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Crowd Funded Journalism as Biz Model November 12, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in News.
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Can citizen journalism fill the gap as the traditional news business model struggles, putting local investigative and enterprise reporting on the back burner? Such journalism is time-consuming, risky, and costly and we need new ways to support it.

Spot.us is a project funded by the Knight News Challenge to support local investigative journalism through crowd funding. This new business model for media is a very different approach to journalism. The site is a hub where freelance journalists can pitch story ideas and readers can pitch in money to pay the journalists to report and write the story.

The focus of the site is on local, community issues around the San Francisco Bay area—the kind that supposedly get short shrift by city newspapers. An example was raising US$ 2,500 from donors to fact check political ads in the recent San Francisco election. Founder David Cohn hopes to expand the concept to other communities.

This tip jar approach to funding journalism raises some troubling questions on quality. Say, if a neighborhood with an agenda pays for an article, how is that different from a tobacco company backing an article about smoking?

Unlike other citizen journalism sites such as CNN’s iReport, NowPublic, GroundReport, or CJReport, citizens have little room to do journalism and mostly vote with their cash and submit tips to Spot.us.

How is the money split up and where does it go? 90% of the money goes to the reporter who pitched the investigation. The other 10% goes to an independent fact-check editor assigned to the story to ensure fairness in the reporting. The editor must approve the final story before it is published.

More participation in the process could serve as a check, as in mediated citizen journalism where some controls are in place. For instance, the Examiner.com is approaching local news by creating a virtual newsroom out of a corps of regular citizens, whose blog posts are vetted. Startup IamNews, allows any media site to turn its readers into reporters without giving them access to the publish button.

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