Relationship status: It’s kind of serious. Crowdfunding helps bring reporters and readers closer together

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Credit: Dimitra Tzanos.

Very often when people talk about the benefits of crowdfunding, first it’s about the money (when is it not about the money?). Then it’s about the marketing since each campaign requires outreach to everyone willing to listen.

Less often you hear people talk about a change in the relationship between readers and reporters. Perhaps in contrast to money or marketing, it seems that change in relationship may have a longer lasting impact.

Because, of course, money doesn’t have to be the only call to action in a crowdfunding campaign, and crowdfunding is crowdsourcing.

Modern journalism has extended the job description of reporters to include listening to online conversations and interacting in social media. And trending hashtags certainly drag news media into reporting certain stories.

But crowdsourcing practiced by crowdfunded projects goes beyond story tips and comments to give the crowd, “a seat at the editorial table,” as Spot.us founder David Cohn put it.

In a piece titled “5 Funding Options for Journalism That Blossomed in 2014” Dena Levitz says crowdfunding perpetuates a general trend of the crowd becoming part of every part of the reporting process.

“All of this attention to the crowd and reliance on it to fund reporting projects go along with a bigger shift to include the audience every step of the reporting journey,” she said. “No longer is it enough to post an article and then let users know about it once it’s live. Even deciding what to report on is becoming a public decision.”

Journalism.co.uk’s podcast examined this relationship shift in a recent episode.

If you follow the hashtags #crowdfunding #journalism (as we do) you would know that, through journalism.co.uk and its partners, this was among one of the most circulated articles in the second half of 2014.

Jess McCabe was funded by the crowd for “Why Didn’t They Leave?” a series about the economics of domestic abuse for Women’s eNews.

Instead of keeping details of her reporting private until a story was published, she started a Tumblr blog to publicly bring funders through the reporting process as it happened. Some funders even became sources.

“Unlike anything else I’ve ever done the people who want to read this project have paid for me to go do this reporting so obviously I need to demonstrate to them that they’re getting value for money for it,” she told Journalism.co.uk. “It’s a case of really showing my working in a way that you don’t normally have to as a journalist.”

The Dutch news startup was funded entirely by the crowd in 2013, setting a world record by offering admission behind a paywall in exchange for an annual fee.

De Correspondent doesn’t see its audience as subscribers but members. And they aren’t passive readers either. They’re experts with ideas that can help create better stories.

The expertise of sources is one of the biggest untapped resources available to a news outlet and they shouldn’t be ignored, said publisher Ernst-Jan Pfauth.

We now have the means to try and collect that knowledge from your readers so you should try to do that,” he said.

Each DeCorrespondent reporter’s blog is treated as a place for reporters and their audience to discuss a story, potential sources, etc. before publication.

Ultimately this approach to share information before the story is published steps on the toes of a pretty serious taboo for some journalists.

Get over it, said Contributoria editor Sarah Hartley.

“Some people, perhaps they might be listening to this podcast and thinking ‘Well, I don’t want to put my ideas up in public or something. Everybody will steal them.’ And things like you know and that’s just not the case,” she said. “We’re finding the community is being supportive and it helps the final piece by having that transparency early on.”

Journalism.co.uk, being the awesome resource that it is, has another great podcast on crowdfunding worth checking out as well.

Contributoria and De Correspondent are both about a year old. Each of these outlets, as Pfauth said, owes their existence to the crowd. The funding and their editorial process shapes their relationship with their audience.

For legacy outlets that have made their money more traditional ways, I wonder if a crowdfunding campaign can help reinvigorate community and remind readers of a publication’s value. support in the community to remind people of their value or invite them to become stakeholders.

Also not mentioned in the podcast are the impacts of crowdsourced editorial process on an audience’s feeling of investment, inclination to share content in social media, engage with reporters or other users or willingness to become members or subscribers in the future.

I wonder if this approach can contribute to the long-term sustainability of a news startup. It may have played a role in De Correspondent’s initial success (see “Crowdfunding World-Record Holder De Correspondent Shares Tips for Success 1 Year After Launch”).

If anyone knows a study that considers this question or how crowdfunding can transform the relationship between a legacy news org and its readers please email news@throughcracks.com or reach out to us @crowdjournalism on Twitter.

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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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