Cold Type

No slug is safe in today’s newsroom

On the spot

with one comment

I have to admit that when I first heard about Spot.us, I was a tad skeptical and I guess, I still am, though I’m a lot more hopeful after reading a recent blog post by its founder, David Cohn, who gave an insightful report on the progress of his exploration of community funded journalism.

In his report, Cohn says the Bay area community and/or others with an interest have donated enough money to fund 23 journalists’ online pitches to do some investigative reporting. This may not sound like many stories to some but it is, considering the concept is a few months old and that some of the pitches I’ve seen are $500 or more. And this isn’t NPR, where the newscasters can get on their soapbox and drone on about how you can support your good reporting for the price of a frappucino a week. This is Cohn, giving his own pitch to whomever he will listen.

What’s equally impressive to me is the quality of reporting that’s so far been funded, digging into poverty, environmental problems, politics and even, ironically, the sorry state of the newspaper industry.

I’m also especially intrigued with the pitch by Pubic Press on Spot.us for a $5,000 pitch to fund not just one story, but a beat, albeit temporarily. Public Press is seeking funds to hire reporters to cover the shrinking San Francisco budget. It seems to me that such a model might be more successful over the long haul because it’s sustained coverage of a topic vs the one-hit wonder approach. Of course, it’s also more expensive, which could lead to a big lag in time between a pitch being made and then getting funded, something Cohn admits he’d wants to find a way to shorten.

That lag, I’m guessing, could be helped with a fat marketing campaign but would it be enough to give Spot.us the brand presence it needs to succeed long-term? I suppose that’s the $64,000 question: how much money and/or bootstrap effort and viral marketing would it take to give the crowdfunding model a fighting chance? Also, can it survive outside of the progressive-minded Bay area? I think so, but could it survive in, say, my hometown of Spokane, which is “a hotbed of social rest” (a phrase I recently heard on “A Prairie Home Companion”). I’d like to believe the concept could thrive anywhere but I guess that’s where my original skepticism comes in — how many people will regurlarly pitch in money to fund pitches? Only time will tell.

Cohn says two others have downloaded the open-source code they need to create their own version of Spot.us. I’m very curious to see where those end up and how they do, and I can’t wait to hear more on that a few months down the road. I’d love it if we found out that someone in Portland gave it a shot. Maybe this is something worth talking about at this summer’s Digital Journalism Bar Camp in Portland? (If only we could afford to fly Cohn up to talk.) Regardless, my hat’s off to Cohn and the Knight Foundation that gave him a News Challenge grant to explore the merits of community-funded journalism.

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Written by coldtype

May 19, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Hey – thanks for the kudos.

    Nothing is solved and it is still an uphill battle. But it is nice to know folks are watching and cheering us on.

    Digidave

    May 19, 2009 at 9:22 pm


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