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February 28 2012

17:00

What Will Bring More Attention to the Civic Value of Journalism?

For this month's Carnival of Journalism I am going to invoke the rule of "no apologies" and change the question a bit. Host Steve Outing asks: "What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead?"

I don't think it will be a technology, but an experience. And what will "save" journalism might not be the experience of consuming journalism.

This is an ongoing thought that comes from the second (or third) time I met Michael Maness when he was at Gannett and he talked about human-centered design and the way people relate to their communities. In short -- people relate more to the local businesses they frequent than they do the civic institutions nearby.

If you asked me where I lived in Oakland, I would tell you, "I live across the street from Bakesale Betty's." If you lived anywhere in Oakland then you knew exactly where I lived based on this reference. Everybody knows Bakesale Betty's.

The irony, however, is that I also lived across the street from the Temescal Library. Not just any library, but a Carnegie library. This is a building designed to be communal and civic. I tested this: If I told you I lived by the Temescal library, I'd get stares and a request for further information. "You know, right by Bakesale Betty's" --_ AHHH, I know where you live_, they'd respond.

carn.jpg

This is not a good or bad thing. It's just the thing. But this has consequences. I suspect if Bakesale Betty and the library had competing fundraisers, Betty would outperform the library tenfold.*

A few years later, I've moved to Berkeley.

I now live by a Thai Temple. One would think this would suffer the same fate of the library. It is a communal building, a civic building. Its appeal is seemingly narrow.

But every Sunday the Thai Temple serves brunch. Not just a lame brunch. We are talking a four-star Yelp brunch (474 reviews!). The first sentence of the first review nails it: "There are no words to describe the sense of community you feel when you go to the Thai Buddhist temple for brunch." Come for the brunch -- be nourished by the sense of community. Civic mission accomplished!

When I tell people I live by the Thai Temple they know exactly where I live (although I often have to say "Thai Brunch" for them to really know what I'm talking about).

What is saving the Thai Temple isn't the "Temple" but the experience the community has with it that centers around purchasing food. If that Thai Temple were in peril, people would rally behind it, Buddhist or otherwise.

Local news organizations need to find their Thai Brunch -- so do libraries. In fact, libraries have their "brunch." What I neglected to mention is that the Temescal library (and the new library I live by in Berkeley) both have extensions that are "tool lending libraries." In my experiments telling people I lived by the library, if I focused on the "tool lending" library, people were more likely to know where I lived. It might not be serving their direct "library" mission -- but by creating a tool lending center, both libraries are more central in the community.

So back to Steve's question: "What emerging technology or digital trend do you think will have a significant impact on journalism in the year or two ahead?"

Journalism has a value just as libraries do. But that inherent value doesn't have mass appeal. The question is: Can we find something, a game, an experience, a product whose value proposition draws people in and, as a result, brings more attention to the civic value of journalism? Meanwhile -- can that game/experience/product create money both to sustain itself and perhaps flow into the journalism?

We are still in the early stages of the Spot.Us/Public Insight Network merger, but increasingly this is on my mind. It's great that people will contribute to specific reporting endeavors. But those who are doing this are perhaps narrow. They are the same people who might give to NPR or any other nonprofit news organization. We want to create an experience that draws people in for something different.

It's an experience that will have a significant impact on journalism. That experience will be enabled by technology, true, but that's not what people will remember or why they'll get hooked. I don't know if it'll come in the next two years, and I don't know 100% what it will look like. But I do think that's how we'll define it.

*This is not to pick on Betty who everyone knows is awesome, lets people sell the Street Sheet and/or panhandle right in front of her store. She also gives away free ice lemonade sometimes. So don't think I'm trying to pick on you, Betty -- and please continue to hook it up!

A version of this post first appeared here.

April 28 2011

17:57

Live-Blog at RJI: Fellows Share Lessons from Spot.Us, NoozYou

COLUMBIA, MO. -- I am live-blogging from the Reynolds Journalism Institute, which is holding a week-long RJInnovation Week. It's a chance for the Institute to look at an incredible number of projects and ideas that are flowing through the organization. Today is focused on the 2010-11 class of RJI fellows. Each fellow gets 45 minutes to present what they worked on for the last nine months. (Note: I am an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and was in the first class of RJI fellows in 2008-09.)

rjinnovationweek.jpg

David Cohn - Did That Really Happen?

Carnival of Journalism
Cohn brought this blog roundup back. It went on for about a year in 2007 and was a group of journalism bloggers who would write about the same topics together. This was back in the day before Twitter really took off and the best way to talk back in the day. Dave asked if he could have carnivalofjournalism.com URL and brought it back

Cohn established existing and new rules:

  1. Never apologize (new)
  2. A different host every month (this starts next month - Cohn ran the first three months on his own)
  3. Everyone publishes to their own blog around the same time about the host's topic (This month's topic is #fail: your failure and take responsibility for it)
  4. Host does a round-up of everyone's posts

It became a hashtag on Twitter: #jcarn
On average there were 40 participating bloggers in the first three months. Many of the participants took part in Hardly Strictly Young event at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Hardly Strictly Young
This event was focused on alternative recommendations to implement the Knight Commission report. It came out after Cohn attended the Aspen Institute where many thought leaders tried to go from the idea phase to the implementation phase. Some of the recommendations weren't the first things that came to Cohn's mind, so he thought it would be a great idea to create an alternate group of people who are not considered at the centers of power but are creating their own centers of power.

Lots of love and a good time was had by all. Interviews were conducted with the participants along with a live broadcast which was archived. One of the overall hits was catsignal.org and a twitter account was started during this event.

Community Funded Reporting Handbook
This is looking at different players in the space - including broad fundraising platforms. Kickstarter, gojo, crowdtap, kachingle, youcapital, emphas.is

Chapters include:
Primer on Crowdfunding

Art of the pitch

Introduction to other players

Process of Screening

Licensing considerations

Glossary of terms

Audience perspective

Journalism concerns

It will be released as a "book" format and downloadable online.

Spot.us
What does this represent? It's an experiment, a new transparency and collaboration in journalism. In many respects he says where it was as a Knight News Challenge, it was an experiment to see if there is life out there. He says, yes, there are signs of life. The rover was sent out and it was worthwhile experiment back in the day. The big problem now is scale. It isn't a unique problem. It's a problem for many startups. Can you build up enough traffic to get larger and larger.

During his time at RJI, he did more professional redesigns by cleaning it up. He's seeing regular growth The number of registered users has jumped above 10,000 and continues to grow. It doubled from 6,000 to 10,000 since September. 54 percent of the members (5,436) are donors.

His passion: The difference between how it worked and how it is now working. Back in th day you could only help by giving credit card payments. That worked for almost two years. It worked but they had about one percent donating. He wanted to come up with alternatives. Now there's more.

You can click on "free credits" where you provide an act of engagement - provide anonymous feedback to the sponsor. Then you get to fund a story and decide where to fund it. It's kind of like advertising, the public gets to decide where the money goes.

Spot.us launched the first community sponsored credits. There was an immediate spike in participation and donations each month.

Need to verify:
IN the last 12 months, 4,797 unique donations (compared to 1,000 or so in the first year). 4,379 have participated by taking a survey. There is an overlap between those two numbers. 20-25 percent of donors are repeat donors. (That's jumped up thanks to the surveys)

Spot.us sponsorship kits. That's the hardest thing to do. Cohn has been able to raise about $5,000 a month. He worked with students to come up with a sponsorship kit and come up with unique materials to present to potential sponsors.

They're working on more market research on the readers to help with sponsorships. They're selling acts of engagements. Examples:
Jeans - if you take a survey you could also get a coupon. Acts of engagement that help connect with Facebook and Twitter where you share the experience you just had with the sponsorship experience on Spot.us. The results of the survey can become a topic of conversation if the sponsor is willing to let the survey go public.

Increased consumer feedback could play a role in this. (A good example is how people provide feedback on products on Amazon. Spot.us members could try it too.)

Pictures of the Year archive photos - community members could help tag the photos to help with the POY database and earn credits for each photo and help POY's archives.

Outsourcing surveys - His major bottleneck is he has to sell them himself. What if he incorporated already existing surveys. So far, he has found Research for Good. It's a startup as well and can't embed polling technology on Spot.us yet. That would dramatically decrease the challenge of sales for the site.

Increase pitches by expanding the API. They're going to be on PRX's website and even on a Louisville NPR affiliate site. Spot.us may not even be officially visually connected. If someone is signed up on their site, it is automatically linked to Spot.us, they may never know it was links to Spot.us. That would dramatically increase the number of pitches in the system.

Working with a business class. He benefitted by working with business students and created the "Spreadsheet of Amazing." He was able to create different scenarios. He decided to increase the take of Spot.us from donations from 5 to 10 percent. Huge benefit for the site. This looks at the benefit of hiring more people. For a long term plan, it looks like the best way to go. There are all kind of early numbers, but it looks smart to hire a sales person and it will grow.

Strategic options for Spot.us

Boldness Scale
1 - consider it a successful experiment. Extrapolate lessons until funds run dry

3 - Continue as open source lab experiment with incremental additional effort. Would require a sustaining grant in late 2011 early 2012 ton continue pace

7 - Scale aggressively remain not-for-profit

10 - spin off as a for-profit

He thinks the ingredients are all there and can make a meal out of it.

NYT subscription model. They're the whale. But they're asking people for money and it isn't for access. They're a step towards a membership program. It's convenience or ignorance. The two things Spot.us is doing can be operated by NYT. When you get a pay meter/wall what if you created acts of engagement to give the reader an opportunity to read five more articles. Or let the members engage with the paper to contribute content or thought to the product.

Most important - if it can be scaled and tangible. The concept is much bigger than any implementation he can do. The concept has potential to work with any product if money is exchanged for

Who are your donors? Why do they want to play?
Many of the surveys help gather demographics. It's almost 50/50 male/female. 67 percent defined as liberal and most are on the West coast. For a month an a half, Spot.us had more traffic in the midwest (during the Wisconsin protests). It's similar to NPR demographics but scales 10 years younger. It scales caucasian. Average income is $75,000. It's encouraging that he can answer these questions.

First time donors are often there because they have a direct connection to the reporter. Repeat donors say they want to feel connected to their community. Those who do come back have civic minded purpose.

Scalability - making it more transparent and more participatory. Spot.us is an implementation of that concept. We normally don't let the public understand the cost of what happens before a story. Opening a part of journalism could be implemented by any organization. Spot.us is one way to do it. Let people know what is most important to them, they the journalists will know how to serve them.

OpenFile.ca is the for profit version of Spot.us. It does require mental shifts of how we think about our role in journalism and as journalists.

If you really focused on the concept and not the site, could it advance journalism? The API is Cohn's way of saying Spot.us is not a destination site. He doesn't want that to be the case. The high growth view of the Spot.us requires other sites to implement the technology into their own site. He's always evangelized the concept of community funded journalism, not Spot.us. The handbook will be useful for independent journalists who are freelancing. But he agrees this is a cultural shift.

What stories get funded?
From the first year data: Civics and politics were not popular. Criminal justice was very popular. He isn't sure if there's enough data to really know. He'd like to look more into it.

Have you seen any attitude change while you were here?
Crowdfunding is becoming more of an accepted concept. There is still much more education to be done.

Mentioned in the group - look at the TED model. It has played the ends of exclusivity and openness.

Anne Derryberry - Games and Journalism: An Epic Win?

Everybody's Talking the Game
Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR is quoted saying "This is the decade of the game layer." Business leaders and beyond are seeing the trends and opportunities for games and their applications.

Compelling Factoids:

  • Videogames are #1 category for consumer/end-using spending (PWC)
  • $10.5B in US in 2009 (was 11.7B in 2008) (ESA)
  • 10.6% CAGR for 2010-2014 (PWC)
  • Global market - $70.1B by 2015 (KPCB)

The reason this is true is because of the widespread appeal of games to all ages. The average age of a gamer is 34 (ESA). 45-60 year old women are the fastest growing demographic. 67 percent of Americans play games (ESA).

The rise of social games and Facebook-based games are a principal reason behind this rise. Most games are being played with social networking, tables, mobile, broadband access.

Games are fun, but what are the other compelling reasons to use them? Games play mechanics and rewards (usually embedded within a web- or mobile site). It helps: promote brand awareness, adoption and attachment
Induce participation

raise comprehension and retention

make tedious content/activities seem less odious

What does this have to do with journalism? Ian Bogost at Georgia Tech is quoted from Newsgames: Journalism at Play: "We shouldn't embrace games because they seem fun or trendy, no because they dumb down the news but because they can communicate complex ideas differently and beter than writing and pictures and film. Games are raising the bar on news, not lowering it."

It's been echoed in many spaces. Kotaku (a game review publication) writer, Brian Crescente wrote "wouldn't it be wonderful , for instance, if [there were] News Games for The Daily, allowing readers to not just passively absorb the news."

How Far Can We Take This?
Bring some clarity to the thinking behind this conversation.

So she put together a prototype: NoozYou - a game driving news outlet
It focuses on three types of News - current events, issues and editorial. You can create tools that are available for people who are going to develop these categories of games.

You need a platform for people to find these kinds of products. It should offer access, community engagement and management along with a workflow process.

How is this paid for? Are there revenue models that can come out of this? Advertising and licensing is needed. All of these questions weren't able to be tackled during a nine month proces.

They focused on the current events category for news telling. There are already a few games developed under this category, but current events was a bit more tricky. They adopted tools, built their own platform and the revenue model is still under construction.

It Takes a Village
She worked with an external development for the platform. Incoming fellow Peter Meng helped put this together. She brought in a tool from Impact Games "Play the News" for authoring story/games. Newsy agreed to be a media partner. Students helped become a news team (convergence capstone team), SEO team (interactive advertising team) and many different people attended game salons.

13 story games were produced in a short amount of time. You can look at it all on the NoozYou site. It is a prototype but is rich with content.

Players get to look at the last 10 stories published on Newsy.com and then vote about which topics they'd like to see made into a game. Not a lot of stats just yet, but it could be great background data for media suppliers. You can see the top three vote getters. You get to "noozify" them.

News quizes are published weekly based on news events. Questions and feedback come from Newsy content. When you answer one of the quiz questions, you get feedback that tells you if you answered properly. If you need help, you get to watch the video.

The site has user comments and they are already getting feedback. Most happens on the noozYou site and on individual games. Most people who wrote comments were positive about their experience. There were some recommendations and suggestions for changes. Anonymous survey turned up rich feedback for the site and helpful for what needs to happen next.

By the numbers: So far it's a two month experiment.The site went up at the end of February for the game developer conference, but no promotion at first. There's been a nice bump recently with a more stable platform. So far, there's an absolute unique of 1539 which Derryberry considers very encouraging. Only 50 percent were first time. That means most people are coming back to participate in the site. Users come from 30 countries/territories visited the site.

Big questions remain:
New template?

The Play the News template constrains the type of games you can create. They'd like to look at new templates might be appropriate for the site.

How do they handle original reporting?

She decided not to do that because it would require stories that would be hyper local with a limited audience outside of the geographic regions. She wanted content that would encourage mass use. Also, it would require a generation of a lot of media. But it's something she's like to tackle.

What kinds of advergames are most effective?

Advertising and Advergames is a hot topic, but noozYou hasn't deeply explored this so far.

What is the right rubric for journalytics to ensure good journalism experience design?

She believes in data driven design. Right now she has marketing data, but she wants more. How do you generate the right interactions for news consumers. That hasn't even gotten started.

Most Important Lessons
Use game techniques - but dump the moniker. There continues to be a knee-jerk negative response to the word "game." Many people feel as though it indicates the cheapening of the news experience. If there's another label to put on this, adoption will grow quickly. Let the contest begin.

News-telling in this way fores and increased awareness of users' journalism experience (JX) - The kind of rigor that is required to tell news stories forces an even greater awareness of what is happening on the recipient end of the communication equation. You really have to think about the news consumption experience. It makes the storyteller think deeper.

Ever more powerful news-telling and analysis potential by focusing on journalism experience. You can enhance the kind of news telling and analysis of the news. You can immerse people into the story (with the goal of not drowning). You give the consumer the control - a non-linear (even non-chronological) narrative. Take in the story in the way that makes most sense to the individual. You can make assumptions, but the consumer will make the call. By chunking content in manageable ways and organizing it in logical ways on a single screen and successive screens, we give them the ability to create the experience. As troubling as that may seem to some, that experience may be non-linear and non-chronological. It will happen through the interactive pathways offered by the information designer. This is a storytelling format that allows all of the multimedia opportunities and multi-channel opportunities. Many substories can be followed and tracked. The interactivity and choices given to the users, they can jump back and forth and follow their muse as they track through the stories. A cross media experience is a great benefit for users and the flexibility they have in the stories told. It's also the big challenge for the creators of the delivery.

