Why OptOut wants to be the alternative news platform

After soft launching, the organization already has over 2,500 Substack subscribers.

During months of isolation, Alex Kotch and Walker Bragman were growing tired of the media coverage they were seeing. In New York, N.Y., where they both live, thousands of people were dying of COVID-19, and Black Lives Matter protests were filling the streets. Yet, on their social media networks and TV screens, they saw what they felt was a failure from mainstream media to accurately cover these historic events. 

“I feel like corporate media has trouble actually reporting [on] things that are happening before our eyes,” Kotch says. “That has to do with a lot of these conflicts of interest and restrictions that are inherent in media that’s either owned by giant corporations, or that depends heavily on, or even exclusively on, advertisements from big corporations.” 

They decided what wasn’t needed was a new outlet – what was needed was a new platform.

OptOut is their answer. When completed, it will be a curated feed of solely independent media sources, all available on an app.

While some people might wait to announce a project like this until an actual app existed — at this point, Kotch and Bragman are hoping to launch OptOut in 2021. “We have to start early,” says Kotch — building an audience, a volunteer base and a potential group of funders all depends on getting the word out now. 

It’s an example of what, in the startup and tech world, is called an MVP: minimum viable product. Rather than agonize over finishing your app or service before you let the public see it, you release the earliest workable iteration. That means almost right from day one, you start getting feedback about the product so you can incorporate it into subsequent versions.

For the OptOut team, that MVP is a website landing page with information about OptOut and a Substack newsletter. Kotch uses it to send out not only updates about the development of the app, but also to share stories from network members. Right now, it has about 2,500 subscribers.

Because of the early announcement, Kotch and Bragman have already raised about USD$3,000 in immediate revenue. “We got a lot more donations than I thought we would,” Kotch says — it’s made him feel very positive about a larger crowdfunding campaign they will do in the fall. They’ve also added over 40 media outlets as early OptOut network members, among them Jacobin, Sludge and Passage. They’ve also already started their first user feedback survey. 

Kotch knows most people get their news from a wide variety of sources, often pulled from social media networks like Facebook or Twitter. His goal isn’t to usurp them — it’s to offer another option. “From our initial publicity, there’s definitely a lot of people who are not happy with the way they’re consuming news,” he says. “If we can just get 0.5 per cent of Facebook users who use English language news to check out our app, that’ll be massive.”

They may charge for premium features on OptOut to support their work. But the company is being formed as a non-profit, so all of that will be put back into the organization, and into developing OptOut’s own media outlet, eventually.

A list of key takeaways from the story. They are: What is your minimum viable product? Instead of thinking it has to be perfect, get it to the point where you can start getting feedback — and bring it into the world.

Kotch makes a great point about audience development: you don’t necessarily need the entire world to fall in love with your product. What you do need is an engaged and supportive group of readers.

OptOut is unique in that they are building a platform. What else does the news industry need that could support more independent media?

In the news

Have a tip, pitch, question to ask, link to include or opportunity you want to promote? Send it to me!

And one more thing… 

The Indiegraf team is expanding every month! Meet Rachel Chen, our new audience strategist.

A headshot of Rachel Chen.

Editor’s note, Aug. 24, 2020: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the organizations Opt Out is now currently partnered with.

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