People might be inclined to look at what happened to Contributoria recently and question the entire viability of crowdfunded journalism. The financial details of what exactly happened at are still unclear to me but God help us if the “death of crowdfunded journalism” talks begin. This kind of rhetoric can swell up anytime a journalism darling or promising project like Contributoria abruptly comes to an end.
So as some journalists decide to speculate or entertain this idea in order to appear objective and level-headed (that’s total catnip for some journalists,) let’s remember a few basic facts.
1. One crowdfunding platform does not spell the health of the crowdfunding industry
Whatever happened at Contributoria (we still don’t have specific financial details from Guardian or Contributoria staff,) the success or failure of a single crowdfunding platform doesn’t reflect the health of crowdfunding as a whole. Believing that to be true is like questioning the health of the restaurant industry because some notable name shut its doors. It’s like asking if the stock market is in trouble because a single company’s stock plummets.
Crowdfunding belongs to the audience and the creators and nobody else.
The platform can definitely make a difference. They can act as a marketplace or meeting place for people of a certain identity or view of the world or provide coaching or consulting, but every platform in the world could die out and crowdfunding could still have a significant impact.
I think a lot of people who study crowdfunding in journalism would argue that the creator or publication’s personal network and their ability to work with an engaged audience has more to do with a campaign’s success than a platform.
2. Crowdfunded journalism is making considerable amounts of money and there’s more than one success story out there
Whatever Contributoria’s total expenses were, there are examples of single campaigns that outweighed the total earning power of Contributoria over the span of 21 months.
Here are a couple of standout campaigns in the last few months:
– Radio Helsinki just raised about €350,000 (about $470,000)
– London-based Positive News brought in £260,000 with their campaign in July.
– One in three films shown at the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year were crowdfunded.
– Journalist Norman Finkelstein raised about £110,000 on the Byline platform
And there are hundreds of stories worth reading in our archives.
Also noteworthy: Campaigns have happened this year on platforms you’ve likely never heard of that outweigh the total amount earned by Kickstarter’s Journalism category and certainly more than Contributoria.
3. This is a growing trend in different parts of the world
It isn’t easy to see the full picture when there are dozens of platforms around the world but crowdfunding is being tried and experimented with and it is easy to see the growing success if you take a good look at platforms and independent operations.
German operations like Deepr, Correctiv and Kickstarter.
Umbrella revolution campaigns.
4. Crowdfunding platforms die. It happens.
Nobody got all worked up when investigative journalism platform Uncoverage, which received coverage from the New York Times and CJR before its launch, never got off the ground.
Or when documentary platform Vourno failed to go anywhere or photo platform Emphas.is went insolvent.
Like Contributoria, they were initially celebrated but eventually faded away.
There are also several zombie platforms out there – those are platforms that can still be found online but appear to be abandoned by whatever, if any, community they were initially able to attract.
5. Contributoria staff believe crowdfunding in journalism has a bright future
The story of Contributoria can be told by by a lot of people but editor Sarah Hartley told us that while there were challenges at Contributoria, “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.”