Next steps for noozYou -
Revise and extend

Platform, tools, services

-- high school/HED journalism programs

-- commercial license - it could be white labeled for media outlets of all kinds

-- content aggregation and syndication of stories and games

The Power of One to the Many
-Massively Multi-participant Online Collaborations (MMOC) - she sees a great opportunity for us all to collaborate to make the noozYou concept happen. With the rise of social media and other tools. There are lots of skunkworks projects where people are coming together to solve problems together as a society. Some are organized (Wikipedia, Crisis Camp), some are not.

-massive group problem-solving

-using interactive design and game mechanics

-informed and facilitated by journalism

David Herzog - OpenMissouri
Herzog spent his fellowship focused on launching a website that will help bring more awareness and access to government data.

He launched the site OpenMissouri.org on March 17th during Sunshine Week and also held Open Missouri Day at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

So many sites are out there with a look at open records, but many have some data, but not a lot of context. Herzog says the Sunshine Foundation is doing great work helping open up federal government records. The advent of Web 2.0 has really helped make it more possible to share, search and learn from data.

Whatdotheyknow.com helps you see Freedom of Information requests, in England, MuckRock is a very open look at search and records.

The big question:
How do we use simple, freely available technology to connect citizens and journalists with public data?

Features
Catalog: Nearly 150 data sets listed

Search

Comprehensive MO department listing: 19

There is no comprehensive state contact list for Sunshine requests. You can do that on OpenMissouri.

It's five weeks old and currently has 35 registered users. The site's automated Sunshine letters will make it a lot easier to request data.

More features

Suggest a data set - users can suggest the collection of a data set. If you hear about a data set, click submit and the managers of OpenMissouri, it's reviewed and verified.

Commenting -

Potential enhancements -
Upload a dataset to share with other people. The primary goal is not for OpenMissouri to be a place to get data, it's a place for people to share data and make sure more people can get access to the information gathered.

APIs (application programming interfaces) to share catalog and agency information some day. It would help programmers interact with the data collected on the site - especially the agency list.

Develop a site and social media activity stream. You'd be able to see what new interactions have happened on the site about user activity.

How-to materials - Tips on how to file a Sunshine request, what to do when the agency ignores your request or says no.

Jennifer Reeves worked in television news for the majority of her career. In the last six years, she has moved from traditional journalist to non-traditional thinker about journalism and education. Jen is currently the New Media Director at KOMU-TV and komu.com. At the same time, she is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and was a part of the inaugural class of Reynolds Journalism Institute fellows (2008-09).

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March 29 2011

13:00

Why the New York Times' Pay Model is Similar to NPR and Spot.Us

From the launch of Spot.Us, I've always said the following:

  • Anyone can tackle the crowdfunded journalism model. In fact, NPR could do it tomorrow and blow me out of the water. It's just about being transparent and giving up control over how donation money gets spent.
  • This model would have more success at the national or international level.
  • This model would have more success if a known brand took the lead. (Again, I always tend to cite NPR.)
There has been much opining about the New York Times pay wall that went up this week. I was quoted in a Neiman Lab post on the topic; I wrote about it for the Reynolds Journalism Institute, where I'm currently a fellow; and I was a guest on WNPR, an NPR station in Connecticut, to discuss the topic with other news professionals.

Here's one thing that I previously haven't said publicly: Whether or not they know it, and without identifying it as such, the New York Times has taken a big step towards the NPR model. And that puts them just a stone's throw away from the Spot.Us model. In some respects, I actually think they are closer and more likely to pull it off than NPR.

Subscription Plan Isn't About Access

Let's start by calling a "duck" what it is. The "pay wall" is not a "wall." It's incredibly porous. A savvy reader can find a dozen ways around it, from finding a Tweet of the story you're interested in to removing part of the Times' URL. In other words, the subscription plan is not about access. People that think the fee is about access are the same folks who think they have to pay AOL for Internet access in order to keep their AOL email address. Savvy readers will know it isn't about "access" but rather something else. For starters, it benefits the print subscribers, who pay less for digital access than all-digital subscribers. Fair enough.

But I am willing to bet a LOT of people will pay for a "subscription" not for access and not because it comes with their print subscription, but for something else.

Donation Driven Journalism

If there is one thing that Press+ has taught us (aside from the fact that really rich folks can hype up a technology product and sell it off for millions of dollars) it's that, yes, people will pay for news even if access to is never truly restricted. That's a limited audience/market, but it exists. Interestingly enough, the price point doesn't matter as much as one would think. That audience will pay $5 if you ask, and they'll pay $15 if you set that as the benchmark.

National Public Radio has known about this small market for a LONG time. I could have told you this within 10 minutes of launching Spot.Us. But at least today we can see it as more of a given for the conversation. There is an audience that will pay for content. It's small, and not a replacement for advertising, but it's there.

The NYTimes.com subscription plans are not enough to sustain the entire organization, but it is a new revenue stream that didn't exist before. You can call it a "pay wall" or a "metered wall" but, again, I think we should call a duck a duck. This is a donation system, plain and simple. News organizations don't want to refer to "metered walls" as "donations," and I understand why. I'm happy to stroke their hair as they cry into their ink-stained hands. We can call it whatever they want, but it's a donation because there is no HARD reason for anyone to pay it other than because they want to or are too uninformed about how to get around it.

A Modest Proposal

Assuming the New York Times doesn't want its future tied to the technical ignorance of the masses the way AOL currently does with its dial-up customers, the next question is: What can the Times give to its new donors? As Dave Winer and Steve Outing have both said:

"Wouldn't it have been wise to, at this juncture, offer something to sweeten the deal. Something truly exciting and new that you get when you pay the money. Something that makes your palms sweat and your heart beat faster?" (Dave Winer)
Tote bags? Bumper stickers? Membership to a wine of the month club (with wine reviews from the Times sent along with every bottle)?

These incentives are necessary because the Times needs to find other ways to keep a paying customer on board. Where one month somebody might pay, the next they'll slap their face and say, "Why am I doing this? It's certainly not for access."

These tote bag gifts mimic NPR fundraising. But let's think even further. What could be an incentive that would increase transparency and participation in journalism and not cost the NYT organization infrastructure costs (ie: purchasing and shipping thousands of tote bags)?

Imagine if along with every $15 monthly "metered access" payment a NYTimes.com reader also got five NYT Points. After three months they've accumulated 15 NYT Points. Those points can then be used to vote on topics, areas of coverage, or redeemed for the tote bag mentioned above (an excellent plan B).

Again, NPR could do this tomorrow, except -- believe it or not -- NPR is a bureaucratic nightmare when it comes to how donations are handled. Remember, each NPR station is unique and the mothership NPR, aside from being caught in a culture war, is not allowed to fundraise from individuals the way independent stations are.

But the Times doesn't have this hangup. Whether they admit it or not, they've begun fundraising efforts this week. So will the NYT find something to make it fun for donors? Or do they think that the false claim to "access" is enough?

Opportunity to Interact with the Times Community

I think there are a lot of smart folks at the Times and they'll be watching how people react and pay/don't pay for this subscription system. For those that do pay it one month the question is, will they continue to pay? For that, they need to be purchasing something. Call them "NYT Points," call it "NYT Membership" -- I don't care. But I think a part of it should include giving those members a stake in how the funds from their subscription are spent.

In other words, there could be a new sense of transparency and participatory control in how a news organization spends its funds. With their new metered pay wall, the NYT is just one incy-wincy step away from cracking the code to crowd-funded journalism. Why do I want to pay my $15 this month? Because then I can vote on next month's NYT coverage. This would be the NYT using a kind of Spot.Us model.

And if that day ever comes, you won't find anyone happier than me.

February 22 2011

14:00

Help Spot.Us Find a Path to Financial Sustainability

Spot.Us recently launched a new design, so this is an opportune time to write a "State of the Spot" post -- something we haven't done since the website was six months old. I hope to lay out how far we've come and what's on our plate and make a call to arms to the Spot.Us community and anyone else interested in the future of journalism.

In the two years since our site has launched, we've funded over 160 projects with the help of 5,000 contributors, a fifth of whom contributed more than once. We've done this in collaboration with 95 organizations, and our reporting projects have won eight journalism awards.

In short, we're making a difference. Whether it's funding FOIA requests, exposing the lies of a sheriff, or providing a deeper understanding of those less fortunate in our society, the stories we fund make a difference.

I earnestly believe in the power of an informed democracy. The guiding principle at Spot.Us is to make the process of journalism more transparent and participatory -- not merely to inform but to engage. Our site is a testament to the notion that people can take ownership over their information needs if there is a platform to support it.

Partnerships make our impact bigger. Take Oakland Local, for example, which has invested $700 into Spot.Us pitches and received $7,000 worth of reporting in return. Whether it's Mother Jones, The UpTake, WitnessLA or the myriad news organizations (many of them non-profit or community-based) we've collaborated with, our collective efforts allow stories to gain a wider audience, and we empower partnering organizations to do the fearless reporting that our communities need.

Room for Improvement

With all that said, I'm not satisfied. As Clay Shirky noted, our communities can become rife with "casual endemic corruption" if we don't figure out how to keep the public informed and engaged. The Spot.Us platform can and will improve to continue this fight.

Our redesign is an example of forward momentum, and now it's time to tackle the next hurdle: How can Spot.Us become a fully sustainable organization and increase the number of stories we support? Although 2011 looks to be promising, I'm already taking time to look to 2012 and beyond.

Running a startup organization means making choices. This is my attempt to explain to the Spot.Us community, journalists, and others who follow us what choices I'm debating, what obstacles we're facing, and to ask for your advice.

One of the biggest Spot.Us. opportunities is its unique sponsorship model. I've written about this at length before -- from announcing the idea to launching it to seeing early success. As far as I know, we are the only media organization experimenting with the idea of letting the public manage our advertising budget. It's our budget, but your decision. In many ways, this idea is as revolutionary as Spot.Us itself. Community members can fund a story without spending any of their own funds. Meanwhile, sponsors get meaningful engagement from community members, which can turn into tangible return on investment. Our advertising is transparent, participatory and therefore jibes with the mission of Spot.Us to get the public involved in the process of journalism. We are just acknowledging that advertising is part of that process.

Our sponsorship feature has created an important revenue stream for Spot.Us. At the moment, however, it doesn't offset our burn rate. The challenge is getting enough sponsors when we have no sales team (my spare time doesn't really count). We also need to find the right sponsorships which will engage community members so they continue to come back. This is compounded because our model is unique. I haven't found a media planning and buying agency to take it on, even though I'm offering a higher-than-normal commission.

How You Can Help

Tackling this challenge is one of the things I'm working on during a good chunk of my remaining time at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Any help from a community member on the below action items would be greatly appreciated:

  1. Join Spot.Us and try our latest sponsored survey (free credits) and give me feedback on the experience. Take the challenge of doing the next three sponsorships we have planned (the next one will be sponsored by us to get feedback on how to better sell these).
  2. Help create the sales material for our sponsorship model -- maybe even find an individual or agency to take on the process of selling for a commission.

  3. Draft a long-term business plan with a road map for how Spot.Us would have to scale to become sustainable.
  4. Write a handbook for community-funded reporting, which would be a gift to the larger journalism community.
  5. And finally -- an A.P.I. with PRX, ASAP.

The Nitty Gritty

Allow me to elaborate. First, in regards to the material to sell sponsorships, our current sponsorship page doesn't do the concept justice. I can talk almost anyone's ear off about this model. We have some data about our users, but it hasn't been presented in any kind of media kit. Hopefully, a media planning/buying agency or an independent ad-sales person could use this material. I'm comfortable sharing a healthy commission, but we should provide them with the best sales material possible.

If you are an ad salesperson interested in working on an innovative project, let me know. If you want to contribute some pro-bono time to help us create the material, your karma will increase 13.6 points!

Up next is a business plan that shows a path to sustainability. I've played with some numbers and believe it's wholly possible if Spot.Us can grow its sponsorship model. It's a bit of a supply-demand issue. If we get more sponsorships (supply), I believe we can support more pitches and increase the number of surveys taken (demand). If either side falls short, we fail. At the moment, our demand is much higher than the supply. If somehow tomorrow we got our ideal number of sponsorships, I am not sure if we could hit the demand numbers, but I do believe these numbers are possible by 2012 with the right messaging and if the sponsorships are coming in regularly. The supply-demand conundrum is a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. If one side doesn't come through, the circle of life won't continue, and Spot.Us lets one side down.

The business plan I intend to lay out will show what numbers we'd need to hit on both sides to reach a sustainable equilibrium, one that funds stories, provides sponsors with an appropriate amount of engagement and leaves Spot.Us as a strong forward-leaning non-profit.

The community-funded reporting handbook is being led by Jonathan Peters, under my supervision. The handbook will be informed by Spot.Us experiences, but my hope is that it becomes a resource for anyone, regardless of a relationship to Spot.Us.

In regards to the application programing interface, it's important to remember that Spot.Us is not a news site but a news platform. In that same vein, we don't have to be a destination site. If partnering sites can use our back-end to fundraise for projects on their sites, then more power to them. But first we have a few technical hurdles to overcome.

Luckily, PRX is a willing guinea pig I mean, partner. ;) If we are able to create a seamless A.P.I. that integrates into a site, we can scale up the number of pitches (demand) Spot.Us has in its stables whenever we get a new sponsor. In some respects, this turns Spot.Us into a 21st-century advertising network in addition to inviting the public to support journalism.

So what now?

Obviously, we don't have a shortage of things to do. I remain encouraged both by the journalism community that supports our work and the public at large that has shown it supports quality reporting -- stories that need to be told, stories that can make a difference in the lives of individuals and the communities we live in.

Although that is exciting, I remain humbled and don't want to lose sight of what is at risk.

In the 1985 film "Brewster's Millions," Richard Pryor's character spends millions of dollars designing a room he could "die in." The designer goes through various iterations, each time getting closer and closer to the goal but never hitting the nail on the head. Eventually, the designer gets it right. This happens just as we find out the main character is broke, and an army of movers come to collect all the furnishings.

Aside from being one of my favorite comedians, Pryor, with the tip of his hat, touches on one of my biggest fears with Spot.Us. This new redesign leaves the site looking awesome. All the pieces are on the table, and the puzzle is coming together and beginning to show a beautiful image of a community-powered site. If Spot.Us isn't able to reach this dream, it would pain my heart, but I feel I could tip my hat in just the same way. Still, I feel we have a dragon by the tail and the tools in hand to bring it down.

Why I'm Sharing This

  1. Spot.Us as an experiment has always been about openness. As the journalism industry rants and raves about experimentation, I still don't see it happening, at least not at the level I think is possible. The more I can show what I'm doing -- the success, challenges, failures, and fears -- the more I hope others will follow, even if it's not "the industry" but rather lone and brave individuals. The water is fine, and I truly believe it is what we need.

  2. Somewhat selfishly, I think there are ways the Spot.Us community can help push us forward, especially with finding sponsors. Our current sales material is all here (it'll get better, promise), and we do offer a commission to anyone who lands a sponsor. I'm happy to give anyone the talking points.

  3. A similar plea is for any folks who want to dive into the numbers with me and come up with a long-term business plan and a proposal for funding. How I feel about the foundation world is a post in itself. Suffice it to say, it takes money to make money, and any funding we seek would have to abide by the old proverb of teaching people how to fish rather than giving them free meals. Again, we have a tangible revenue stream, but we need to shore up. As a non-profit, we can't get VC funding -- unless it's the kind the Texas Tribune gets), so we'd have to look to philanthropists.

I certainly can't predict what will happen. I never could. But that's what makes this an exciting ride and what I believe empowers the Spot.Us community. We've come this far only because you see value in our efforts. Together, we've funded meaningful stories in partnership with nearly 100 publications. I'm happy to say that I've seen many of them make a real impact in how our communities function.

I'm excited to tackle the future. I hope you'll be there with me


January 10 2011

17:07

Spot.Us Survey Shows Support for More Diverse Public Media

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy made 15 recommendations on how America can have a bright info-future. One of those recommendations was for increased support for public media predicated on public media efforts to "step up," for lack of a better term.

