Scampaigns: Deception in crowdfunding

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Credit: Max Elman.

Through the Cracks typically focuses on crowdfunding in journalism but this week the topic is coverage of crowdfunding by journalists.

Because in that topic are a few lessons worth remembering for journalists (and anyone else) considering the start of their own crowdfunding campaign.

Pando Daily recently wrote a great article about Pavlok, a device that promised to stop bad habits with a wearable shock device.

In their haste to talk about a cool, new gadget growing in popularity and perhaps to stay current by talking about investments by the crowd, some of the biggest names in American media joined together to perform a public a disservice.

The Pavlok, writes James Robinson, “has many of the hallmarks of the classic scampaign.”

Among them:

– Underestimating costs and asking for too little money  to accomplish your stated goal.

– The project offers vague details but makes promises to bring the product to market soon if the crowdfunding goal is met.

– The product appears to be in its initial stages but claims to be ready for market.

Each of these news outlets failed to do their homework, perhaps because they have to feed an ever-hungry online content beast, but there can be consequences for the public investors and the news outlet when the campaign fails or the money disappears.

“It’s bad journalism that spurs bad investing,” writes Robinson.

So unless you want to be considered a bad journalist who carries out a bad crowdfunding campaign, remember not to make promises you cannot keep and take time before your campaign launch to determine the right amount of money to meet your  goal.

Because you want your crowdfunding campaign to be known for innovation or championing an underreported topic, not for being a scam.

We just went over a few don’ts. If you want to read a couple dos, see this classic article from Poynter about best practices for crowdfunding in journalism.

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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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