Crowdfunding probably won’t replace traditional journalism, but it can’t hurt

NYMag.com’s Daily Intelligencer decided to draw a conclusion on the future of crowdfunding journalism. Will it save us?

Look no further than the headline.

Paying Journalists in Ferguson Is Good, But Crowdfunding Won’t Save the News Business

The news hook here is the Beacon campaign to raise $4,000 and send three independent journalists to join a crowd of reporters and protestors in Ferguson, MO.

“Can we crowdfund breaking news?” Beacon asked in a blog post ahead of dispatching reporters.

The article is correct to say crowdfunding alone won’t save journalism. Even the Beacon campaign that has attracted coverage from TechCrunch, USA Today, BBC and CNN only managed to meet its $4,000 funding goal after about a week, not an entirely impressive amount for a story that has made the internet explode for more than a week.

Twitter is speeding up. http://t.co/neUnFZDEKe #Ferguson pic.twitter.com/BZ4gbItl71

— David Aron Levine (@davealevine)
August 20, 2014

A couple thousand dollars in the face of tens of billions spent annually in the US alone? Yeah, it’s safe to say crowdfunding won’t replace that model anytime soon.

But as has been shown to be the case with De Correspondent in Holland, Krautreporter in Germany and Bellingcat in England, crowdfunding can help provide the seed money for a website to grow.

Independent investigators like Texas Tribune and Voice of San Diego have also used the site to raise tens of thousands of dollars for their newsrooms, part of a group of diverse revenue streams that make their work sustainable.

This blog was created by independent journalists because we’ve watched this progression and rise in crowdfunding journalism as sites quickly go from concept to reality in a matter of months.

It’s exciting to watch Beacon and Contributoria and projects on Kickstarter’s Journalism category. I can see why people are bullish about the future of crowdfunding journalism.

Attention comes easy to a trending topic like Ferguson. Not so much for the success of the Alaska Teen Media Institute’s Kickstarter campaign, which raised a comparable amount of money to the Beacon Ferguson campaign.

Crowdfunding may be better suited for labors of love than a reporting on a beat that requires sustained funding but as the field grows crowdfunding may move far beyond high-profile stories that grow in part because of stories told about them by more established media.

It can also bypass traditional media or provoke action: TV news and newspaper ignoring your story pitch? Start a crowdfunding campaign and get the news out.

By nature of crowdfunding being a more democratic funding model, in the future it may ensure underreported stories and less well-known journalists gain traction. Those ventures may not scale but support gathered in initial campaigns may attract investors to work with media entrepreneurs to make a concept a reality.

The Beacon campaign may not make a substantial difference in Ferguson but crowdfunding journalism can help fill holes left in a fractured media landscape.

Crowdfunding applied to journalism may reveal the audience is more willing to fund certain kinds of content and get the audience used to contributing to news they support.

It’s too early to judge crowdfunding journalism.

It’s still a fawn with wobbly legs struggling to its feet, not yet full grown. You can watch the crowdfunding journalism industry grow at throughcracks.com.

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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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