Public media has been on the minds and lips of a lot of Americans. Certainly the last few years have seen a growth in public media across the board from Corporation for Public Broadcasting entities (PBS, NPR) to less formal public media entities like PRX and PRI. Recently, as a follow-up to the work of the Knight Commission Barbara Cochran wrote a policy paper "Rethinking Public Media: Mort Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive." From the Knight Commission blog post:

At a time when government funding for public broadcasting is hotly debated, "Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive," a new policy paper by Barbara Cochran, offers five broad strategies and 21 specific recommendations to reform public media.


It's an excellent piece of reading that breaks down some of the roadblocks and opportunities that lay ahead for public media.

Beyond white papers, however, it's important that the public be able to speak their mind about public media. That's why, thanks to the support of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, the institutional home of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, Spot.Us surveyed 500 members about the state of public media in their community.

The goal was to find out where public media is strong, weak and what suggestions the public might have for public media. Not only did this survey raise awareness about the growing role of public media, it supported media as well. Every member of our community that took the survey was given $5 in credits to fund the story of their choice on our site.

And The Survey Says....

How Big Is Your Community?
Before we can examine the survey in-depth I should remind folks that this is a sponsored survey of a somewhat self-selecting community (and our community is perhaps more media-savvy than other websites). That said, our first question was aimed at getting a sense of where people lived. One of the trends we often hear is that major metropolitan areas are better served by public media than smaller locations. Our survey affirmed this.

Just over 60 percent of respondents were from major metropolitan areas. Another 17 percent were from large cities. Only a handful (12 percent) came from towns with a population of 50,000 or less. Our survey skewed toward major metropolitan areas and in total they were happier with public media than folks in more rural areas. This should be kept in the back of our minds when we dive into the remaining questions and answers.
Spot.Us community member Mike Labonte summed up the frustration with public media in small towns when he wrote his suggestion to improve public media in his town: "Presence. The only public media in my city of 70,000 is the local public access cable TV station."

The next question in our survey allowed for multiple answers: "Who has an influential role in shaping media in your area?" It's an important question to ask because while the ecosystem continues to change many charge public media with the role to unite various media forces together. The results of this question were proven interesting again; as much as things have changed -- they also stay the same.

Newspapers and national broadcast television were considered influential by the most respondents. Just over 75 percent of people who took the survey selected papers as being influential. Local bloggers garnered 188 votes or just 37 percent of those that took the survey. While that's still a hefty number, it was the lowest concrete choice (it performed better than "other") and came in just below "elected officials."
Community member Laurie Pumper noted: "One small but telling example: Public radio went out of its way to keep a citizen journalism organization from providing live-streaming of a gubernatorial debate in Minnesota. If an organization accepts public funding, I expect better cooperation with other sources of media."

Next we asked how people got involved in public media. The respondents had three overwhelming answers: Social media, the general website and donating. The overlap between these three was also very strong. Almost everyone who said they donated engaged through the website and social media. Although the reverse trend was not as strong (i.e. somebody who engaged through social media might not donate), there was still a correlation.

In light of the number of respondents who said they volunteer or worked for public media, the number of people who attended events at their local public media station seemed a little low. Getting out the word can be very important as community member Ben Melançon said: "Dedicating the resources to come and ask what's up, once a month. Taking matters of interest common to multiple local areas they cover and doing very in-depth reports on them."
Next we got to the heart of the survey: How effective is public media at serving the needs and interests of diverse members of the community? While the responses to this aren't an abysmal failure, it does show large room for improvement. A total of 11 percent thought public media in their community was doing a poor job of reflecting diversity. The vast majority of responders selected either "good" (33 percent) or "fair" (32 percent). Because these two combine for 65 percent of all responders it's worth examining the exact language of these answers:
  • Fair -- There are occasional examples of diverse programming, but it's not the norm.
  • Good -- While not perfect, there are obvious efforts to make programming more inclusive.

While these lukewarm answers were the majority only a handful of responders thought public media was doing an "excellent" or "very good" job of reflecting a community's diversity.
And then came the meatiest question: "How well do public media do of informing you about local issues?"

Again we find mixed results, but the overall trend was positive. A majority 69 percent said public media was doing either "average" or "above average" at covering local issues. While it's great to see so few select "poor" (six percent) or "below average" (17 percent), there is still lots of room for improvement when we note that only 8 percent of responders thought public media was doing "fantastic."

In an interesting contrast with an earlier comment, community member Alexis Gonzales said this about the size of a town:

Because I live in a large city, news media -- including public media -- just don't cover 'neighborhood' issues. Frankly, I stopped expecting them to do otherwise until I spent time in smaller-but-not-that-much-smaller city (Portland for example) and noticed how public media seemed so much closer to and integrated into the local community. I think public media could do a better job of covering local issues by reconsidering what is newsworthy ... i.e., neighborhood issues can be of broader interest to the greater community.



Taxes

The survey also threw in a playful question regarding taxes. Since public media's funding has been a topic of discussion, why not ask the public what they think? The question was arguably loaded, but still worth asking.

The exact language was: "British citizens are taxed $80.36 a year to support the BBC. United States citizens are taxed only $1.36. Knowing it would mean more taxes you believe the following." Then respondents could decide if they wanted to lower taxes to $0 or raise them to "beat the British."

This question was asked in part to educate, since many people don't realize how little our media is subsidized by taxes compared to other countries and in part to provoke responses around a hotly debated topic.

About 20 percent of responders thought the taxes should stay the same or even be lowered to $0. Nearly half thought of expanding the taxes a little either doubling it to $2.70 or expanding it to $30. And perhaps because of how the answer was worded  ("Let's beat the British") a whopping 34 percent wanted to raise taxes to $80.37 to fund public media. Either the Spot.Us community has lots of public media fans or a reminder that the British public media is out-funding ours 80-to-1 was too much to bear. (Also note 49 individuals who took the survey work for public media according to their answers to question #3).


From the public's mouth

Finally, our last open-ended question sought advice and input about how public media could improve at the local level. We received 500 responses and below I have republished some of the best with the survey respondents' permission.

Wendy Carrillo

I live in East LA / Boyle Heights. It's very rare that good positive stories are told about my community via TV news. LA Times covers some good stories, but it's not the norm. I would like to see my community being covered w/ national issues other than immigration. Like Latinos who serve in armed forces, or those who are making a difference in the classroom.

Tom Davidson

Engage the emerging local blogosphere -- providing them promotion/audience and, potentially, revenue via bundled sales using the bully pulpit of public media. In other words, why can't a local PBS or NPR station serve the same role as a TBD.com in Washington?

Tim Gihring

They could spice up the reporting. The no rant/no slant approach is appropriate, but the reporting is often simple, dry, and probably not engaging as broad an audience as possible as a result.

Henry Jenkins

Right now, Los Angeles seems poised to lose its PBS station, which is going independent. This is a good news, bad news situation. Some of its best current projects are local and these will continue and grow. But we will also lose some of the programs from PBS which we have come to expect and they will be missed.

Ruth Ann Harnisch

Deploy the resources of journalism majors and graduate students in the many universities and colleges located in and around the major metro areas. Collaborate with universities and colleges to cover more beats, produce more stories, create more outlets, uncover more potential advertisers and train better journalists.

Tom Stites

My community, Newburyport, Mass., is an hour north of Boston, a half hour south of Portsmouth, N.H., and an hour and 10 minutes south of Portland, Maine. I listen to public radio from all three, and no one covers Newburyport or its surrounding area. In fact, we're in a fringe reception area for all the stations. What would be really cool would be to have a low-power, listener-supported station right here in Newburyport. There's a local AM station that plays old music but has no local news presence.
Perhaps where I live makes me an outlier, but I suspect that my situation is quite common -- most public radio stations are in big cities or on university campuses in smaller places. That said, most smaller communities, including mine, don't have colleges.

Jake Bayless

Public media is largely the only not-for-profit trusted local and regional source of info, and source of curated content. I'd like to see that trust "capital" realized -- my local station is in the process of retooling for the new media revolution -- it's not easy to change the battleship's direction. More and amplified info like that from the Knight Commission needs to be put out there. The public at large doesn't yet understand how vital public media SHOULD be in their lives as info consumers. Public media orgs all should adopt "Community Media Projects" in order to learn, listen and meet the information and democratic needs of the communities they serve... everything else is broken, untrustworthy or unsuitable.

Arthur Coddington

Awareness that public media is frequently a partnership between national providers (NPR) and local stations. Those that don't understand this partnership can dismiss the programming as not locally relevant. Visibility. Police who are present and interacting with local residents can generate greater trust and participation in public safety. Similar thing could be true of public media. If they are visible -- if they are not "they" -- then we feel more connected to the stories, more possibility to reach out to them when new issues arrive, etc. Engagement. Partner with schools, libraries and service orgs to unearth essential local stories, create broadcasts about them, and follow up to track impact.

Andria Krewson

Be more aggressive about giving up old ways (and sometimes long-time staffers) to free up resources and time to explore new ways of sharing information. Note on the tax question: I'd support more taxation for public media, but I'm discouraged about the track record used to spend tax money recently and would need total transparency (and some influence) on how money is spent in order to support more taxation.

Chris Mecham

We have a very active NPR-supporting community here but the simple fact is that they are charged with providing service to a huge, mountainous geographic area and while we may, as a community, have an above average rate of contribution, we also have greater infrastructure expenses than many other areas. Considering what Boise State Public Radio does with their resources I think they are doing okay. One of the features of public broadcasting funding in Idaho is that up to a fairly generous limit our contributions are counted as a tax credit. Not a deduction. A credit. "Do I want to give Butch Otter my money or do I want to give Terry Gross my money? Hmmmm."

Lisa Morehouse

Experiment. Be willing to try and fail at new shows, new ways of delivering the news. Invest in reporting. Pay freelancers a fair wage so that journalists without financial support can enter and stay in the profession (not possible now).

Bill Day

Public media should pioneer efforts to build real-time citizen journalist networks. Using low cost distribution and collation tools, public media could become hubs for high-quality, low cost information sharing -- school test scores, water quality, traffic needs, etc.

Sabine Schmidt

Through reaching out to organizations and individuals representing under-served parts of the community, especially economic and ethnic minorities. The demographic makeup of my metro area is changing rapidly due to growing Hispanic, Marshallese, and Hmong populations; except for some Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations, few media outlets report on issues such as immigration, wage theft, bilingual education, etc. Public media could a) report more extensively on those topics -- not as "minority" issues but as issues affecting members of our community; this would require b) establishing a broader definition of what our community is; and c), public media could offer internships and fellowships to young and/or freelance journalists, especially because the local NPR station is run by the university's journalism department.

Antonio Roman-Alcala

I like the Bay Citizen model, and the Public Press ... one for exposing local issues to a broader audience, the other for in-depth local news for locals. I don't know if that counts as public media? Overall, I don't pay much attention to TV news, even public channels...so I'm not sure about that. Public media seems generally underfunded; I'd like to see more funding for it, as well as movement towards a more public-serving private news media (though we know, of course, that's easier said than done).

Alexis Gonzales

Because I live in a large city, news media -- including public media -- just don't cover "neighborhood" issues. Frankly, I stopped expecting them to do otherwise until I spent time in smaller-but-not-that-much-smaller cities (Portland for example) and noticed how public media seemed so much closer to and integrated into the local community. I think Public Media could do a better job of covering local issues by reconsidering what is newsworthy ... i.e. neighborhood issues can be of broader interest to the greater community.

Kaitlin Parker

Find positive happenings to report in communities that are typically only covered when something negative happens there.

Anthony Wojtkowiak

For lack of a better phrase, they need to grow some balls. My town in New Jersey is influenced by political boss George Norcross, the unions, and the mafia. And that's not even the corruption and hubris that goes on in the city itself. What our reporters really need is assertiveness training, media law training, and self-defense courses. But most of all, they need the courage to use all of that stuff.

Todd O'Neill

Our public radio and public television are separate entities that don't work together. Although our public radio is beefing up it's news reporting it seems simple to bring that reporting over to television. But public media is NOT JUST NPR and PBS. We have struggling cable public access community (no funding or support from the city) here and a number of online only community journalism operations (including a Knight grantee) that are all doing their own thing without coordination. Big Public Media (NPR/PBS) should be a leader to bring all of these "under the tent" and provide a real media public service to the community.

Charles Sanders


Actually, local issues aren't my concern. I wish public media reinforced its international coverage and improved its drama, comedy ... content. I envy the BBC.

Martin Wolff


As someone who listens to public media daily, it is sad that I have to try hard to think about a local issue being covered. In that respect, almost anything would improve the coverage as it feels almost, but not quite, non-existent. When local issues are covered they seemingly come in only two forms: 1. A feel good issue that is barely an issue and will create nearly zero discourse in the community. For example, holiday-lights festivals. 2. Wimpy. The interviewer/broadcaster will do nothing while two sides of an issue actively lie to the community and directly contradict each other. Fixing #1 is easy -- nobody really terribly cares, so we don't need 10 minutes of coverage about a mayor flipping the switch and lighting a tree up. Fixing #2 is harder. The public media must stand up for itself better and call out the guilty parties. The public media must step up its role as a sort of police officer of society and arrest those who break the rules.

Yvette Maranowski


ALWAYS retain vigorous capacity for citizen reporters. Fund them with equipment and training. People are busy now and have to work independently, but with lifelines keeping them connected to their media outlets. Use McChesney and Nichol's idea of $200 in tax credit going to every citizen, so that the citizen can donate their credit to whatever organization they choose -- such as journalistic ones. Constantly produce and air/publish material about the importance of journalism -- keep hitting the public with that message!

Andy Edgar


Survey people in the neighborhood for their backgrounds, locations and topics of interest, get them interested in issues that affect everyone. Focus on things like air and water quality, advice on picking up litter and why it's important not to litter, community events, getting to know neighbors' talents/skills, healthy alternatives to fast food and big box grocery stores. Community based ways to prevent crime/hate acts should be talked about explored and tried.

William Forbes


In my community (Minneapolis/St Paul, MN), "public" radio and television are HUGE cash cows. They do a good job and are influential but the real inclusive and diverse media that truly serve the under-represented populations of our area are Community Radio Stations, in particular KFAI. MN Public Television/NPR/MPR/PBS could do a much better job but they are more concerned with maintaining (and increasing) corporate and government funding than with covering issues that don't always have universal appeal.

Michael Hopkins

In its current state, public media is dangerous because it offers the illusion of complete objectivity and truth. Too many people listen to it uncritically because of this. I would like to see public media representatives ask much tougher questions of everybody and hire a much more diverse staff of journalists. The illusion will still be there, but it will match reality more closely.

Jeffrey Aberbach


My community now has a Patch website. It's too early to judge how successful it will be in reaching out to our diverse community, but so far it appears to be more successful than the established, corporate-owned media outlet in town (a poorly staffed small daily newspaper that generates little local content).

Jeddy Lin


In my area, despite being close to a large university, not much of a public media movement exists. A more visible public media would go a long way towards creating a more progressive, diverse community.

Kitty Norton


They could provide better coverage for schools. They seem to report statistics and not real life goings-on in our schools to the community.

Luke Gies


I don't have any television or newspaper service, so I am somewhat "self isolating" from our local media. I get most of my news from the Internet, so I think one area of improvement for local media would be to increase the content and improve the usability of their websites. That is more of an improvement in distribution than in "covering the issues," but distribution is a key component to the reporting of news.

November 23 2010

15:00

A handbook for community-funded journalism: Turning Spot.Us experience into lessons for others

In creating a new system to fund reporting directly by donations from a geographic or online community, Spot.Us broke some of the traditional rules of journalism — namely that reporting is funded through a combination of advertising dollars and subscriptions.

That was two years ago, and now a network of individual journalists and small news organizations are attempting to use Spot.Us as a model to find new ways to fund their work and strengthen their connections to the community. And what they need are a new set of rules.

As part of his fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, Spot.Us founder David Cohn is developing a handbook for community-funded reporting that will cover everything from how reporters can pitch stories to establishing partnerships in the community to learning whether crowdfunding is right for your project. I spoke with Cohn and Jonathan Peters, who are working together on the project. In their eyes, it’s as much an assessment of how Spot.Us methods work as it is a handbook.

“I don’t want it to evangelize Spot.Us,” Cohn told me. “I want it to evangelize the type of community-funded reporting of Spot.Us.”

Spot.Us has worked with more than 70 organizations, from MinnPost and Oakland Local to The New York Times. “In my experience so far, it’s been the journalism community that has been adopting the Spot.us model, not the journalism industry,” Cohn said.

