that really changes our world but not in a moment, that’s one thing.”


  • “We also talked to a colleague who’s in Juba in South Sudan. He’s been there for six months and will stay another six months, and when he looks at the kind of journalism that his colleagues are doing, almost a ‘parachute’ and they stay for three or four days and then fly home it’s just – when they arrive in Juba they already know what kind of story they will air a couple of hours later, and just by using a more kind of slow journalism and having the time and the money to spend six months in the country will give another kind of quality which I think that readers want.”


  • And in Thailand: “We see a lot of reporting of ‘Ten years since the Tsunami’ and travel stories but I’d say that the political scene in Thailand is not covered properly at all, and what has happened since the coup there in May, and there is a lot of self-censorship there, even among the foreign correspondents.”


You can read more or support the Blank Spot Project on their crowdfunding page.

Feature photo courtesy of Jacob Zocherman, Blank Spot Project. 

Share via
Copy link