Few things incur a deeper feeling of discontent than sitting in front of a glaring computer screen, reading about the latest massacre/human rights abuse/failed congressional bill, feeling outraged yet helpless, then clicking off and onto the next thing.
Enter RYOT. Late last October, Bryn Mooser and David Darg launched a hybrid outlet for news-minded and socially concerned citizens: a site covering breaking news that offers tailored ways to get involved with each article, or, as they put it, “Become the news!” On the side of each story is gray a “Make a Difference” box, which features an appropriate organization and link that allows you to read about them and then donate, volunteer, or sign a petition. It’s a fresh idea, but natural, when you think of it, that activism and news consumption should go together.
“We’re getting great reaction from young readers, who are saying ‘I never read the news before because I got so depressed that there wasn’t anything I could do—this makes me feel better about it,’” said Mooser.
Mooser, 33, and Darg, 34, spent a decade working in development. The pair first met as idealistic 20-somethings in West Africa, while Mooser was in the Peace Corps in Gambia and Darg had been working in Senegal. They inadvertently reconnected a few years later in Haiti, lending a hand with projects in the tent cities after a massive earthquake left 1.5 million homeless. They are confident they can translate their nonprofit prowess to the editorial side. The 10-person, Los Angeles–based news organization has hit the ground running, putting a blend of original and aggregated content up at the rate of 40 to 50 posts daily. Currently about 40 percent of the material is pulled from the wires, but they plan to produce a higher proportion of original content. “We don’t rest—it’s going around the clock,” Mooser says.
A recent Associated Press article about Syrian refugees being turned away from Egypt links through to a donation option for Human Rights Watch, an eminent watchdog group monitoring the conflict. But it’s not all somber. A rundown of summer anthems other than Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” touts the work of an anti-sexual violence organization. “Carly Rae Jepsen’s Fail and Other Shockingly Bad First Pitches” allows readers to donate to RYOT’s own foundation, which runs Little League teams in Haiti.
“It feels so fresh and yet so intuitive—why hasn't this been done before?” asks Chevenee Reavis, director of strategic initiatives for Water.org, an early ally of RYOT.
Their partnership was fermented in the most unlikely of places. Reavis was summiting Mount Kilimanjaro with a group of young innovators, including Mooser. The pair was so excited about each other’s work they didn’t wait until the return climb to make contact with their respective offices to fast-track the collaboration. “I think I sent an email from 12,000 feet,” she remembers. By the time she got off the mountain, seven days later, Water.org’s Google+ presence had quadrupled. “From there, our engagement just flew through the charts, and there's pretty much no question that RYOT really fueled that.” The organization has since been featured in 21 articles and raised $11,415, along with around $22,000 in a joint fundraiser.
RYOT views itself as a mix of action-taking sites like Change.org, CNN-style hard news, cause-based news like Huffington Post Impact, and millennial sites BuzzFeed and Vice. The one-stop-shop structure gives it a distinction from other sites—avoiding becoming interchangeable is a novelty in the regurgitated feel of online news.
Along with stringers, freelancers, and citizen journalists, RYOT gets its content from a less traditional source. Having built a network of development workers in roles ranging from grassroots nonprofits to the State Department, Darg and Mooser have been turning aid workers into journalists, getting them to contribute reporting or video of breaking events, sometimes faster than a news agency can dispatch a reporter to the scene.
RYOT’s rolodex of organizations is expansive. There are big names but also field-specific organizations in need of attention. The pair spent a lot of time considering how to get people engaged with obscure yet vital projects like, say, drilling wells in remote areas of the world. They’re also focused on maintaining interest in high-profile catastrophes once the news cycle moves on. “Something happens when a disaster ends and the cameras go away,” Mooser says. “Those nonprofits lose the context for the work they’re doing, but they’re still out there fighting those fights ... the reason they’re doing it sometimes gets lost and forgotten.”
Darg adds that RYOT can point concerned readers in a direction they may not have considered previously. “There’s this tendency in times of disaster just to go to Red Cross and give your dollars there, but that might not necessarily always be the best solution.”
The social-media plug possibilities benefit not just organizations who can now tweet out a news article—rather than just a static homepage or donation request—but also celebrities looking to engage their followers in important issues. Olivia Wilde, a rising philanthropic star and close friend of Darg and Mooser, serves on RYOT’s advisory board along with fellow actors Ian Somerhalder and Sophia Bush. Others have taken notice as well. Their list of celebrity supporters ranges from Foster the People to Kobe Bryant. And Esquire included them on its 2012 People of the Year list.
Darg and Mooser are also filmmakers. Their latest—a short documentary called The Rider and the Storm about a surfer who lost his home in Breezy Point during Hurricane Sandy—garnered attention at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. They’ll soon be incorporating documentary shorts into the site with RYOT TV, and are in the process of editing two more films.
The pair has a seemingly endless supply of projects in the works. Soon, RYOT will be partnering with Change.org and Crowdrise, a crowdsourcing tool for nonprofits. It will also add a page to the site outlining the process of picking each organization and how it’s vetted, while “cause pages” will curate an overview of actions that can be taken for a specific current situation, be it a recent disaster or ongoing social issue. As we spoke, they were preparing to depart on a trip for Senegal, along with Wilde, to support economist Jeffrey Sachs’s rollout of the Earth Institute’s “One Million Community Health Workers” campaign, which will train and deploy providers across Africa by 2015. “The truth is we really believe in what we’re doing, so we don’t rest,” Mooser says. “We’re building something we think is different and has never been done.”