Articles tagged with: Spot.Us
I was recently interviewed by Tanja Aitamurto, a journalist and researcher from Finland who’s studying Spot.Us as a case study in new forms of journalism. For those of you unfamiliar, Spot.Us is a journalism startup pioneering “community-funded reporting” in the Bay Area. Basically, freelance journalists (or the organization) will pitch stories on the Spot.Us website and tap the public as well as news organizations for micro-donations to fund projects and pay reporters. Raising money through donations from the public is also known as “crowd funding,” and Spot.Us is experimenting with the concept as one method to sustain quality journalism in the ever-changing media landscape we are watching unfold before our eyes.
Aitamurto is researching the way crowd funding and crowd sourcing change the journalistic process, and as both an intern and reporter for Spot.Us, I wanted to share my experience. First, I want to make one very important disclaimer: I’m a young reporter with little experience in the “traditional journalism” field. As such, I don’t have much to compare Spot.Us with. I also have a unique set of interests (i.e. getting my piece published in print because for some reason that still seems to matter in the job world) which a more established journalist may not worry about. I think the Spot.Us experience is different for each reporter, but here are the things I discovered along the way:
Spot.Us was built out of founder David Cohn‘s desire to pitch stories to the world and get the public more involved in journalism, rather than have the whole process occur behind closed doors between a reporter and editor. With this goal comes transparency, where every thing from pitching, to fundraising, to investigative research happens in public domain. Cohn often echoes the sentiment of David Weinberger when he says “transparency is the new objectivity,” helping news organizations gain trust and credibility in the “age of links.”
Transparency also leads to another one of Cohn’s motos: “journalism is a process, not a product.” While media outlets have traditionally tried to cram all relevant information into one finished piece, web technology like comments and blogging allow for continuous reporting that exposes facts and perspectives as they come to light, creating a more complete picture of a story than say one article with a limited word count can produce.
Another strength of the Spot.Us model is the potential for collaboration. Spot.Us strives to be a platform to connect reporters, news organizations and the public in a symbiotic relationship, where the community can help source information and fund stories they care about, the reporter can sift through facts and breaks down issues, and the news organization can score a quality investigative article with the help of public funds. While I didn’t witness a whole lot of collaboration with my story in particular, all one needs to do is look at the long list of donors and read the thread of comments on the investigation into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to see Spot.Us’ potential to galvanize the public around an issue of interest.
Personal Benefits for a Young Reporter
Some of you may be thinking that transparency and collaboration are all fine and dandy, but how does Spot.Us help freelancers in today’s tough economy? First, I think it’s easier to get an “in” with Spot.Us than with a traditional media outlet. While Spot.Us still has some editorial control about pitches they accept, the organization tries not to be exclusive and will take chances on good ideas, even if you’re young or your credentials are not entirely in line. Some may argue that this is a weakness, but it definitely helps young, ambitious reporters get a foot in the door, and through transparency, reporters will be held accountable.
The pay’s not bad either. If you can last the time it takes to fundraise, you will be rewarded with competitive freelance rates. I also didn’t have to go through the sometimes grueling pitching process! Cohn pretty much single-handedly promoted my story and used his connections to get it placed in a paper. I question whether I could have been published if I would have pitched the story on my own.
Room for Improvement
In the spirit of transparency, let me also share a few areas I think could use some improvement.
As it stands, fundraising through Spot.Us is usually a pretty slow process only suitable for long-term investigations rather than more “news worthy” issues. There are often many communities and nonprofit organizations interested in the issues at hand, but due to limited staffing, these groups are not always taken advantage of.
News organizations are also hesitant to make partnerships with Spot.Us, possibly out of discomfort with being transparent since they’ve historically been concerned about being “scooped” or beaten to a story by a competing news organization. I think other news outlets see Spot.Us as an unnecessary middle man between the reporter and editor without seeing the added value of transparency and collaboration that Spot.Us can create.
I think one of Spot.Us’ greatest challenges is its nonprofit status and subsequent lack of adequate staffing. While I think Cohn, with the help of Kara Andrade and others, has done an incredible job creating the organization from scratch, things like editorial oversight and fact-checking can be left up to “peer editors” or no one at all if a news organizations does not step in, which could compromise the accuracy of a story and the credibility of the organization.
Lastly, I think more emphasis needs to be placed on creating a more streamlined organizational structure through a defined business-development plan. It seems like stories are often tackled on a case-by-case basis in terms of fundraising, promotion, publication, and distribution rather than undergoing a consistent process from pitch to publication. I was initially wary about Spot.Us’ recent expansion to Los Angeles without all the organization ducks in a row; however, I think working with the USC Annenberg School of Journalism will be a great opportunity to bring more staff and student volunteers into the fold and hopefully help Spot.Us create a more sustainable structure the …
My networking attempts seemed to have paid off a few weeks ago because I just became the new “Resident Blogger” for Spot.Us, the Bay Area community-funded journalism project I mentioned in my most recent post.
It’s an unpaid internship; we just gave it a new name, but it’s a job that I sought out for the mutually-beneficial potential it has for both me and the organization. In general, I have mixed feelings about internships. I’ve had only one that I think helped me, and I’ve heard of far too many that turn talented young people into glorified slaves for little to no pay and irrelevant job experience. This one, on the other hand, will undoubtedly enhance my blogging and multimedia skills while also offering tremendous possibility for networking, increased exposure, and learning about the industry and issues of the Bay Area. How did I get this internship? I simply asked for it.