Which is why the book will serve not only as a how-to, but also something of a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the (Community-Funded Journalism) Galaxy, pointing out what has (and hasn’t) worked for Spot.Us, introducing the new players in community journalism, new methods of generating funding and a helpful glossary of terms (the difference between micro donations, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing for instance).

What they did not want to do, Peters says, is try and create a paint-by-numbers book that applies the same method to every community. “The community-funded model relies wholly on a very local focus, not only in the reporting that sites provide, but also in the structure of the site,” Peters said, adding that what works for one site may not work for another.

Only a few months into the project (they expect to be done by the spring), Cohn and Peters have found that one of the biggest questions the handbook can answer is how to explain the way community-funded reporting — and Spot.Us — works. For their research the two are surveying reporters who have worked with Spot.Us to fund and report stories. “The most interesting thing to the two of us was the majority of reporters who talked to us could not give an elevator speech to someone who does not know what Spot.Us does,” Peters said.

Making a pitch to an editor and convincing groups of people to help pay for a story are different things — largely because reporters tend to think journalism should be supported simply because it’s journalism, Cohn said. This is where a little entrepreneurship and the art of the sale come in, teaching journalists to articulate their goal and show their work meets an identifiable need. Just as important as the pitch is knowing how much of a story to tease out when trying to get funding. Cohn said reporters need to show what an investigation could reveal instead of giving up all the information their story will hold. Why would anyone pay to fund your story if you tell them the whole thing during the pitch?

Becoming something of a salesman and being more transparent in reporting are part of a broader question the handbook will deal with: Is community-funded journalism right for you? Those considerations, along with the amount of time it takes to raise money for reporting and having regular interaction with the audience, are key to whether a reporter will be successful working in Spot.Us model, Peters said.

Just as important is being able to navigate the playing field. Peters said its important for journalists to be aware of the varying options for getting funding for the work, whether it’s Kachingle and Kickstarter or GoJournalism (for Canadians).

Cohn and Peters say they don’t expect the handbook to be the definitive resource on community-funded reporting, but they expect it can help people who are curious. (As far as the actual book part of the handbook, they expect to publish it online.) Cohn said a large part of what he does now is talk to others about how Spot.Us works and how it can be applied elsewhere. Now all of that will be in handy book form.

“The audience is — as far as we can tell — writing for reporters who want to work with people like Spot.us or GoJournalism, and don’t know what it’s like,” Peters said. “We can knock down barriers and misconceptions.”

November 16 2010

19:44

How Spot.Us Doubled Its Grant Money with Community-Focused Ads

There are many things that excite me about Spot.Us. One in particular, which I believe is part of our pathway to sustainability is "community-focused sponsorship" (CFS). It is the main thrust of my fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. My evolving view of advertising is becoming a passionate topic.

In some respects CFS gave me a needed shot of adrenaline into the Spot.Us project. If I'm not pushing boundaries and trying something new, I get bored. To date I still know of no other media entity trying anything exactly like it.

So what is community-focused sponsorship?
The quick version: We sell the sponsoring organization a form of engagement on our site (a quiz, survey, etc). Anyone who engages with the sponsor gets a slice of our sponsorship budget. They decide where the funds go. The sponsor gets the anonymized information from community members. Each side creates value for the other. Give it a whirl thanks to HP Partners PCRush.com. (To read more about the genesis of the idea, check out this blog post.)

When I first came up with the idea I approached the Harnisch Foundation for support. This is a foundation that considers news and information, among others, a priority. Bless their journalistic hearts. More-over they are interested in finding new models of sustainability. Bless their bold hearts.

When I told them about community-focused sponsorship I made a bold claim that, in truth, I wasn't 100 percent sure I could deliver on. I told them I could double the money they gave Spot.Us. I asked for $15,000. They gave us $20,000.

I'm happy to announce that not only did we double up on this larger figure, we've made $7,250, to spare -- for a total of $47,250.

What happened to the money?

Some of it went toward developing the infrastructure of our model. We already had a credit system on Spot.Us, but the database structure needed to be cleaned and a user-interface created, etc. I'll spare you the geekery so much as to say, it took some work, but it wasn't insane thanks to early thinking about our credit system and the fine work of CTO Erik Sundelof.

Some was used to prime the pump. When we got our first sponsorship from FreePress.net, we added some of our funds to extend the sponsorship. We even created a few of our own surveys/quizzes.

A worst case scenario of the Harnisch grant would have been if we had not sold any sponsorships. In that case -- this would be like many other grants that fund content -- except instead of deciding how the funds would get spent internally, Spot.Us was looking to engage community members to make that decision. Still worth it in my humble opinion. Whereas most non-profit news organizations that get grants decide internally (the publisher makes the call) how to spend the money, we looked to the community.

I triple-dog-dare any major non-profit news organization to take a little of their foundation budget on the side and let the community vote on how it should be spent. (Oh no he didn't just bust a triple-dog-dare!)

kitten_money.jpg

So how did we double up?

Talking about money is never easy for me. I am a natural salesperson, but when it comes down to the closing and to put up a dollar figure, I wince. As Brad Flora will attest, you need somebody who can make the sales-kill. I'm learning.

Somehow I've managed to sell a few sponsorships.

Mortgage Revolution (our first) gave us $6,000 to get us started. That was quickly distributed. 

FreePress did two sponsorships with us for $1,000 each (we matched it with $2,000 from the Harnisch grant). 

AARP gave us two sponsorships totaling out at of $4,500.

> The Aspen Institute, marketing the Knight Commission report on news and information needs of communities, did a sponsorship for $1,000 (also matched by a Harnisch grant).

Clay Shirky did a speaking gig and was given the chance to make a donation to the non-profit of his choice. He chose Spot.Us but instead of keeping the money, we distributed it via a sponsorship model.

We did a focused survey for Way Out West News. The bootstrapped operation gave us $250. Because they are a news organization starting out and the survey was in line with Spot.Us' mission -- we subsidized it with $500.

And finally the biggie. HP Partners did a whopping $10,000 sponsorship! The main partner benefactor of the sponsorship so far has been PCRush.com.

Total: $28,750 raised for journalism.

That is ALL money that goes towards reporting (Spot.us did start taking a commission near the end -- details below). These funds are unlocked a few dollars at a time by community members (roughly 5,600 acts of engagement). That's 5,600 choices made by members of the public to support independent reporting. That might not be earth-shattering in page views, but in terms of engagement it's huge. The average amount of time spent on a survey is 2:45 (much more valuable than a banner advert).

Total spent from the original Harnisch grant?
Six thousand on development and just over six thousand on sponsorships.

Remaining in the Harnisch budget - $8,000
(so I might be able to turn the original 20k into more).

Unexpected

The extra funds from Clay Shirky was unexpected. And I'll be honest with you -- there was a fair amount of time I considered not giving it away via community-focused sponsorship, but instead saving the money for an organizational rainy day (see my triple-dog-dare above).

Even without those funds Spot.Us still would have doubled-up its original investment from Harnisch.

When I spoke with Clay to get his permission to publicly distribute the funds he brought up an important point -- that this model shouldn't be about Push/Push advertising. The sponsored engagement shouldn't dangle the $5 above a community member's head and make them jump through an annoying hoop. This, in the long run, will isolate Spot.Us from its community members. As we get larger and more corporate sponsors (fingers crossed) this will have to be something we really "push" back on -- pardon the pun.

Since Clay didn't have anything specific to sell, although you should buy his book, he let us do whatever we wanted with his sponsorship. Keeping in mind his suggestion -- we asked folks for their view on objectivity in journalism. The idea is that we a) genuinely wanted to know; b) this is a stimulating conversation/question; and c) once we got responses we could turn around and share their aggregated answers creating value back for the the collective community. See: "What the Spot.Us community thinks of objectivity in journalism."

This final analysis became another selling point we did not anticipate. When I showed it to Free Press, now on their second sponsorship, they wanted a similar analysis. On that note: here's what the Spot.Us community thinks of public media.

In both cases the analysis became a topic of discussion in the Twittersphere and beyond. Here were REAL numbers based on REAL responses from people who were asking and answering difficult questions. That it funded independent media was icing on the cake from the sponsors' perspective.

In some respects we are doing what Pew Center for Journalism does -- in a less scientific and faster way. As organizations will constantly need to keep a finger on the pulse of things -- I think our sponsorship model will be a way they can do that and support journalism at the same time. (I also double-dog dare Pew to sponsor a survey on Spot.Us.)

Obstacles

I still don't have a sales team. It's just me emailing people I meet or know.

I am confident this sponsorship model sells, but it doesn't sell itself -- somebody has to be there to make the phone calls and talk people through it.

What next?

Sell more sponsorships any way I can -- without falling into the push/pull trap mentioned above. I think that would be a death-spiral.

We hope to create an affiliate model whereby anyone can sell a sponsorship and earn a commission. I am in talks with Sacramento Press to be the first to try this out. They have a sales team (mostly does local) and if they can sell a sponsorship, I will gladly let them keep a healthy commission.

I also believe that this sponsorship model could be a way to bring in foundation support outside of the traditional foundations that support journalism. It is great that Knight, MacArthur, Patterson, McCormick, Harnisch and other foundations support journalism (they should triple-dog dare their large grantees to let the community decide as well). I believe that by sponsoring quizzes and surveys about topics of interest to them -- we can get more foundations interested in journalism. A foundation that supports child education might not ever see funding independent journalism as high on their priority list. At best they would support journalism about children's education, which, while well-intentioned, misses the point of independent reporting that reflects a community's issues -- instead of trying to dictate concerns.

Through this model that foundation could raise awareness on issues of child education, getting feedback and educating the public and at the same time support independent reporting. it would be icing on the cake.

Finally: We are taking steps on Spot.Us to emphasize the community-focused sponsorships and de-emphasize donating from an individuals own bank account. With our HP sponsorships there are more funds to distribute than we can with our current audience size. It may turn out to be a bad idea. We might realize that by de-emphasizing donations we are leaving money on the table. But so far people have reacted very positively and we should give people more opportunities to support reporting without having to whip out their wallet. We won't remove the ability to donate funds -- it just won't be the first option people see. Rather, they will see the option to earn credits until all those options have been completed.

(UPDATE: The above paragraph turned into a failed experiment, people complained, we reversed).

UPDATE #2: Spot.Us has always said that commission would be "optional and transparent." Well, now it's just transparent. We take 5 percent out of every community-focused sponsorship. Which means when you earn $5 in credits and you start to donate $4.71 goes to the pitch of your choice and .29 goes to Spot.Us. Hey, can you blame us? If so -- let us know in the comments.

We also need to build out the types of engagements we can produce. We started by mimicking parts of a Google Form. We still can't do everything Google Forms offers. But we will get there. There are tons of potential engagement opportunities we could build.

October 27 2010

19:00

MediaBugs revamps its site with a new national focus

When it launched in public beta earlier this year, MediaBugs, Scott Rosenberg’s Knight News Challenge-winning fact-checking project, was focused on correcting errors found in publications in the Bay Area. Today, though, Mediabugs.org has undergone a redesign — not just in its interface (“just the usual iterative improvements,” Rosenberg notes), but in its scope. Overnight, MediaBugs has gone national.

Part of the site’s initial keep-it-local logic was that, as a Knight winner, the project had to be small in scope. (The News Challenge stipulates that projects focus on “geographically defined communities,” although this year they’ve loosened up that rule a bit.) But part of it was also an assumption that community is about more than geography. “My original thesis was that, first of all, it would be valuable to work on a small scale in a specific metropolitan area,” Rosenberg told me — valuable not only in terms of developing personal relationships with editors who oversee their publications’ correction efforts, but also as a way to avoid becoming “this faceless entity: yet another thing on the web that was criticizing people in the newsrooms.”

And while the community aspect has paid off when it comes to newsroom dealings — Rosenberg and his associate director, Mark Follman, have indeed developed relationships that have helped them grow the project and the cause — MediaBugs has faced challenges when it comes to “community” in the broader sense. “It’s been an uphill battle just getting people to participate,” Rosenberg notes. Part of that is just a matter of people being busy, and MediaBugs being new, and all that. But another part of it is that so much of the stuff typical users consume each day is regional or national, rather than local, in scope. When he describes MediaBugs to people, Rosenberg notes, a typical response will be: “Great idea. Just the other day, I saw this story in the paper, or I heard this broadcast, where they got X or Y wrong.” And “invariably,” he says, “the X or Y in question is on a national political story or an international story” — not, that is, a local one.

Hence, MediaBugs’ new focus on national news outlets. “I thought, if that’s what people are more worked up about, and if that’s what they want to file errors for,” Rosenberg says, “we shouldn’t stand in their way.”

The newly broadened project will work pretty much like the local version did: The site is pre-seeded (with regional and national papers, magazines, and even the websites of cable news channels), and it will rely on users to report errors found in those outlets and others — expanding, in the process, the MediaBugs database. (Its current data set includes not only a list of media organizations, their errors, and those errors’ correction status, but also, helpfully, information about outlets’ error-correction practices and processes.)

For now, Rosenberg says, the feedback loop informing news organizations of users’ bug reports, which currently involves Rosenberg or Follman contacting be-bugged organizations directly, will remain intact. But it could — and, Rosenberg hopes, it will — evolve to become a more self-automated system, via an RSS feed, email feed, or the like. “There isn’t really that much of a reason for us to be in the loop personally — except that, at the moment, we’re introducing this strange new concept to people,” Rosenberg notes. “But ultimately, what this platform should really be is a direct feedback loop where the editors and the people who are filing bug reports can just resolve them themselves.” One of the inspirations for MediaBugs is the consumer-community site Get Satisfaction, which acts as a meeting mechanism for businesses and the customers they serve. The site provides a forum, and it moderates conversations; ultimately, though, its role is to be a shared space for dialogue. And the companies themselves — which have a vested interest in maintaining their consumers’ trust — do the monitoring. For MediaBugs, Rosenberg says, “that’s the model that we would ultimately like.”

To get to that point — a point, Rosenberg emphasizes, that at the moment is a distant goal — the MediaBugs infrastructure will need to evolve beyond MediaBugs.org. “As long as we’re functioning as this website that people have to go to, that’s a limiting factor,” Rosenberg notes. “We definitely want to be more distributed out at the point where the content is.” For that, the project’s widget — check it out in action on Rosenberg’s Wordyard and on (fellow Knight grantee site) Spot.us — will be key. Rosenberg is in talks with some additional media outlets about integrating the widget into their sites (along the lines of, for example, of the Connecticut Register-Citizen’s incorporation of a fact-checking mechanism into its stories); but the discussions have been slow-going. “I’m still pretty confident that, sooner or later, we’ll start to see the MediaBugs widget planted on more of these sites,” Rosenberg says. “But it’s not anything that’s happening at any great speed.”

For now, though, Rosenberg will have his hands full with expanding the site’s scope — and with finding new ways to realize the old idea that, as he notes, “shining any kind of light on a subject creates its own kind of accountability.” And it’ll be fascinating to see what happens when that light shifts its gaze to the national media landscape. “That dynamic alone, I think, will help some of the publications whose sites are doing a less thorough job with this stuff to get their act together.”

14:00

Metrics, impact, and business plans: Things to watch for as the Knight News Challenge enters a new cycle

In recent years, it’s been something of a parlor game in future-of-journalism circles to speculate about the $25 million Knight News Challenge: Who’s going to win this year? What are the judges looking for, exactly? And, whoa, how on earth did that finalist get passed up? (On that last question, see CoPress in 2009; e.g., read the comments on this post.)

The buzz and chatter are mostly just idle guesswork, and of course it’s all to be expected when serious money (think: $5 million for MIT, $1 million for EveryBlock) is on the line. (Indeed, there’s an extra $1 million on the table this year, thanks to Google’s donation to journalism innovation announced yesterday.)

So, that’s why this year, the fifth installment of the Knight News Challenge, already feels a little different. In years past, the Knight Foundation has approached the News Challenge with a “hey, we’re not the experts — you tell us what’s innovative” kind of attitude, purposefully leaving the door open to just about any submission, assuming that it met certain basic requirements of geographic community focus, open-source software, and so on. With the exception of some tweaking along the way, the general focus of the News Challenge remained the same: to stimulate innovation in the name of making communities better informed. Simple enough.

But this year, even though the KNC’s general pitch remains the same, applicants will make their submissions in one of four categories: Mobile, Authenticity, Sustainability, or Community. Only the Community category requires a place-based geographical focus, which marks a significant break from previous cycles where all projects had to be tested in a local community. Overall, the categorization scheme lends some direction — even a certain narrowing — of the contest, and it suggests that Knight has learned a few things over the past four years that it’s going to apply in this final go-round, to get a more focused pool of contenders.

