At a time when newspapers are having a hard time convincing people to pay for online access to their news, one site is having much better luck getting people to go online and pony up some cash to give directly to journalists who use the donations to then go out and report stories.
The site is Spot.us , it originally got going a few years ago with a Knight Foundation grant and a mission to experiment with the idea of using crowdfunding via the web to report stories that were going unreported in the San Francisco Bay Area. After successfully crowdfunding some reporting of big stories, including sending a journalist the Pacific Garbage Patch who chronicled her voyage in a story in The New York Times , the site secured more funding and expanded its local coverage to Los Angeles, Seattle and Minnesota.
Then, this week Spot.us announced that the site would begin accepting pitches to crowdfund stories of a local or regional interest from across the country. Founder David Cohn said he had initially envisioned the site continuing to expand market by market, a la Craigslist, but in a blog post this week he announced an about face and Spot.us' expansion nationwide, apparently effective immediately.
...it makes little sense for me to tell a good pitch from Illinois or Alamo Texas that they can’t put their pitch up until we find a handful of other pitches in their region (which might be mediocre).
As of last week the sub-domains at Spot.Us have been removed. Trying to convince people in a specific region to use the site, while stopping others from using it because they aren’t in the right region is not the best use of our time or energy.
Cohn concedes that the site is going to need some rejiggering as the nationwide expansion unfolds, as search and other features are built around the original model of reporting taking place in just a handful of communities.
But despite the growing pains, with the entire media industry in flux and the economy still in shambles, these would seem to be unlikely times for an idea such as crowd-funded journalism to be such a success, or maybe it is just the new drug we need for what ails us. Whatever it is, it seems the public wants it, and we're willing to pay for it.