Innovation, not donations: Why this blog exists

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The crowd. Credit: Thómas Tan. Some rights reserved.

A short while back a friend of mine asked me if the goal of this blog is to inspire people to donate money.

She’s a journalist, a regular reader of the blog and pretty flipping smart. If she didn’t get the message clearly then others may need a little clarity too about what Through the Cracks is, what it is not and why this blog exists.

So that we’re clear, this blog exists to share the unique ways that storytellers and news gatherers use crowdfunding to bring untold stories to light. That’s our namesake and our goal. This blog exists to share how news startups, freelancers and established media decide to utilize crowdfunding.

Through the Cracks DOES NOT exist to inspire people to donate money, though they’re certainly free to do so if a campaign catches their eye.

We tell these stories because we believe crowdfunding may be a part of the future business model of news, particularly as the following trends converge in the years to come:

– Participatory journalism and crowdsourcing continue to increase both in journalism, social media and media at large.

– The continued proliferation of local news startups.

– Crowdfunding will mature, more platforms will emerge and people may grow more accepting to give. The most noteworthy platforms (Beacon, Patreon, Contributoria, etc.) and the Kickstarter Journalism category are all about one year old. Some of the biggest rewards-based crowdfunding campaigns in journalism led to the creation of the startups Bellingcat, De Correspondent and Krautreporter were all started a year ago or earlier.

– The amount of money or backers for campaigns seems to keep going up, making the possibility that the money can help sustain small news organizations and freelancers more and more likely.

– The bottom will continue to fall out of the newspaper, leaving more journalists to freelance, more holes in the media landscape and more partnerships between local news startups and established news organizations.

– Over time, journalists will get more comfortable with the idea of asking for money.

In the last few weeks we interviewed a radio show host who got her show back after a year off the air and shared some tips with other journalists who have never had their own crowdfunding campaign. It takes courage to ask for money and journalists don’t ask for enough of it, she said.

Then there was the story of a Millennial feminist magazine intent on competing with beauty-centric magazines like Cosmopolitan. They used a hashtag to great affect in their crowdfunding campaign.

There were also stories of successful startups in MexicoColombiaScotlandHolland and the French reporters who raised more than half a million dollars and bought their own newspaper.

Next week we’ll have a story about a veteran who plans to fight ISIS alongside other veterans and Syria and wants the crowd to fund his documentary.

We go beyond Kickstarter and Indiegogo and explore lesser known platforms and projects around the world. Currently the focus is Europe, North America and Latin America but that could change in the future.

It’s all so freaking exciting.

Crowdfunding is being used as an experiment in-house by big, established names like Huffington Post and Newsweek, cooperatives and the co-op Banyan Project who want to fill the public need in media deserts.

It’s used by indy investigate journalists, documentary filmmakers and photographers, many of whom, research shows, are reluctant to ask for money or start a crowdfunding campaign.

Anyone with journalist in their title today is part of a grand experiment and crowdfunding is an exciting place to watch the convergence of some important elements including those listed above. Watching these elements come together and continued search for revenue beyond advertising is watching innovation happen.

We’re here to watch the experiment and share the best practices, tips and potential pitfalls.

We’re not here to save any single project. We care about the future of journalism.

A lot of people supposedly in the know have spent much of the last year talking about Vox, FiveThirtyEight, Buzzfeed and other big name startups that took off this year as the future of media.

Certainly each of these sites do cutting-edge work and they get a lot of attention from people who write about the media but they don’t have a lot of applicable lessons for your average reporter, storyteller or niche publication.

But the small news operations and freelancers we tend to write about do.

To put it another way, they say innovation happens at the edges. BuzzFeed, Vox, Vice etc. are at one end and bursting with venture capital and corporate investments. They do innovative stuff and enjoy success. So do small news startups and independent journalists.

Particularly for this end of the spectrum, crowdfunding may become more and more viable and vital to the future. Local and regional news startups may need the crowd’s help more than others since they don’t attract venture capital funding like news startups of a national or international nature.

A Pew Research Center survey released earlier this year found that more than half of all online journalist in the United States work for a publication with three or fewer reporters.

That may have incredibly important implications for society, our governments, institutions, culture and society. These are the journalists that will most likely watch over City Hall, school boards and statehouses and tell our stories.

Today the stories of journalists who look toward crowdfunding are not typically seen as related or worth sharing with others. We hope to change that. To my knowledge no one else does this work.

We want to share these stories and methods with journalists all over the world. With the crowd’s help we hope to share some info that can help ensure a more secure future for local news.

If you care about journalism, democracy and communities, you may want to follow along. If you want to tell Through the Cracks about a crowdfunded project that helps make storytelling possible emails news@throughcracks.com or message us on Facebook.

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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.

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