And that’s where this post comes in, on the question of lessons learned. At the risk of contributing more baseless speculation to this parlor game, I’d like to share some insights I gained during the past year as I examined the News Challenge — and the Knight Foundation more generally — for my doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas. (I’m now a journalism professor at the University of Minnesota.)

For starters, you can read the full text of my dissertation (“Journalism Innovation and the Ethic of Participation: A Case Study of the Knight Foundation and its News Challenge“) by going here, or by reading the embedded Scribd file below. If you’re looking for the highlights, skip to page 182 and read the last chapter (Participation and the Professions). Quick tip: This is generally a good way to go when trying to interpret academic articles — look for that “discussion and conclusion” section toward the end.

I described some of my key findings in an earlier Lab post. But with regard to the changes in the KNC for 2011, here are several observations from my time studying the Knight Foundation that might fill in some of the context:

Knight cares intensely about evaluation

This is increasingly true of all nonprofit foundations, really — not just the Knight Foundation. But it was striking to see the extent to which the foundation is working to assess the impact and effectiveness of its funding efforts, through an ongoing “deep review” of its mission and goals. A major part of this review: an examination of the Knight News Challenge after its first three cycles (2007-09). This included a massive content analysis of nearly all proposal documents — resulting in a data set that I analyzed as my part of my project (see Chapter 6 of my dissertation) — and interviews, conducted by outside consultants, with many KNC grantees. At one level, there’s the basic assessment of seeing if grantees’ outcomes matched their goals. At another, there is the big question of reach and influence. For nonprofits funding myriad online sites, as Knight does, at least part of that means reviewing web metrics: traffic, unique visitors, etc. All foundations want metrics to justify their investment — and now more than ever.

So, what does this emphasis on evaluation mean for News Challenge applicants this year? Well, it suggests that in a world where user behaviors are easier to track and analyze than ever before, and thus funders of all stripes (for-profit and nonprofit alike) are hungry for good numbers, having a plan for web metrics — for reaching quantifiable and identifiable targets — is probably going to be more important than in previous cycles.

Is this the News Challenge on SEO steroids? Not exactly, but you get the idea. And this gets to the second point, which is…

Is citizen journalism out? Are business models (and the like) in?

There was an interesting quote in recent coverage of KNC changes that got some attention. It was from Jennifer 8. Lee, a Knight consultant and contest reviewer:

We’re not totally into the citizen journalism thing anymore. It has been given its chance to do its thing and kind of didn’t do its thing that well.

Now, Lee was quick to clarify that she was speaking only for herself, and that the KNC is open to citizen media approaches — just not the kind of generic and repetitive pitches that have populated the pool of applicants recently (think: Flip cams for urban youth):

The contest welcomes content or citizen journalism projects. Innovative content or community reporting models can and do get funded…Since innovation is a core value of the contest, traditional content and citizen journalism projects lacking in innovation were generally not looked upon favorably by contest reviewers.

But, nonetheless, this statement is telling because it gets at a key focus of my dissertation: how Knight has dealt with participation in journalism. In my study of the first three years of the News Challenge, I found that the foundation and its KNC winners championed citizen participation in the news process as something that should happen, not merely something that could happen because of new technologies. Participation was portrayed as an ethic of good journalism in the digital age, a foundational piece of journalism innovation.

So, does that square with the notion of we’re not so into citizen journalism anymore? Perhaps there’s a better way to think about this: Knight has already funded lots of citizen media projects, and the evidence — based on my interviews with KNC winners and overall analysis — suggests that many of these sites struggled to build and maintain a base of users. On the one hand, that’s perfectly understandable: Some of these projects were meant to be short-term in duration; Knight knew many of them would fail, because that’s the nature of innovation; and, hey, in the attention economy, it’s tough for any content provider these days, right? Yet, on the other hand, this struggle to get attention — from citizen contributors and audiences alike — was a formidable challenge for many of the early KNC projects, and, well, it just so happened that many of those early projects happened to be citizen media sites. As a result, citizen journalism comes off looking like a failure, even if the motivation behind it was well intentioned and still well regarded in Knight circles.

The lesson here: Going forward, with this ramped-up emphasis on evaluation and impact, and with apparent concerns about citizen journalism’s sustainability, it would seem that Knight wants to see applicants with a clearer path to success, especially in web metrics. Or, perhaps there’s another way to read this: In a media ecosystem awash in sites pushing content — read our blogs! watch our videos! — with less thought about how that content gets subsidized on a regular basis, Knight wants a better business plan. It wants a sustainable model. After all, there’s a reason it hired a director of business consulting.

David Sasaki, of the 2007 KNC winner Rising Voices, might have captured this problem best in this prescient blog post from 2008:

The Knight Foundation is single-handedly making citizen media both more serious and more respected by giving financial support to some of the field’s most innovative thinkers. But is this a sustainable model for the transformation of media? What happens when the News Challenge’s five-year funding period concludes? All of the News Challenge grantee projects are impressive, innovative, and important, but not a single one is turning a profit, nor do they seem poised to any time soon.

What happens to the “news” in News Challenge?

This is a truly intriguing and as-yet-unanswered question going into this final cycle. The five-year funding period Sasaki described is coming to an end. What comes next?

On the one hand, the News Challenge has proved a successful template for Knight’s growing network of prize-philanthropy challenge contests, and it represents the foundation’s most visible link to its historic roots as a “journalism foundation” with close ties to the industry and its concerns. But, as I pointed out previously, Knight is undergoing a shift in emphasis from “news” to “information” as a way of broadening the boundaries of journalism to accomplish innovation with outside help from other fields and philanthropic funders. The most obvious manifestation of this is the Knight Community Information Challenge, which involves partnering with place-based foundations to meet the “information needs” of local communities.

What becomes, then, of the News Challenge? Is there a renewal of some kind — and if so, does it keep the “journalism” tag? Or does the Community Information Challenge suffice in this space? Only time will tell, but the important thing here is to recognize that Knight has an increasingly nuanced view of journalism — one that sidesteps the “baggage” of professional exclusivity and proactively seeks ideas from other fields (say, the tech sector).

David Cohn, whose Spot.Us is one of the best-known KNC success stories, put it recently, in describing startups like Kommons:

As I’ve said before, we may not call it ‘journalism’ in the future, but if it still meets the news and information needs of a community, more power to it.

That, right there, nicely summarizes the feeling of the Knight Foundation: that it cares much more about the ends (i.e., informed communities) than the means (i.e., journalists and traditional news). How that translates into future challenges (or not) is left to be seen.

October 04 2010

19:21

Spot.Us Users: Public Media Higher Quality Than Commercial

This post was written by Jonathan Peters. The data comes from the Free Press sponsorship on Spot.Us, part of our experiment with the Reynolds Journalism Institute in Community-Focused sponsorship.

Profits are killing journalism.

Publishers and editors care more about the bottom line than the quality of their reporting. Newsrooms are shrinking, as a result, and good stories have gone untold. The public is worse off because of it.

So goes one argument, at least, in the debate about public funding of journalism. It's a hot topic that appears immune to any clear-cut solution, and it's shaking the foundation of what it means to do journalism and the best way to do it. Among the big questions are:

Should public funding expand to cover the gaps left by the shrinking private news business?

Could it expand without government support, and would this create conflicts?

Would a heavily subsidized public media serve us better than the private media?

If so, how?

With a sponsorship from Free Press, we asked the Spot.Us community to tell us what they thought. We then invited the 407 users who took the survey to decide where the sponsorship dollars would go, which is to say we handed over a part of our budget to them in return for their two cents.

Survey Results

Keep in mind, the survey was not scientific, and there was a degree of audience self-selection, i.e., the Spot.Us community. Nonetheless, with several hundred respondents, we did get a diverse set of answers. One interesting thing to note is that, while a previous survey showed a split (almost 50/50) in the "objectivity" debate, this survey on public/private media showed a much more one-sided response. This might be because, as previously suspected, Spot.Us' community overlaps with the "public media" demographic.

To begin, the majority of respondents reported that they listened to NPR (71 percent), read the news online (79 percent), or used non-profit news sources (58 percent), while the minority reported that they received a newspaper at home (37 percent) or donated to non-profit news media (41 percent). From these numbers, we can see among other things that, although the majority listen to NPR or use non-profit news sources, there is a sizeable gap between using non-profit media and donating to them.

In response to a question about programming --"In general, how would you rate the quality of
news, arts and education programming on public media versus commercial media? -- the vast majority (74 percent) said the programming on public media is of higher quality. A mere 19 percent said the programming on public and private media is of equal quality, and only 5 percent said public programming is of lower quality.

Half way through the survey we even switched the ordering of these potential answers to ensure no undue influence. The first half of the respondents saw the answer "public media is of higher quality" first and the second half saw that answer last. In either case the majority viewed the programming as higher quality.

When asked if they would support the creation of a public media endowment to increase funding for educational programs, arts, and investigative journalism, respondents overwhelmingly said yes (84 percent), with only 3 percent saying no and the rest undecided. Likewise, they would overwhelmingly support (93 percent) the creation of a matching grant program that would combine foundation grants with public funding to support innovation and investment in local news and journalism.

So far, all of this suggests that respondents like to use non-profit media; they believe public programming is of higher quality than private programming; they would support public endowment and matching grant programs to increase funding; however, they do not necessarily make personal donations to those ends.

The respondents, with their generally favorable view of public media, also said more conflicts arise in journalism that relies on commercial advertising than in journalism that relies on taxpayer funding.  Fifty-seven percent believed that to be true, while 12 percent said taxpayer funding creates more conflicts, and 31 percent said neither creates more conflicts and that strong firewalls between funding and journalists can prevent bias.


Other Questions

We also asked a few open-ended questions.

The first one was, "What should be the role of public and noncommercial media in the future of journalism?" Below are a few anecdotal responses from Spot.Us members who gave us permission to publish their views.

"Journalism should be supported by the public, but traditionally the expectation by newspaper executives has been to not ask for the public to support their product. Journalists and news executives have an obligation to build better arguments for the public to support the news. In order for that to happen, though, journalism needs to demonstrate value to readers." -- Denise Lockwood

"Non-profit and other alternative funding models will increasingly have to make up for the loss of advertising funded journalism. NPR has done this already but more needs to happen. There will need to be a broader range of non-profit media orgs than we have right now, and non-profits focused on substantive issues (environment, human rights, etc.) will increasingly become news providers themselves. Hopefully, some of these new iterations will be exemplars in terms of how to establish and benefit from partnerships and collaborative models. We may see more "temporary" journalism outlets as non-profit news outlets spring up and die out in this transitional period." -- Melissa Wall

"Journalist(s) need to figure out how to make their product of value to the community. While I love NPR and that model, nothing is wrong with a profit. Good journalism should be able to support itself, but for decades now people have ranked journalist right up there with lawyer, car salesman and politician. That has to change and we need to be honest why people feel that way." -- Eddie North-Hager

"Ideally, publicly funded media should focus solely on communications that are not commercially viable. However there has to be focus on what the public is interested in, not just what is in the public interest. Without remaining relevant and interesting, public media becomes irrelevant." -- Spot.Us Community Member

"Another question should be what is the public's role in public media. I think public media should be a place where people can go to tell their stories (think storycorps) where discussions can happen where people of all sides can hear each others voices (think bbc's have your say); Chicago's vocalo is interesting in this way. Recent "pubcamps" are interesting in this way. NPR opening up its API is interesting in this way, in that they invite programmers and technologists to participate. I think the quality of public broadcasting is high, but airtime is at a premium, they should find ways to put MORE programs on the web and open up the airwaves for new talent. I think funding is an issue too. I live in Paris and stream programs live from any number of stations; I also podcast my favorites. I don't know which station I should support, I know I want to support specific programs. I know I want to support NPR; but I don't have a local station and I don't know that I want one." -- John Tynan

The second open-ended question was, "In the past, government has provided tax breaks to media companies, given broadcasters free licenses for public airwaves, funded PBS and NPR, and subsidized newspapers through legal ads and postal rates. What should be the government's role in the future?"  Below, again, are a few anecdotal responses:

"Regulation is necessary (else, the commercial media could say anything they wanted, regardless of effect or truth), but I don't like the government's involvement in the money behind broadcasting.  Things start to sound like China with its enmasse censorship of media incoming and outgoing. Free speech should remain free - free of censorship and influence. If you think publishing or reporting a story will keep the government from sending you extra funds, you aren't likely to print it. Thus, the free press becomes the mouthpiece for a government and nothing more.

This said, I think government subsidizing of NPR and PBS is important because these are services funded by donations from watchers/listeners, and that is who they (should) have loyalty to first because that is where the money is coming from, rather than political parties or politicians." -- Kaylene Narusuke

"The old models don't work because in the 1980s, newspapers made a lot of money from ads and became very profitable, changing the expectations from the owners. Those expectations haven't changed while the competition for ads has. Newspapers adopted the USA-Today model, dumbing down stories, writing shorter and more shallow stories. People want deep, well written stories in any format. Government agencies could support investigative reporting, specialty reporting, and reporting on the arts, but the public has to be willing to pay for responsible journalism." -- Yvonne

"Government should recognize that high-quality journalism is an important part of a healthy democracy, and that well-informed citizens are more engaged and more likely to vote. Government should expand direct funding for public media beyond PBS and NPR by creating a grant program for organizations developing new kinds of public-media models." -- Lila LaHood

"I don't see a problem with calculated tax breaks for the media industry whether it's limiting taxes on the purchases of paper products or electronic devices. To me that's no different than oil companies, banks, light manufacturing getting financial breaks or incentives to conduct business. Those who represent converged or multimedia take issue with this, citing these as out-dated mediums with failed business models. Therefore, they should not be buoyed with tax dollars and in a true capitalism, failed businesses disappear and make way for newer, better models." -- Kevin Smith

"All of these things are helpful, but American journalism really needs something more revolutionary right now. Stop thinking about tax breaks and advertising and start thinking about something equal to the National Endowment for the Arts, but replace 'Arts' with 'Journalism'. I hope our leaders act now before we lose the 4th Estate, and a generation of enthusiastic young journalists." -- Daysha Eaton


So there you have it, the views of the Spot.Us community on public vs. private journalism.  Any of it surprise you?  Confuse you?  Bore you?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments section!

September 15 2010

17:18

PRX Story Exchange, Spot.us Bring Crowdfunding to Public Radio

Story Exchange (formerly Story Market) is a way for local public radio stations, producers, and listeners to pitch, find and fund documentaries and stories on important local issues. We're also one of this year's winners of a Knight News Challenge grant.

Here's how we envision it working: Let's say that in Kentucky the issue of mountaintop mining needs a deeper investigative look. On Story Exchange, the Louisville public radio WFPL station can invite producers to bid on reporting the story, ask listeners to contribute funds as well as ideas, and see the story through to completion for broadcast and digital distribution.

You can also watch this video to learn more:

Story Exchange has deep roots as an idea at Public Radio Exchange. Since we first launched in 2003 the core service of PRX has been an open online marketplace for public radio stories -- audio documentaries, interviews, features, and other pieces that might have already aired somewhere locally or nationally but have continued value in distribution. Over time we have built a robust market where today over 2,500 local stations, independent producers and others regularly buy, sell and distribute tens of thousands of stories (over 8,300 purchased so far just this year), reaching millions of listeners through broadcast and digital channels.

PRX Today

PRX's approach has been to create efficient tools for distribution and discovery that reduce barriers and friction, establish incentives for participation, and increase the overall pool of talent, content, access, and reach. (PRX has expanded its services and recently announced a significant round of funding.)

But even as this has succeeded on PRX.org, we see ongoing gaps in supply and demand, and new ways to use PRX's growing community and platform to connect stations and producers -- and the public -- around issues that need coverage.

Today a typical transaction on PRX might consist of a local public radio station looking for an hour-long documentary on, say, urban agriculture. They search the site, find a handful of results, audition them and then license one for broadcast. PRX charges a license fee and pays producers royalties when their work is used.

If the results turn up empty, or stations wants something customized for local use, the most PRX can typically do is help connect them with producers as a kind of talent broker. (Producers maintain LinkedIn-style resumes and portfolios on PRX.)

But what if stations, producers, and listeners themselves could use PRX as a way to seed, surface, and fund original content matched to a direct distribution opportunity? What if donations from "listeners like you" weren't just for the news you already use, but for what's missing?

This is the idea behind Story Exchange.

Story Exchange

When we were gearing up to pitch Story Exchange as a News Challenge project, we came to an interesting conclusion. While we had been kicking around the idea for several years, by now there were similar projects taking shape. Some were in adjacent fields like indie music (i.e. Sellaband), and one in particular in journalism (Spot.us, a previous and prominent News Challenge winner).

The News Challenge states up front that criteria for selection include innovation and originality. Rather than try to claim Story Exchange as a unique insight, we stated what our idea had in common with Spot.us and proposed a code-level collaboration as a signature approach of the project.

By joining the open source development of the Spot.us codebase we're going to help develop and extend the platform, integrate it with PRX's own services, and add functionality specific to the public radio system. We see this as a unique opportunity to build on a promising new model with an open source approach.

Knight's commitment to open source software sets an important threshold, but while there's important value in ensuring that investments in software stay accessible, most open source projects fail to attract a community of developers beyond the project's original team. A benefit of PRX joining forces with Spot.us is the greater likelihood that the codebase will evolve and stay relevant as ours and other projects incorporate it.

Story Exchange is just getting under way, we're planning our first pilot later this year with our partners at Louisville Public Media. Right now we're working out the details of various APIs and user authentication integration with our friends at Spot.us (If you're a coder you'll be interested to know that Spot.us and PRX are both using Ruby on Rails -- one more incentive for our collaboration -- and you'll be able to track our progress on GitHub).

We anticipate (and will blog about) some of the challenges to come, including the ways that Story Exchange runs counter to some of the ingrained public radio culture, the obstacles we encounter integrating a new model into the existing PRX system, the tech partnership, and the overall merits and successes of the emerging crowdfunding model for journalism. Stay tuned!

September 13 2010

14:00

Photojournalism site Emphas.is wants to leverage the crowd through the romanticism of its craft

If times have been tough for journalists who write, they’ve been no better for photojournalists. Magazines and newspapers have cut staff positions and freelance budgets. And the Internet has given rise to free or inexpensive substitutes, like Flickr and iStockphoto. A new startup launching this winter hopes it has come up with a way to solve some of the field’s financial problems, while giving world-class photojournalists a new level of freedom in telling stories and interacting with their audience.

The site, called Emphas.is, will be a platform that looks to the crowd to fund photographers’ work in dangerous places around the world. Similar to other crowdfunding sites like Spot.us or Kickstarter, photojournalists will post trip pitches with a fundraising goal. If that goal is reached, backers will get access to postings from the photographer about his or her experiences and the photographs and videos that are filed along the way. The photos will be initially available to only to backers, but photographers will be free to distribute them as they please — Emphas.is will not own the photographs.

“We’ve been badly hit and we need a solution,” says the site’s founder Karim Ben Khelifa about his work as a photojournalist. In the last 12 years, Khelifa has photographed stories in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somaliland, Kashmir, Kosovo, and other war-torn and dangerous places. His cofounder, Tina Ahrens, is also an established photojournalist. Khelifa’s reached out to elite photojournalists around the world to join him in launching the project. He says plenty of his colleagues are eager to give the idea a try. “We have the top of the top,” he says.

The platform is not a distribution tool meant to reach media outlets, but an experiment in storytelling that will let the photographer take on a more central role.

“The project comes out of frustration,” Khelifa told me. “Having a double-page [photo display] in Time or Vanity Fair…it doesn’t give me a point of view. You might have seen my photographs in Time magazine, but you don’t know me. And I don’t know you.”

And maybe that doesn’t make sense. Photojournalists, particularly war photographers, have a certain allure, one Khelida hopes is the basis for a business model. “We have a romanticism around our profession,” he says. “We realized that our work isn’t the end product, but how we got to it. This is what we expect to monetize.”

Khelifa says he’s often asked how he manages to move around a war zone, or join up with groups like the Taliban and photograph them from the inside. That backstory will be the draw, he says. Backers on Emphas.is will get to meet the photojournalist and then ride along virtually as they sneak through border check points and embed themselves with rebel groups. (Imagine getting a text message from the photog you’ve funded: I’m entering a dangerous region of Yemen, will check back in three days.) The experience will drive how the audience consumes the story.

Khelifa also says that it’s a good opportunity for photographers passionate about injustice in far-flung places. A crowd of funders can support a trip in a way only a few magazine photo editors could before.

But that doesn’t mean media isn’t interested the project. Khelifa is rounding up endorsements from top photo editors and directors at outlets like Time and agencies like the VII and Magnum. For them, the platform offers the potential for both more and lower-cost high-quality photography.

Once the site is launched, photographers will bank on the public pledging small amounts to back their ideas. Khelifa says one of their strategies for reaching those potential donors is through NGOs with large email lists. (NGOs themselves will only be allowed to fund 50 percent of any single project.)

For now, Khelifa has raised his own startup funding from a number angel investors. The next few months will be about getting the details in order, including finishing the platform and bringing on photographers. He hopes to see the site go live in January 2011.

August 31 2010

14:10

What the Spot.Us Community Thinks of Objectivity

Objectivity in Journalism Wordle

The following post comes to us from Sameer Bhuchar, who is helping Spot.Us from Austin.

It has been said a thousand times before: The landscape of the modern media is changing. With today's more complex, active Internet ecosystem, the accepted norms of journalism are constantly being rewritten or tossed out all together. The Internet has bypassed the once highly regarded norms of gatekeepers at a news desk, and it now seems to be challenging the long held model of objectivity in journalism.

If there is an underlying theme to Spot.Us it is the idea that we expect our community to tell us what is important in journalism, rather than dictate it ourselves. With that in mind, several weeks ago, thanks to a generous sponsorship from Clay Shirky, we asked for your honest feedback about objectivity and journalism. We let the 500 users who took the survey decide where the sponsorship dollars should go. In other words, we handed over a part of our budget to community members who let us figure out what the ethos is around objectivity in journalism. Community-focused sponsorship for the win! (Try our newest CFS. Let us know about important story ideas in your region and fund a story on Spot.Us for free).

Survey Results

Is there a clear divide between those who support the traditional idea of objectivity and those who take a different stance? Are there exceptions to the standard? How should journalism work for you? Some believe objectivity means reporting facts without bias, and that an article must be balanced and include multiple points of view. To many, objectivity in journalism is the most important standard of the profession. It was once considered the glue of the business, the one aim that let media consumers decide for themselves what was right and wrong.

Increasingly, however, the idea of traditional objectivity is being challenged by this new, proactive age of media consumers. To those who challenge the ideal, it is an outdated standard that has crippled journalists from digging deep into stories.

Keep in mind the survey results are not scientific and, as the political leanings graph shows, there was perhaps a self-selecting audience (the Spot.Us community). Nonetheless, with 500 respondents there was a diverse set of answers.

First and foremost it is important to note that about 52 percent of the survey takers were female and 48 percent male.

Also, close to 60 percent of the respondents identified themselves as liberals, with only 10.8 percent identifying as conservative. Close to 30 percent said they were independents. This could be reflective of where Spot.Us' traffic comes from (heavy in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York).

Responses to the question, "Is objectivity even possible?" show there are a large percentage of people with a changing idea about objectivity. Of the survey questions, perhaps this one and the responses associated with it were the most telling when it comes to attitudes towards objectivity. Only 13.5 percent (60 respondents) very clearly identified "objectivity" as being what journalism is all about.

This view point can best be explained through Spot.Us member Craig Gaines' extended response. "I define an objective piece as one that represents all viewpoints in a piece and allows readers to make up their minds about those viewpoints," Gaines said. "To do anything less is a disservice to, and disrespectful of, the reader."

A staggering 44.6 percent (199) people agreed with the answer, "Objectivity is possible but difficult. It separates wheat from chaff." In essence the answer implies that objectivity should be seen more as a quest for honest, factual reporting. Spot.Us member (and NewsTrust executive director) Fabrice Florin summed up this viewpoint well.

While objectivity is difficult to achieve, it is an important journalistic quality to strive for, particularly for factual news reporting, not for opinion pieces," Florin said. "For news reports, a neutral perspective helps present views from different sides without interjecting the author's personal opinions. Authors are welcome to post their own perspectives in their own opinion pieces, as long as they are clearly labeled as such. But journalists who want to serve society as neutral observers and referees should continue to report objectively on public issues they cover.

Of the respondents, 27.6 percent (123 people) chose the answer "transparency is the new objectivity," implying that it is the reporting of truth that is most important, rather than a detached account of a scene.

"I think that reporters ought to reveal their biases in each story as part of the narrative so as to partially disarm whatever criticism of bias they may receive," said member Paul Balcerak. "Doing so will provide a better service to the public and will create better journalism."

There were also 55 people who believed objectivity was impossible, and 9 people went as far to answer that objectivity "is a crutch to prop old media up."

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Other questions sought to discover the community's view of how important objectivity is (always required, sometimes, never, etc.), and to help gauge the respondents' relationship to journalism (a professor or as an avid news reader, for example). We believe that in aggregate this survey provides unique insight into what people from the Spot.Us community want and expect from the media.

To drive the point home, we've included anecdotal responses from our insightful community members who gave us permission to publish their answers. (These were used to create the above Wordle.)

Perhaps what we can learn from all of this is that objectivity, while important as an ideal of fairness, should not be seen as a way of achieving "detached-ness," if you will. But heck, this blog post is by no means unbiased, so even that assumption may not be accurate, or apply to you personally. One thing the respondents did uniformly agree upon is that reporters should unabashedly seek truth. While pure objectivity may be impossible, being honest isn't.

Community Views

Below is a selection of comments from the wisest people we know -- our community. Here's what they had to say about objectivity:

"In journalism school I was very swayed by the 'Transparency IS the new objectivity' school of thinking, and the notion that everyone has bias and perspective, and so any attempt to avoid that is foolhardy. From my insider perspective, my own biases and opinions seemed magnified and huge. However, since I haven't been working as a journalist and have been, instead, consuming local media (increasingly independent and citizen/blog driven, as the local establishment journalism withers away) I've longed for the ideal of objectivity while recognizing it might never have been truly practiced. I've grown to strongly dislike the strongly and biased opinionated citizen journalism I am now surrounded by, because it so often willfully refuses to dig deeper and more broadly and is so very proud of its 'perspective'. I am often left with a long list of simple questions I think *I* would have asked just to get the whole story." -- Saheli Datta

"I don't believe what we've traditionally defined as objectivity in the media is actually objectivity--it's more like perceived impartiality. I think that reporters ought to reveal their biases in each story as part of the narrative (writing in first-person would make the process a lot less awkward, by the way) so as to partially disarm whatever criticism of bias they may receive. Doing so will provide a better service to the public and will create better journalism." -- Paul Balcerak

"Objectivity was a marketing technique invented by the AP 100 + years ago. It's well suited for monopoly style newspaper production but shits the bed when media representation of similar events increases... Debunking objectivity as a concept is as easy as shooting ducks in duck hunt, but fact of the matter is that if *we didn't* believe in objectivity our lives would be intolerable.

"Therefore the question isn't about whether objectivity in journalism is possible, it's how does a person come to see media as objective? That's where things get interesting and where a lot is getting disrupted. The meaning of an event doesn't happen until it's represented and what we are seeing is an explosion in meaning at the sign of *any event*. See Stuart Hall, he's pre-Twitter but his points are just as valid." -- Cody Brown

"Transparency means more than understanding where the journalist's bias lies; it means that the journalist or reporter does things like crowdsource some questions, work in partnership with community journalism initiatives already underway, blog about the progress on a story and explain what the next steps are (unless it's a super-secret undercover investigation), record interviews and give public access to the full transcript as well as the audio file, etc. Transparency means addressing reader concerns and input about pieces and continuing the conversation after one story is published." -- Suzi Steffen

"A journalist's background certainly matters in how they interpret subjects, but the job is to look close, ask questions, and get the details right. More and more, unfortunately, it's also about checking out sources and making sure none of them are lying. With more and more resources dedicated to "spin" this part is important and often accounts for why a lot of people reject a good story as objective or biased - because they've been dished the spin in other platforms. But objectivity really is the name of the game." -- Lee van der Voo

"In most mainstream news reports I hear, including a good number on NPR, there's an annoying trend toward presenting one side and then the other, while completely evading the question of which side might be right! This is a perverted effect of the mania that journalism has for supposedly unbiased an objective reporting. Too often in the name of objectivity journalists avoid taking principled stands on anything; too often monied interests can distract the public's attention from their own dubious business practices by trotting out a voice of dissent rationalizing their stand -- which, of course, will get equal air-time." -- Anneke Toomey

"There is a saying somewhere: Objectivity is not possible, but fairness is. That is to say: are all sides, all points of view represented honestly and with the same weight? Ultimately, I'd say objectivity is a personal trait, fairness is a professional trait that pertains to our profession as journalists. Strive for fairness." --  Barbara Gref

"No journalist is truly objective, if that term is meant to mean someone who has no opinions about the subjects he or she covers. Subjectivity starts right from the point at which a journalist chooses a subject to cover and goes right on through to who is interviewed, what quotations are selected, how the headline is written, and on and on. But what makes journalism different from other practices with which it is sometimes confused, such as PR or politics, is that journalists are in the business of *independent* verification of fact." -- Robert McClure

"No one is truly unbiased or objective but that doesn't mean that a good reporter doesn't look for the truth behind everyone's agenda. Objectivity means not sitting on a story that would make someone look bad just because you're invested in their success. I almost said "Transparency is the new objectivity" only because it is the latest and most fabulous word to throw around. Transparency only helps identify lapses in objectivity, it doesn't replace it. As for transparency, it certainly helps identify lapses in objectivity, but it doesn't replace it." -- Amanda Hickman

"Objectivity often means portraying both sides of the story but without considering power & privilege, you can never get both sides of story. It would be like looking at African Americans & crime in inner cities without looking at the effects of institutional racism and how poverty/availability of drugs/housing blight/welfare policies etc contributes to crime. Journalism needs to put more emphasis on telling the stories of the underserved and marginalized and those most impacted the those who have power." -- Micky Duxbury

"No one is objective. The best we can do (instead of  pretending to be objective) is being transparent about our biases so readers are aware and can judge our content as they feel is appropriate. That said, it doesn't mean we should turn every article into a ranting, biased blog post, or even take a side on an issue we're covering. We just need to stop pretending true "Objectivism" exists." -- Lauren Rabaino

"While objectivity is difficult to achieve, it is an important journalistic quality to strive for, particularly for factual news reporting (not for opinion pieces). For news reports, a neutral perspective helps present views from different sides without interjecting the author's personal opinions. Authors are welcome to post their own perspectives in their own opinion pieces, as long as they are clearly labeled as such. But journalists who want to serve society as neutral observers and referees should continue to report objectively on public issues they cover." -- Fabrice Florin

"I find writing by people who disclose and discuss their biases/backgrounds dramatically more compelling than sterile I-refuse-to-take-sides-so-decide-for-yourself writing. I think it's possible to explain and analyze both sides of a story and fulfill a journalistic purpose without sitting on the fence." -- Katie Lohrenz

"Everyone has opinions, and we are all entitled to have them. Journalists are no different. I like it when a journalist tells me how he/she arrived at an opinion, and any part of his/her backstory that will help me to assess credibility. Transparency is certainly part of the picture. What isn't helpful is a journalist who simply reports the sound bite from one side and then gathers the sound bite from another side and calls it a story - without stopping to investigate whether the facts can back up either side." -- Laurie Pumper

"I don't think it is absolutely necessary to be objective, but if you aren't going to be objective, it is absolutely necessary to be honest about it." -- Luke Gies

"Objectivity should be the goal for journalism. Reporting all sides of the story without bias is ideal. Unfortunately we live in a very polarized climate. Shock value, knee jerk reactions and stubborn opinion rule the day. I really appreciate news sources that don't resort to playing to that audience." -- Marie Rafalko

"Basically, 'objectivity' in journalism began post WWII as a strategy to make news content more palatable to a broader advertiser base. That worked -- and it helped enable newspaper consolidation in many cities. But the strategy took on a life of its own -- and while it yielded some benefits, it's a fundamentally not credible premise. Journalism is created by people, and people are not objective. As media has become multidirectional, it's become ridiculous to try to ignore that reality. News organizations that choose a veneer of objectivity over the practice of transparency undermine their own credibility. The sad thing is, many news orgs cling to their veneer of objectivity because they think it builds credibility. They're eating their own dog food." -- Amy Gahran

"I chose my answer by eliminating the others. I know it's not always possible. It's really tough. But transparency is absolutely not an alternative to objectivity. Fox News is transparent. It's not good journalism. Saying transparency can replace objectivity basically says that journalism can be produced by interest groups, as long as they're honest about who they are. That's no good for anyone, except for the interest groups." -- Molly Samuel

"The U.S. journalism establishment has determined that they are smarter than consumer sand therefore must talk down, water down, simplify news stories. Their fear was that no one would read the paper. Really.

