Copy
Email not displaying correctly?
View it in your browser

Why crowd-funding can keep journalism true to its promise

One of the earliest experiments of crowd-funding was the Korean citizen journalism site Oh My News, created in 2000. They asked people to “tip” authors of stories they liked the best and in this way they paid their most popular contributors. Sixteen years after, this week, Google announced Spanish eldiario.es as one of the 128 winning projects of its Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund to which the company is giving 27 million dollars “to spark new thinking and give European news organisations all sizes of space to try some new things”. According to Google, building on a successful traditional crowd-funding model, this digital news outlet will identify niche groups of audiences and invite them to fund a specific story or to top up the funding gap for an area of coverage. Publish.org, a project in the making, is developing a new version of the original experiment they tried with The Guardian’s Contributoria, to get readers pay a membership fee that will enable them to vote for the best stories, write their own and edit others’.

What these pioneers understand well is that this is not just about getting the money; it is about creating a faithful community of readers. In a way, they are searching for the lost group of loyal subscribers of the traditional newspapers who would call the newsroom in times of crisis as if journalists were family. The new fragmented audiences of digital outlets no longer gather around news-producers but around social networks, and no longer see why quality journalism has to be paid, nor how these payments help their guarantee the media true independence.

Crowd-funding helps journalism-producing outlets build a reliable community around a way of being.

Hungarians fund Atlatzo; Salvadoreans, El Faro; or inhabitants of Hong Kong, Factwire because they think good information is indispensable to survive as citizens. They know that if they support quality, well-verified stories, they will know what is really going on, and they will not be deceived with slanted or special-interest driven information.

There are however, cultural nuances in crowd-funding. In many places in the world it is still seen as a request for charity; as if the journalists were requesting a personal favor. And people may give them small change, like giving donations in church. Fortunately, this culture is changing. More citizens seem to understand that crowd-funding for journalism is a profoundly egalitarian exercise. They are growingly conscious that, as with food, they cannot only consume “junk” information.

If citizens only access information from contaminated sources, they will be unable to hold government or corporations accountable; unable to know when their interests are being harmed.

Crowd-funding is also a democratizing force because it gives power to its audiences. If they pay for the stories, they will follow them up and demand quality. Sure, the old business model that supported journalism was working, but in many parts of the world, it had been perverted by the excessive power it gave advertisers (including state advertising) over editorial content. It also left too much room for journalists to cosy-up to power. Now if citizens voluntarily fund a journalistic project, they expect something more than lazy journalism and they can speak more strongly  to the journalists they fund.

Finally, crowd-funding can be a shield for journalism under attack. These same crowds that gave a journalism site money because they are convinced they need “organic journalism” made of healthy sources and verified ingredients to have a better life, could be the ones that go out of their way to defend it when under attack. For example, when there have been attempts to censor or intimidate Malaysiakini, a renowned independent media in Kuala Lumpur, its audience, who gave them half a million dollars for their new building, marched in the streets to protest. Also, as you will see in the examples below, crowds have helped pay for the defense of trusted journalists when these suffer legal abuse because they feel they stories they are telling are important and worth defending.

Maria Teresa Ronderos, Director
Program on Independent Journalism
Do you know any successful media crowd-funding examples? Share them with us via email or Twitter and we will feature them our newsletter or social media channels.

“Faces” who produce the good journalism




In 2015 Atlatszo.hu, an independent investigative journalism site in Hungary, managed to raise a record of US $164,000 from readers with a creative online and offline campaign strategy. “The main message is that the content is free but journalists have to make a living, so please donate,” says Tamas Bodoky, the founder of Atlatszo. “We are not financed by political parties or shady oligarchs, we need public support.” Its “Faces” campaign collected money for salaries of journalists who did short video messages describing their work, achievements and future projects. The “Átlátszó 4000” campaign aimed to attract regular contributors that donate a small amount of money every month - it yielded 3000. “Crowd-funding is very important to us, we regularly campaign our readership to donate. Microdonations accounted more than 50% in the 2015 budget.”

The crowd chooses the topic


In the last three months of 2015, El Faro newspaper in Salvador raised nearly $26,000 from 565 donors, among them 11 organizations. Readers where invited to fund specific investigations on various sensitive topics such as impunity, violence, corruption, inequality or migration for the newspaper’s Excavación Ciudadana (Citizen digging) project. Although El Faro did not reach their target amount of $50,000 this time, they plan to continue crowdfunding campaigns in the near future.

In September 2015, citizens of Hong Kong backed the launch of investigative news agency FactWire, which exceeded its target of 3 million Hong Kong dollars, raising a total of $585,000. Founder Hiu-Tung Ng said the campaign was to “see if the public would support an independent and credible news source”. FactWire will be run by a trust, with all profits invested back into organisation, and as a news agency will investigate public affairs issues arising in the government, public institutions or NGOs, and other matters of public interest.

Investigate violation of rights of the most vulnerable


Investigative reporting group Agência Pública, founded in 2011, by a group of women reporters in Sao Paulo, Brazil, raised over $17,000 from 936 donors in 2015. Their goal is to make government and corporations accountable to citizens and expose those responsible of trampling over the rights of indigenous peoples, poor inhabitants of urban neighborhoods and informal settlers forcibly relocated in preparation to big sporting events.

Crowd-funding for imprisoned journalists




The Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) ran a campaign to fund a legal appeal for two Ethiopian journalists Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu imprisoned under Ethiopia’s draconian Anti-terrorism Declaration. MLDI raised $25,000 through a combination of numerous small donations of $25 to $100 and a few large ones in the last two months of 2013. With a better legal defense and the crowd-funding campaign, a year and a half later,  Reeyot Alemu  was released.

Singaporean journalist Roy Ngerng, managed to raise $70,000 in legal fees mostly from his audience of readers in Singapore, who were appalled when country’s prime minster charged Ngerng with defamation for exposing government corruption and mismanagement of the state pension fund, which all Singapore citizens were obligated to pay into.
Copyright © 2016 Open Society Foundation, All rights reserved.


Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp