Community Funded Reporting
By Trey Hatt,
SXTXstate.com for KUT
Two up-and-coming media professionals discussed ways to pay for quality journalism–and neither mentioned display ads or classifieds.
David Cohn, a former writer for Wired, launched spot.us a year ago on a Knight Foundation grant. He and a small staff review “pitches” for news and feature stories in the Los Angeles and San Francisco By areas. The ones the staff think folks would pay a few bucks to support are posted on spot.us. From there on out, it’s up to the community to decide which stories are funded and which ones never see the light of day.
“In journalism, there’s a saying: ‘Innovate or die,’” Cohn said. “I think that’s a little harsh. I tell people to try new things and have fun.”
Headley, a PhD candidate at the University of California at San Diego, is developing rapidnewsawards.org, which will attempt to combine the diversity of citizen journalism with editorial expertise and continuity.
Donors will be able to fund individual editions, not single stories. The stories in each edition will be determined by an editorial board.
“The editors will provide continuity and focus,” Headley said. “Judges will combine diversity and expertise.”
Both systems will rely on individual reporters’ initiative and imagination, just like the old-fashioned world of freelance writing always has.
However, Cohn said, people in a community will–hopefully–rally around a story idea, especially if it is compelling and help fund the freelancer who is writing it. In a way, community funded journalism seeks to take the purse strings out of the hands of an elite few and give them to the community.
“People aren’t just donating to give money,” he said. “They’re donating as a statement of themselves and what they value in the world.”
Cohn said he is sometimes doubtful as to the continued sustainability of journalism in the free market.
“Other days, I’m bullish about the future of journalism,” he said. “The market is in dire flux. Nonprofits are a very solid bridge.”
However the pay structure of journalism shakes out, Cohn said, it isn’t going away–any more than poetry.
“This is the time to start picking battles,” he said. “Find something that you are passionate about and try it.”