"If all the facts were reported AND an effort was made to make media literacy an elementary school requirement we might have real journalism again in this country in a generation or so. Or promote and support online platforms that present facts and commentary separately. Then let traditional media fend for themselves." -- Todd O'Neill

"It's never possible, but always desirable. That is, complete objectivity is probably impossible, because we aren't always aware of our prejudices. But, it is what we should strive for, regardless. So, it is very important to attempt, but also to be aware that we may have blind spots, in order to avoid the arrogance of believing you are able to step completely out of your own biases." -- Rebecca Church

"To an extent, I agree with 'Transparency is the new objectivity,' but I don't think it's sufficient. I think pursuing objectivity while being transparent is crucial. Journalists should make every effort to escape their biases, explore other perspectives, and challenge their assumptions of what are and are not significant/authoritative voices, but they shouldn't do so at the cost of reporting and storytelling. However, they should acknowledge where they can where they are coming from, what perspectives they might take into the discussion, and what assumptions they are starting with so readers/audiences are able to make an informed analysis of the journalist's credibility." -- Bill Lascher

"'Transparency is the new objectivity' is a fun riff, and it's close, but I think we (in the media business) grossly overstate the public's interest in our affiliations and conflicts." -- Ryan Sholin

"Science, going back to the Heisenberg principle in the 1920s has proven that observation has an effect on the thing observed. Also, you can play 'he said-she said' journalism, but one statement has to come before the other. Determining the order is the reporter or editor's subjective choice and determines the slant of the story." -- Kellia Ramares

"Objectivity is not rewarded by anyone, not the public and not the corporate new organizations. It's become like Don Quixote chasing windmills." -- Shari Brandhoy

"Objectivity is impossible. There is no such thing as a human or institution without opinion. Therefore, it's best for us to know the bias of the reporters. That said, a statement of bias doesn't give license to lie or omit facts. Transparency is twofold:
• a statement of bias
• a commitment to releasing all information in an honest manner." -- Joey Baker

"Shirky has made me bias on the topic - journalist was a special class of citizen when you needed a press. Now every resident has a responsibility to be a journalist. Who is going to write about neighborhoods - when crime is not the topic? Newspapers and other media outlets have always done a poor job covering my home. So who does that responsibility fall to - someone with a stake in the future of that neighborhood. And while I want accuracy and independence, I want the reporter, journalist, or citizen to offer their educated take on what this all means for the future of the area." -- Eddie North-Hager

"The very definition of dialectic is pastiche. How can anyone be objective while still being informed? Transparency at least offers honesty and a path for the reader to follow." -- Clarisa Morales Roberts

"I define an objective piece as one that represents all viewpoints in a piece and allows readers to make up their minds about those viewpoints. To do anything less is a disservice to, and disrespectful of, the reader." -- Craig Gaines

"There is fairness but not objectivity. Everyone decides where to look, what facts to portray, how to frame what they're seeing. Even a pointed camera is not objective -- where the lens is pointed, how the zoom is set ... these all determine what's seen and how." -- Dorian Benkoil

"Debating object/subject is an endless philosophical waste of time. Facts, and trends, data, information, systems analysis all are much more relevant to discourse around solving the complex problems we face today and in the future." -- Stephen Antonaros

"I believe that objectivity is the single most dangerous goal journalism can work towards. It is impossible for a human being to produce a genuinely non-biased piece of writing, but it is simple for a writer to mimic the tone of authority that a member of society is educated to frame as truth. Journalism should strive for transparency - not as a new objectivity, but as a drastically different and more democratic concept of media's responsibility to present and portray information." -- Rebecca Glaser

"Objectivity is impossible, it's an illusion and a myth often used to maintain flat, two-dimensional reporting that implies there are simply "two sides." What's far more important is accuracy, vigorous inquiry and story dimension--looking for texture and layers of debate, and letting the facts tell the story; two 'sides' are not 'equal' if one is heavily fact-based and the other is just opinion." -- Christopher Cook

Enhanced by Zemanta
14:10

What the Spot.Us Community Thinks of Objectivity

Objectivity in Journalism Wordle

The following post comes to us from Sameer Bhuchar, who is helping Spot.Us from Austin.

It has been said a thousand times before: The landscape of the modern media is changing. With today's more complex, active Internet ecosystem, the accepted norms of journalism are constantly being rewritten or tossed out all together. The Internet has bypassed the once highly regarded norms of gatekeepers at a news desk, and it now it seems to be challenging the long held model of objectivity in journalism.

If there is an underlying theme to Spot.Us it is the idea that we expect our community to tell us what is important in journalism, rather than dictate it ourselves. With that in mind, several weeks ago, thanks to a generous sponsorship from Clay Shirky, we asked for your honest feedback about objectivity and journalism. We let the 500 users who took the survey decide where the sponsorship dollars should go. In other words, we handed over a part of our budget to community members who let us figure out what the ethos is around objectivity in journalism. Score one for community-focused sponsorship.

Survey Results

Is there a clear divide between those who support the traditional idea of objectivity and those who take a different stance? Are there exceptions to the standard? How should journalism work for you? Some believe objectivity means reporting facts without bias, and that an article must be balanced and include multiple points of view. To many, objectivity in journalism is the most important standard of the profession. It was once considered the glue of the business, the one aim that let media consumers decide for themselves what was right and wrong.

Increasingly, however, the idea of traditional objectivity is being challenged by this new, proactive age of media consumers. To those who challenge the ideal, it is an outdated standard that has crippled journalists from digging deep into stories.

Keep in mind the survey results are not scientific and, as the political leanings graph shows, there was perhaps a self-selecting audience (the Spot.Us community). Nonetheless, with 500 respondents there was a diverse set of answers.

First and foremost it is important to note that about 52 percent of the survey takers were female and 48 percent male.

Also, close to 60 percent of the respondents identified themselves as liberals, with only 10.8 percent identifying as conservative. Close to 30 percent said they were independents. This could be reflective of where Spot.Us' traffic comes from (heavy in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York).

Responses to the question, "Is objectivity even possible?" show there are a large percentage of people with a changing idea about objectivity. Of the survey questions, perhaps this one and the responses associated with it were the most telling when it comes to attitudes towards objectivity. Only 13.5 percent (60 respondents) very clearly identified "objectivity" as being what journalism is all about.

This view point can best be explained through Spot.Us member Craig Gaines' extended response. "I define an objective piece as one that represents all viewpoints in a piece and allows readers to make up their minds about those viewpoints," Gaines said. "To do anything less is a disservice to, and disrespectful of, the reader."

A staggering 44.6 percent (199) people agreed with the answer, "Objectivity is possible but difficult. It separates wheat from chaff." In essence the answer implies that objectivity should be seen more as a quest for honest, factual reporting. Spot.Us member (and NewsTrust executive director) Fabrice Florin summed up this viewpoint well.

While objectivity is difficult to achieve, it is an important journalistic quality to strive for, particularly for factual news reporting, not for opinion pieces," Florin said. "For news reports, a neutral perspective helps present views from different sides without interjecting the author's personal opinions. Authors are welcome to post their own perspectives in their own opinion pieces, as long as they are clearly labeled as such. But journalists who want to serve society as neutral observers and referees should continue to report objectively on public issues they cover.

Of the respondents, 27.6 percent (123 people) chose the answer "transparency is the new objectivity," implying that it is the reporting of truth that is most important, rather than a detached account of a scene.

"I think that reporters ought to reveal their biases in each story as part of the narrative so as to partially disarm whatever criticism of bias they may receive," said member Paul Balcerak. "Doing so will provide a better service to the public and will create better journalism."

There were also 55 people who believed objectivity was impossible, and 9 people went as far to answer that objectivity "is a crutch to prop old media up."

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Other questions sought to discover the community's view of how important objectivity is (always required, sometimes, never, etc.), and to help gauge the respondents' relationship to journalism (a professor or as an avid news reader, for example). We believe that in aggregate this survey provides unique insight into what people from the Spot.Us community want and expect from the media.

To drive the point home, we've included anecdotal responses from our insightful community members who gave us permission to publish their answers. (These were used to create the above Wordle.)

Perhaps what we can learn from all of this is that objectivity, while important as an ideal of fairness, should not be seen as a way of achieving "detached-ness," if you will. But heck, this blog post is by no means unbiased, so even that assumption may not be accurate, or apply to you personally. One thing the respondents did uniformly agree upon is that reporters should unabashedly seek truth. While pure objectivity may be impossible, being honest isn't.

Community Views

Below is a selection of comments from the wisest people we know -- our community. Here's what they had to say about objectivity:

"In journalism school I was very swayed by the 'Transparency IS the new objectivity' school of thinking, and the notion that everyone has bias and perspective, and so any attempt to avoid that is foolhardy. From my insider perspective, my own biases and opinions seemed magnified and huge. However, since I haven't been working as a journalist and have been, instead, consuming local media (increasingly independent and citizen/blog driven, as the local establishment journalism withers away) I've longed for the ideal of objectivity while recognizing it might never have been truly practiced. I've grown to strongly dislike the strongly and biased opinionated citizen journalism I am now surrounded by, because it so often willfully refuses to dig deeper and more broadly and is so very proud of its 'perspective'. I am often left with a long list of simple questions I think *I* would have asked just to get the whole story." -- Saheli Datta

"I don't believe what we've traditionally defined as objectivity in the media is actually objectivity--it's more like perceived impartiality. I think that reporters ought to reveal their biases in each story as part of the narrative (writing in first-person would make the process a lot less awkward, by the way) so as to partially disarm whatever criticism of bias they may receive. Doing so will provide a better service to the public and will create better journalism." -- Paul Balcerak

"Objectivity was a marketing technique invented by the AP 100 + years ago. It's well suited for monopoly style newspaper production but shits the bed when media representation of similar events increases... Debunking objectivity as a concept is as easy as shooting ducks in duck hunt, but fact of the matter is that if *we didn't* believe in objectivity our lives would be intolerable.

"Therefore the question isn't about whether objectivity in journalism is possible, it's how does a person come to see media as objective? That's where things get interesting and where a lot is getting disrupted. The meaning of an event doesn't happen until it's represented and what we are seeing is an explosion in meaning at the sign of *any event*. See Stuart Hall, he's pre-Twitter but his points are just as valid." -- Cody Brown

"Transparency means more than understanding where the journalist's bias lies; it means that the journalist or reporter does things like crowdsource some questions, work in partnership with community journalism initiatives already underway, blog about the progress on a story and explain what the next steps are (unless it's a super-secret undercover investigation), record interviews and give public access to the full transcript as well as the audio file, etc. Transparency means addressing reader concerns and input about pieces and continuing the conversation after one story is published." -- Suzi Steffen

"A journalist's background certainly matters in how they interpret subjects, but the job is to look close, ask questions, and get the details right. More and more, unfortunately, it's also about checking out sources and making sure none of them are lying. With more and more resources dedicated to "spin" this part is important and often accounts for why a lot of people reject a good story as objective or biased - because they've been dished the spin in other platforms. But objectivity really is the name of the game." -- Lee van der Voo

"In most mainstream news reports I hear, including a good number on NPR, there's an annoying trend toward presenting one side and then the other, while completely evading the question of which side might be right! This is a perverted effect of the mania that journalism has for supposedly unbiased an objective reporting. Too often in the name of objectivity journalists avoid taking principled stands on anything; too often monied interests can distract the public's attention from their own dubious business practices by trotting out a voice of dissent rationalizing their stand -- which, of course, will get equal air-time." -- Anneke Toomey

"There is a saying somewhere: Objectivity is not possible, but fairness is. That is to say: are all sides, all points of view represented honestly and with the same weight? Ultimately, I'd say objectivity is a personal trait, fairness is a professional trait that pertains to our profession as journalists. Strive for fairness." --  Barbara Gref

"No journalist is truly objective, if that term is meant to mean someone who has no opinions about the subjects he or she covers. Subjectivity starts right from the point at which a journalist chooses a subject to cover and goes right on through to who is interviewed, what quotations are selected, how the headline is written, and on and on. But what makes journalism different from other practices with which it is sometimes confused, such as PR or politics, is that journalists are in the business of *independent* verification of fact." -- Robert McClure

"No one is truly unbiased or objective but that doesn't mean that a good reporter doesn't look for the truth behind everyone's agenda. Objectivity means not sitting on a story that would make someone look bad just because you're invested in their success. I almost said "Transparency is the new objectivity" only because it is the latest and most fabulous word to throw around. Transparency only helps identify lapses in objectivity, it doesn't replace it. As for transparency, it certainly helps identify lapses in objectivity, but it doesn't replace it." -- Amanda Hickman

"Objectivity often means portraying both sides of the story but without considering power & privilege, you can never get both sides of story. It would be like looking at African Americans & crime in inner cities without looking at the effects of institutional racism and how poverty/availability of drugs/housing blight/welfare policies etc contributes to crime. Journalism needs to put more emphasis on telling the stories of the underserved and marginalized and those most impacted the those who have power." -- Micky Duxbury

"No one is objective. The best we can do (instead of  pretending to be objective) is being transparent about our biases so readers are aware and can judge our content as they feel is appropriate. That said, it doesn't mean we should turn every article into a ranting, biased blog post, or even take a side on an issue we're covering. We just need to stop pretending true "Objectivism" exists." -- Lauren Rabaino

"While objectivity is difficult to achieve, it is an important journalistic quality to strive for, particularly for factual news reporting (not for opinion pieces). For news reports, a neutral perspective helps present views from different sides without interjecting the author's personal opinions. Authors are welcome to post their own perspectives in their own opinion pieces, as long as they are clearly labeled as such. But journalists who want to serve society as neutral observers and referees should continue to report objectively on public issues they cover." -- Fabrice Florin

"I find writing by people who disclose and discuss their biases/backgrounds dramatically more compelling than sterile I-refuse-to-take-sides-so-decide-for-yourself writing. I think it's possible to explain and analyze both sides of a story and fulfill a journalistic purpose without sitting on the fence." -- Katie Lohrenz

"Everyone has opinions, and we are all entitled to have them. Journalists are no different. I like it when a journalist tells me how he/she arrived at an opinion, and any part of his/her backstory that will help me to assess credibility. Transparency is certainly part of the picture. What isn't helpful is a journalist who simply reports the sound bite from one side and then gathers the sound bite from another side and calls it a story - without stopping to investigate whether the facts can back up either side." -- Laurie Pumper

"I don't think it is absolutely necessary to be objective, but if you aren't going to be objective, it is absolutely necessary to be honest about it." -- Luke Gies

"Objectivity should be the goal for journalism. Reporting all sides of the story without bias is ideal. Unfortunately we live in a very polarized climate. Shock value, knee jerk reactions and stubborn opinion rule the day. I really appreciate news sources that don't resort to playing to that audience." -- Marie Rafalko

"Basically, 'objectivity' in journalism began post WWII as a strategy to make news content more palatable to a broader advertiser base. That worked -- and it helped enable newspaper consolidation in many cities. But the strategy took on a life of its own -- and while it yielded some benefits, it's a fundamentally not credible premise. Journalism is created by people, and people are not objective. As media has become multidirectional, it's become ridiculous to try to ignore that reality. News organizations that choose a veneer of objectivity over the practice of transparency undermine their own credibility. The sad thing is, many news orgs cling to their veneer of objectivity because they think it builds credibility. They're eating their own dog food." -- Amy Gahran

"I chose my answer by eliminating the others. I know it's not always possible. It's really tough. But transparency is absolutely not an alternative to objectivity. Fox News is transparent. It's not good journalism. Saying transparency can replace objectivity basically says that journalism can be produced by interest groups, as long as they're honest about who they are. That's no good for anyone, except for the interest groups." -- Molly Samuel

"The U.S. journalism establishment has determined that they are smarter than consumer sand therefore must talk down, water down, simplify news stories. Their fear was that no one would read the paper. Really.

