Community-Funded Journalism

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"Community-funded journalism,” is now being tested in the San Francisco Bay area, where a new nonprofit, Spot Us, is using its Web site,, to solicit ideas for investigative articles and the money to pay for the reporting. But the experiment has also raised concerns of journalism being bought by the highest bidder.

The idea is that anyone can propose a story, though the editors at Spot Us ultimately choose which stories to pursue. Then the burden is put on the citizenry, which is asked to contribute money to pay upfront all of the estimated reporting costs. If the money doesn’t materialize, the idea goes unreported." (


" The Spot Us experiment comes, not coincidentally, as newspapers around the country lay off reporters and editors by the hundreds and scale back their coverage to cope with a financial crisis brought about, in no small measure, by the rise of the Internet. Another experimental venture, Pro Publica, a nonprofit group led by Paul Steiger, a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, is being bankrolled by several major foundations to pursue investigative projects that it will then offer to newspapers and magazines.

Spot Us plans to post its articles on its Web site and give them to newspapers that want to publish them. If a newspaper wants exclusive rights to an article, the paper will have to pay for it.

Critics say the idea of using crowdfunding to finance journalism raises some troubling questions. For example, if a neighborhood with an agenda pays for an article, how is that different from a tobacco company backing an article about smoking? (Spot Us limits the amount any one contributor can give to no more than 20 percent of the cost of the story.)

But Jeff Howe, a contributing editor at Wired Magazine whose book “Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business” is being published this month said: “It’s not like the crowd is killing the newspaper. Lots of things are killing the newspaper. The crowd is at once a threat to newsrooms, but it’s also one of several strategies that could help save the newspapers.”

In an early test of its concept, Spot Us solicited ideas on its Web site and raised $250 for an article examining whether California can meet its ethanol demand. That might not pay the weekly phone bill for a lot of reporters. But for its newest project, Spot Us has raised nearly all of the $2,500 it says it will need to fact-check political ads in the coming local elections in San Francisco. “We need 12 more people to donate $25,” the site said on Friday." (