Pitch the Public: Community-Funded Journalism

The new website Spot.us is experimenting with an innovative business model for freelance journalists. The idea is simple: Journalists pitch stories to the site’s community, and if people like an idea they can contribute money to make the reporting possible. Users are also able to submit news tips that freelancers can pick up on and craft into pitches that they will seek funding for through the site.

Tips submitted so far include queries like “Why are San Francisco city streets in such poor condition?” and “What’s the future of Bay Area newspapers given the changing economy?” Stories soliciting funding include a three-part series on cities working to become more accommodating to the elderly, and a report on how the financial crisis is impacting small businesses in San Francisco. One writer’s pitch–“How safe are San Francisco bay beaches and water a year after the Cosco Busan oil spill?”–has raised $360 from 16 donors (if he raises $440 more, he’ll write a 1,000-word story on the subject).

Blogger Ana Marie Cox tested a similar business model when the magazine paying her travel expenses to cover John McCain’s campaign went under before the end of election season. She asked her readers to pony up to keep her on the trail, offering various thank-you gifts in return (and ongoing coverage, of course). When she appeared on WNYC’s On the Mediaon October 31, she had raised over $8,000.

(Thanks, Columbia Journalism Review.)

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