Backing up a bit, I met David Cohn, Kara Andrade and the Spot.us crew at a fundraiser/party the night before the May 1 journalism conference I attended. Believe me, networking is a lot easier with drinking, Indian food and dancing involved! I was already interested in the Spot.us crowdfunding model, and I’ve been realizing more and more the increased demand for blogging, web, and multimedia abilities in the journalism job market. I’ve also been feeling a little lost in the way of meeting people, discovering new places and learning about important issues to write about, so I asked Kara and David after if Spot.us needed an intern. Two weeks and a handful of followup emails later, the symbiotic relationship began. Of course I need some way to supplement my lack of income, so I’m actively seeking paid employment as well. But in the meantime, I’m going to learn every thing I can from this internship and hopefully it will launch me–and Meridian–to new heights.
To get a feel for my new gig, check out a Spot.us blog post I wrote today about an environmental activist from Oakland who is doing every thing she can to cut down her plastic consumption and track it on her blog, fakeplasticfish.com. I interviewed her on BlogTalkRadio, which is an online radio show that records interviews and archives them into podcasts. I learned that I need to work on my radio voice and loose the commentary, but hey, at least I’m learning. Check back to read more about my experience with Spot.us.
My networking attempts seemed to have paid off a few weeks ago because I just became the new “Resident Blogger” for Spot.Us, the Bay Area community-funded journalism project I mentioned…
I recently moved to Northern California, among other reasons, to focus on journalism. Most people think I’m crazy for quitting a perfectly good (although temporary) job while millions are getting laid off to try my hand at arguably the most unstable profession in recent history– journalism. Thinking logically about these facts, most people are probably right. I am crazy. But, out of some strange compulsion perhaps, I feel like I’m right where I need to be: twenty-two years old, ambitious, living in the Bay Area amid a digital revolution.
That feeling was enhanced by a “Journalism Innovations” conference I attended last Friday. I heard about it through Kara Andrade, a friend of my cousin, who is an organizer for Spot Us–a Bay Area startup that’s experimenting with community-funded journalism. The conference was a meeting of the minds between news veterans and innovation leaders, centered on one main question: what is the fate and future of journalism? Being new in the area, I went to the conference with the goal of networking; however, I left with much more than a few business cards in my pocket. Yes I did my share of shmoozing; I think I even said the words, “let’s be friends” after discovering that a man with Nuestra Voz lived in Santa Cruz, but moreover, I was inspired and thoughts have been swarming in my head ever since about the media revolution we are currently facing. As a newbie in the field, I won’t relay all of my personal thoughts, but I do want to pass along some of the avant-garde ideas that were shared:
First and foremost, we should be comforted by the overwhelming sentiment among media veterans that journalism is not dying; it’s just the business model of the newspaper industry that has collapsed and needs to be recreated, mainly due to the rise of the Internet. That’s not to underscore the current crisis we’re in, where people have less access to the fact-based journalism that may help them recover from economic crises, swine flu, you name it. But, on the other hand, there is tremendous opportunity to break out of the corporate owned model, tell stories in more creative ways and connect people more than ever before through the Internet, blogs and social media. Of course, it’s funding quality journalism–which takes time, editing and fact checking–that is the challenge, so whatever emerges from this “crisis” needs to meld journalism that serves the public with a sustainable business model (the hardest part for us creative folk). Below is a list of startups that may hint at our future:
Reelchanges.org is owned and operated by the nonprofit Center for Media Change. Like sites such as IndieGoGo, Reel Changes uses the concept of “Crowdfunding” to facilitate public funding for documentary film projects. Filmmakers upload works in progress and fans donate in return for perks like screen credits.
Spot Us is another nonprofit crowdfunding project of the Center for Media Change, pioneering community funded journalism in the Bay Area. Freelance writers pitch story ideas (mostly investigative) to the public and individuals can fund the stories they wish to see written. A New York Times article wrote about this concept and questioned the possibility of content creation by donors. Founder Dave Cohn said that each article must be funded by a group of individuals and any one person cannot donate more than 20 percent of the article’s cost.
Kachingle is a very interesting for-profit business model, also based on crowdfunding, that targets money for existing news sites and blogs through a very simple, user centric program. Users pay $5 per month to fund the sites they love, chosing which sites to donate to and the money is then distributed fairly based on how often the user visits each site. Learn more about Kachingle on this Poynter Institue blog.
L3Cs or “Low Profit Limited Liability Corporations” are what many news organizations hope to be their saving grace. Like LLCs, they can attract wealthy investors but there is one amendment–an L3C must provide some social benefit, besides just maximizing profit. L3Cs solicit a new breed of investors that share the values of the social enterprise–in this case, public service journalism. L3C investors can put in large sums of money up front without expecting the immediate, high returns associated with venture capitalism. Learn more about L3Cs here.
And, of course, there are many other quality sources of online journalism that predicted the media transformation early on such as Slate.com, the Huffington Post, ProPublica and VoiceofSanDiego that utilize various funding models, just to name a few. Whatever becomes of journalism, it is our generation that is creating it through blogs and multimedia, on facebook and twitter, and it is us young journalists who will carry it out. We can either sit back and wait for this new industry to emerge or we can join the revolution and help create it. Please share your ideas and comments below so we can start a dialogue about the digital renaissance and our role in it.
For further reading on the media shift, see this Slate.com article, the PBS ‘Media Shift’ Blog, the Poynter Institute’s ‘NewsPay’ blog and Charlotte-Anne Lucas’ blog.
I recently moved to Northern California, among other reasons, to focus on journalism. Most people think I’m crazy for quitting a perfectly good (although temporary) job while millions are getting…