Crowdfunding platform Contributoria shuts down

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Contributoria, a platform created for readers and the audience to work with freelance journalists to think up ideas and edit stories together, publised its final issue Tuesday after announcing plans to stop operations last week.

On Tuesday, editor Matt MacAlister and the Contributoria team published the final edition, along with a Letter to the Editor that offered further comment but no explanation.

“We experienced sharp growth over the months and have reached a point where we’d benefit from some time for reflection and to take stock on what has been a rich learning experience,” McAlister said.

“One thing that unites the team is a desire to continue being involved in crowdfunding and discussions around innovative journalism models. We’re passionate about sharing, and building on, the experience with others working in this space and look forward to talking with many people in the coming weeks and months.”

Backed by Guardian Media Group and made possible with funding from Google after winning the News Innovation Contest from the International Press Institute, Contributoria published about 800 articles over the span of 21 monthly issues published in print and online. Roughly £260,000 was doled out for said reporting from various parts of the world.

Back issues will be archived. Want to know more? Check this FAQ.

“It was a good time to close Contributoria and for the team to take some of the things we’ve learned and apply them to something else,” said co-founder and editor Sarah Hartley when asked by Through the Cracks why the site shut down. “Contributoria offered an alternative approach to working, and we definitely need to spend some time writing about and sharing those lessons.”

Some former writers have accurately described some challenges Contributoria faced, Hartley said, challenges that are “endemic to crowdfunding and open community platforms.”

“For example, getting backed through crowdfunding requires work. High-priced articles are hard to fund, in general, and we struggled to support inexperienced journalists with small followings and unproven ideas,” she said. “We also learned that manual processes for policing compliance becomes tricky as communities grow. Lastly, maintaining a high quality threshold for journalism is more art than science. We feel like we got it right most of the time, but it wasn’t always easy.”

Guardian Media Group made the largest investment in the platform, Hartley said. Membership fees, commissioning fees, sponsorship and initial money from Google all helped keep the magazine running since January 2014, though specific questions about Contributoria’s financial state have yet to be answered.

Julie Schwietert Collazo published five stories on Contributoria and told Through the Cracks’ partner AllDigitocracy she isn’t surprised the crowdfunded online magazine folded.

“Contributoria’s staff had a pattern of not addressing concerns of writers and were not transparent in their management,” she said.

Leigh Shulman has a few theories.

Shulman published her first and last article in Contributoria in the final issue.

There’s a lot to like about Contributoria but it wasn’t perfect, she said.

The points system was inconsistent (points were traded for dollars, premium members got more points,)  the community was disjointed and the process complicated. Freelance journalists would be better served to write pitches to traditional magazines, she said.

Shulman also complained about a lack of transparency and worried that some people may have set up multiple accounts in order to cheat Contributoria’s points system.

Whatever additional information is shared as Contributoria staff “write about and share those lessons” learned, Hartley believes the end of Contributoria is not symptom of a larger problem.

The closure of Contributoria shouldn’t reflect any particular trend in crowdfunding for journalism. People clearly want to be part of the journalism process, and the team here feels crowdfunding will continue to be a big opportunity in the future. If anything, Contributoria merely scratched the surface,” she said.

Below is a collection of tweets pulled together by Hartley to share people’s reaction after the news was announced.

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Khari Johnson
Khari is founder and editor of Through the Cracks: Crowdfunding in Journalism. He also writes about bots and artificial intelligence for VentureBeat. He has built news startups in the U.S. and Europe for the last decade.

2 COMMENTS

  1. […] Contributoria, a Guardian Media-backed venture, shut down last fall after working with freelancers and the crowd to raise more than $300,000 for more than 700 articles published since 2014. Not more than two months later they created Publish.org, a website dedicated “to support journalism around the world.” […]

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