How does crowdfunding change journalism?

When journalism is crowdsourced and crowdfunded, like on Spot.Us, are the stories different than the ones produced in the traditional way? By traditional, I mean the conventional way where the story making process is closed from the public until the reader sees the story published.

How does the crowdfunding process affect the reporter? For example, does pitching a story in public create a new sense of engagement and connectedness to the society?

And the reader – when a reader donates for a story, does the reader feel a stronger sense of ownership in the journalistic process than he or she feels in the traditional journalistic process?

Those are some of the questions I’m looking into in my research project. I’m studying Spot.Us as a case of new ways to produce journalism. Spot.Us is crowdsourcing story topics, leads and information from the community and crowdfunding the stories by microdonations from the community.

Opening the journalistic process to the crowd creates a new level of transparency to “the making of -part” of journalism. On Spot.Us, pitching and fundraising happens in public. The reporters blog about the stories they are working on – like Lindsey Hoshaw is doing from her assignment to the Pacific Garbage Patch. Furthermore, the community gives information, names sources and other tips for the story in public on the Spot.Us platform.

A Spot.Us reporter Serena Renner says that being able to share the process from the beginning to the end with the crowd decreases the pressure to get everything said in one story.

“When you can blog along the way, you can create kind of a more complete picture of a story than maybe one article with a limited wordcount can do,” she says.

“And as anyone can suggest questions or leads for the story, there is a potential to divert the story throughout the process. It is good for getting the real, honest story out,” she says.

If transparency really is the new objectivity in journalism, as technologist and author David Weinberger says, the journalistic process becomes more transparent most likely over time, even in traditional news rooms. Is transparency something that the new generation of journalists will get used to?

That’s why it is fascinating to explore how the new levels of transparency impact the reporter’s work. For example, the process of pitching and raising money in public might strengthen the connection between the community and the reporter. It might also create a different sense of responsibility for the reporter.

“You worry more about the accuracy, and you really want to invest in presenting issues correctly, because these people have really invested in you,” Serena Renner says.

A donation for a story can be seen as an investment or a vote. After “investing in the story,” the donor might want to follow the story process closely – the same way a voter follows the politician he or she votes for.

How about the sense of ownership in the journalistic process? In the traditional newsmaking, a reporter owns her or his story. The reporter finds the topic, pitches it inside the news organization, finds the sources, becomes an expert on the topic, and holds on the information until the story is published. It is rare when the traditional news organizations reveal anything about “making of-process.”

Whereas, in the Spot.Us model, the ownership is shared with the community from the beginning to the end. The reporter doesn’t need to feel pressure to become an ultimate expert on the topic, as the crowd is there with its wisdom, too.

“I admit that I’m not expert on food or school system or school food system, while I may be owning the story and to produce an honest piece about it,” Renner says.

I will blog about my research on Spot.Us. Please feel free to share your opinions on crowdsourcing in journalism – I’d love to hear them!

This post was originally published on Spot.Us, a platform for community funded reporting.

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