"If all the facts were reported AND an effort was made to make media literacy an elementary school requirement we might have real journalism again in this country in a generation or so. Or promote and support online platforms that present facts and commentary separately. Then let traditional media fend for themselves." -- Todd O'Neill

"It's never possible, but always desirable. That is, complete objectivity is probably impossible, because we aren't always aware of our prejudices. But, it is what we should strive for, regardless. So, it is very important to attempt, but also to be aware that we may have blind spots, in order to avoid the arrogance of believing you are able to step completely out of your own biases." -- Rebecca Church

"To an extent, I agree with 'Transparency is the new objectivity,' but I don't think it's sufficient. I think pursuing objectivity while being transparent is crucial. Journalists should make every effort to escape their biases, explore other perspectives, and challenge their assumptions of what are and are not significant/authoritative voices, but they shouldn't do so at the cost of reporting and storytelling. However, they should acknowledge where they can where they are coming from, what perspectives they might take into the discussion, and what assumptions they are starting with so readers/audiences are able to make an informed analysis of the journalist's credibility." -- Bill Lascher

"'Transparency is the new objectivity' is a fun riff, and it's close, but I think we (in the media business) grossly overstate the public's interest in our affiliations and conflicts." -- Ryan Sholin

"Science, going back to the Heisenberg principle in the 1920s has proven that observation has an effect on the thing observed. Also, you can play 'he said-she said' journalism, but one statement has to come before the other. Determining the order is the reporter or editor's subjective choice and determines the slant of the story." -- Kellia Ramares

"Objectivity is not rewarded by anyone, not the public and not the corporate new organizations. It's become like Don Quixote chasing windmills." -- Shari Brandhoy

"Objectivity is impossible. There is no such thing as a human or institution without opinion. Therefore, it's best for us to know the bias of the reporters. That said, a statement of bias doesn't give license to lie or omit facts. Transparency is twofold:
• a statement of bias
• a commitment to releasing all information in an honest manner." -- Joey Baker

"Shirky has made me bias on the topic - journalist was a special class of citizen when you needed a press. Now every resident has a responsibility to be a journalist. Who is going to write about neighborhoods - when crime is not the topic? Newspapers and other media outlets have always done a poor job covering my home. So who does that responsibility fall to - someone with a stake in the future of that neighborhood. And while I want accuracy and independence, I want the reporter, journalist, or citizen to offer their educated take on what this all means for the future of the area." -- Eddie North-Hager

"The very definition of dialectic is pastiche. How can anyone be objective while still being informed? Transparency at least offers honesty and a path for the reader to follow." -- Clarisa Morales Roberts

"I define an objective piece as one that represents all viewpoints in a piece and allows readers to make up their minds about those viewpoints. To do anything less is a disservice to, and disrespectful of, the reader." -- Craig Gaines

"There is fairness but not objectivity. Everyone decides where to look, what facts to portray, how to frame what they're seeing. Even a pointed camera is not objective -- where the lens is pointed, how the zoom is set ... these all determine what's seen and how." -- Dorian Benkoil

"Debating object/subject is an endless philosophical waste of time. Facts, and trends, data, information, systems analysis all are much more relevant to discourse around solving the complex problems we face today and in the future." -- Stephen Antonaros

"I believe that objectivity is the single most dangerous goal journalism can work towards. It is impossible for a human being to produce a genuinely non-biased piece of writing, but it is simple for a writer to mimic the tone of authority that a member of society is educated to frame as truth. Journalism should strive for transparency - not as a new objectivity, but as a drastically different and more democratic concept of media's responsibility to present and portray information." -- Rebecca Glaser

"Objectivity is impossible, it's an illusion and a myth often used to maintain flat, two-dimensional reporting that implies there are simply "two sides." What's far more important is accuracy, vigorous inquiry and story dimension--looking for texture and layers of debate, and letting the facts tell the story; two 'sides' are not 'equal' if one is heavily fact-based and the other is just opinion." -- Christopher Cook

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August 02 2010

20:35

Can Social Micro-Earnings Help Micropayments Work for News?

Would readers pay as little as a penny, or even less, for news? They would, if paying was combined with social sharing, micro-earning, virtual currency and a centralized banking system, according to doctoral students Geoffrey Graybeal and Jameson Hayes of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

Graybeal and Hayes propose a "Modified News MicroPayment Model" as a way to implement micropayments for news. In this model, readers are not pushed to pay for content, but are instead given choices and incentives to nudge them to pay. The model consists of four key elements: Micro-earnings, socialization/sharing, local focus and a centralized banking system. The model is described in a detail in a paper [PDF] that the pair presented at the Annual International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, Texas, in April.

The pair determines the two-way interaction of the social web as a principle in the model.

"When you use people's social networks to share content, and get other people to pay for it, it should be a partnership between the media organization and the reader, not a one-way proposition," Hayes said in a phone interview. "People need to get paid back, and the social web allows that."

Micro-earn by Sharing

In the model, micro-earnings are combined with social sharing. For example, when a reader shares news articles with friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter, and a friend ends up purchasing the article, the reader earns points. The reader can exchange these points to pay for articles at a news outlet. Thus, the reader can transform their social capital into something with monetary value.

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Micro-earning has already been experimented with on a small scale in journalism. For example, sharing platform YupGrade enables readers to earn points, credits or badges by sharing news stories related to a certain topic. Sharing can be combined with donating, as was the case when YupGrade partnered with the Hunger in America campaign for the SXSW Interactive conference. For every story about hunger, malnutrition, or obesity in the U.S. shared on YupGrade, a can of food was donated to the campaign.

Another example of micro-earning is crowdfunding platform Spot.Us, where community members can earn credits by filling out surveys or other activities. They can then use these credits to donate to pitches on Spot.Us. Thus, readers' time is given a monetary value that can be converted on the site.

According to Graybeal and Hayes, when a news outlet implements a micropayment system, they should also simultaneously implement a micro-earning system.

"Micro-earning would have taken away some of the shock when Time magazine recently implemented a pay wall," Hayes said.

Virtual News Currencies: Times Tender, WSJ Bucks

Evidence suggests consumers are more likely to spend more money when they use virtual currencies and credits, Hayes and Graybeal state in their paper. As a result, the pair believes media outlets should establish their own currency. The Wall Street Journal could offer "WSJ Bucks," the New York Times could have the "Times Tender," etc.

Earning 100 WSJ Bucks for sharing an article on Facebook is more appealing to the reader than paying one-tenth of a cent for an article, they argue. Readers could then cash out the micro-credits they have earned via a centralized banking system. The news outlets could also sell points to the readers.

How the Banking System Works

Hayes and Graybeal see a centralized banking system as being crucial when building a seamless user experience for paying for news. It is also needed to address the transaction costs that are associated with micropayments. The banking systems gives especially local news outlets more control over the pricing of the news, the pair says.

"If a big story breaks in Clayton, Georgia, and the local newspaper, the Clayton Tribune, is the only one who has the story on it, the newspaper should be able to leverage that for their business, and not have the price forced on them by the national news organizations," Hayes said. "The central banking systems allows you to maintain the local focus, have different prices on different products and different places, all that streamlined into one banking system."

Here is how the banking system could work, according to Hayes' and Graybeal's proposal. Let's say the New York Times' currency is called Times Tender, and the user pays $100 for 100 Tenders. With one Tender, the reader can get an access to 10 Times articles. The Times has partnered with a micropayment billing platform that enables the reader to purchase articles with one click.

The users' Times Tender profile is linked to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. When they share a news article on social media and somebody from their network purchases the article, the billing system recognizes this and gives the reader credit.

"The key is to have a seamless user experience," Hayes said. "It has to be easy to use so that it is appealing to the readers."

Micropayments as Part of a Revenue Ecosystem

Graybeal and Hayes emphasize the importance of local and hyper-local focus in journalism, and see their micropayment model that could work for local news.

"Local news has always been a bread and butter for newspapers, but often times when talking about business models we are talking only about big players such as the New York Times," Graybeal said. "But a large amount of newspapers don't fall into this category, and there is a big opportunity for journalism in the neighborhoods that nobody is really covering."

Graybeal and Hayes see micro-earning as one revenue model in the ecosystem of revenue streams that consists of advertising, subscriptions and micropayments.

"This is not the solution, but can be one of the solutions", Hayes said.

He said readers have to be given different options for how to pay for news, such as through subscriptions or one article at a time via micropayments.

"In a paid content environment, outlets will leave money on the table and do a disservice to readers if multiple options for payment are not offered," Graybeal said.

Tanja Aitamurto is a journalist and a Ph.D. student studying collective intelligence in journalism. She has studied innovation journalism at Stanford, and has degrees in journalism, social sciences, and linguistics. Tanja advises media companies and non-profit organizations about business models, reader engagement and community building. As a journalist, she specializes in business and technology. She contributes mainly to the Huffington Post and to the Helsingin Sanomat, the leading daily newspaper in Finland, as well as to the Finnish Broadcasting Company.

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July 27 2010

15:28

Spot.Us Goes National, Gets Clay Shirky as Sponsor

Anyone that has followed Spot.Us from the beginning knows we've tried to remain iterative and agile. In the earlier stages of Spot.Us I thought this was one of the larger lessons for journalism-entrepreneurs. I went through the iterative and agile process and tried to document it so others could repeat. I hope to continue this tradition as I get ready for an academic fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Indeed, the heart of this post addresses two features of Spot.Us (expansion and community-focused sponsorships) which will be my focus while in Missouri.

Inherent to this mindset is the ability to acknowledge missteps and pivot. There are countless things I believe we've done right (pats self on back); but there are other things where we made the best guesses we could and upon failure had to pivot. Recently, Spot.Us made one big pivot and is openly thinking about how to dance around two remaining problems. Before we analyze those, let's get to the good news (pats self on back again, rewards reader with cute kitten photo).


Community-focused sponsorship continues.

We have another community-focused sponsorship, this one made possible by Clay Shirky (how cool is that!).

In this sponsorship we are asking the community questions about objectivity and journalism. Not only do we reward your time by giving you control over a part of our budget, but we will release answers to these questions so that we all may become smarter and learn about what the Spot.Us community thinks about this subject.

Community-focused sponsorships was also a notable entry at the Knight-Batten awards and we've created a sponsorship package to help spread the word. The next step is an affiliate program. If you help us sell a sponsorship, you'll get the commission. Interested? Contact me at david at spot.us.

Editorial Highlights

Just about every week we complete a reporting project and publish a handful of blog posts. Some of the recent victories are highlighted below:

  • The Los Angeles Times imitates Spot.Us reporting: They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. If that is true, then the L.A. Times gave Spot.Us a huge kudos recently. Our ongoing investigation into the UC Regents found that one regent has invested lots of money into private educational institutions. The L.A. Times followed up our reporting, giving a small nod to the original investigation without really giving full credit. In a separate email the L.A. Times reporter did admit that our reporting inspired his column. The Spot.Us community can collectively pat itself on the back for that one.
  • Our most dynamic collaboration ever -- covering the Johannes Mehserle trial: This week we published the 40th post in our coverage of the Johannes Mehserle trial. Mehserle, a former BART police officer, was found guilty of the second degree murder of Oscar Grant. What was unique and interesting for Spot.Us about this project was the number of partners that participated. Our pitch had seven different organizations taking part including Oakland Local, New American Media, California Beat, KALW and The Bay Citizen. In another era, each organization would have hired its own reporter and provided competitive (and perhaps overlapping) coverage. Through Spot.Us we were able to create a ethos of "co-opetition." We hope to see more pitches like this in the future, and our hat is off to these organizations who were able to pull it off.
  • The Treasure Island investigation: Our partners in crime, the SF Public Press, put out a print product recently with an exhaustive spread on Treasure Island. It's a fantastic look at development in SF from several angles and will be adapted and republished by Shareable.Net this week.

Lessons Learned and Missteps


1. Expansion isn't clean: A careful observer of Spot.Us would have seen this coming and may have even noticed the change last week. We have removed the networks on Spot.Us. We used to say we were based in SF, LA, Seattle, Minnesota and expanding; we are now open to anyone with a good local/regional pitch anywhere in the United States.

As I noted in a previous post in June:

From the start, I thought Spot.Us would expand a la Craigslist: Pick locations, create sub-domains and let people aggregate around them. Certainly San Francisco and Los Angeles have worked like this. We always have about five active pitches in both locations at any given time. Seattle however, might not be that way. I fear I'm viewed as an outsider ... But that shouldn't stop me from expanding. Especially not when I am getting very solid pitches from around the country.

It makes little sense for me to tell a good pitch from Illinois or  Texas that they can't put their pitch up until we find a handful of other pitches in their region. So, as of last week, the sub-domains at Spot.Us have been removed. Trying to convince people in a specific region to use the site -- while stopping others from using it because they aren't in the right region -- is not the best use of our time or energy.

So the lesson here is really one about internal expectations and external realities. While in my mind's eye it still makes sense for Spot.Us to expand region-by-region, I don't see this happening anytime soon. This is not the end of the world. In some respects I find it freeing. In the end Spot.Us is a platform, not a news organization. Opening up the platform is a positive endeavor, especially considering the vast majority of pitches so far have been successful.

The major misstep then is not making this change sooner. The challenge going forward is finding a different organizing mechanism so that people can find pitches that are relevant to them as quickly as possible on our search page without expecting those pitches to be grouped geographically.

2. Letting go isn't easy: Related to the misstep above is a larger phenomena. Put bluntly I was a smothering Jewish mother (trust me, I know what these are like). I think I clung to the "babyness" of the Spot.Us project instead of letting it go free. It's natural for anybody who starts something to hold onto it and fear releasing it into the wild. I've tried to avoid that, but  I'm afraid I've put Spot.Us into a tough position of wanting it to expand but also being protective over the pitches that are uploaded into the site.

There are some pitches I felt very comfortable rejecting. The best example was a pitch from a Seattle fortune teller that was going to read people's future via the Internet and publish on Spot.Us. I feel justified in saying "that's not for us." As a non-profit, we have a mission to fund local/regional reporting.

At the same time, this tension hasn't always been easy to negotiate. Some pitches we get exist in a much more difficult space. The tension exists between being a site where the founder has authority over what pitches are included, and a site that is truly open but still filters out pitches that don't meet our mission. I am not 100 percent sure how we will negotiate that tension.

For the immediate future, Spot.Us will be a site where I filter pitches. I will not be filtering pitches based on "credentials" but rather the topic of the reporting and the earnestness and eagerness of the reporter. Ideally Spot.Us and its community board members will be able to come up with a system whereby pitches can be accepted and/or rejected not at the whim of my decision, but by the community and its representatives.

In Conclusion

Spot.Us continues to push forward. We've had some missteps and some beautiful moments. I suspect both will happen in the future as well. The beauty of all this continues to be that both happen in public, and that it is only with the public's participation that either can happen. This remains an experiment in transparency and public control over the process of journalism. It will continue to be such an experiment as we move forward.

June 30 2010

18:01

Spot.Us Lessons: Journalists Work in, and For, the Public

In a previous post I introduced the most significant findings from my recent case study of Spot.Us, a crowdfunding platform for journalism. In this post I discuss what my findings mean for journalism, and for the role and the work of a journalist.

Renegotiating the Role of a Journalist

A crowdfunded journalistic process brings a new element to a journalist's job: Pitching in public. Traditionally, a journalist pitches his or her story directly to an editor. The journalist doesn't need to think about marketing the story to the readers.

In a crowdfunded model, a journalist has to be willing to raise awareness about the pitch in order to attract donations. That means they have to assume responsibility for the marketing of the pitch by convincing the community of the significance of the story topic.

However, Spot.Us reporters expressed discomfort with pitching their stories in public and with asking for donations. To this end, the element of pitching in public brings new requirements and shifts the nature of the journalist's role.


Similar shifts are occurring in creative industries as brands and institutions such as record labels and media institutions lose power. According to Mark Deuze, an associate professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, creativity and commerce in cultural work are increasingly coming together.

This development presumes that creative workers see their skills, ideas and talent in commercial terms. Traditionally, journalists have embraced creative autonomy and peer review rather than market appeal. In crowdfunded journalism, however, market appeal and readers' opinions become more important than peer review.

These new requirements challenge the traditional journalist's self-perception as that of an independent creative worker whose story topics are first and foremost accepted by colleagues, rather than by the public.

Participatory Culture Motivates Journalists

On Spot.Us, a participatory culture manifests itself in many ways: Community members (readers and donors) can donate money or talent for a pitch, they can leave a comment, submit a tip, or take on an assignment that a reporter has assigned to the readers.

These options for participation -- particularly reader donations for a story -- have a strong, positive impact on a journalist's motivation to work. One of the Spot.Us reporters I interviewed said it was "beyond professionally motivating" the see that the public is willing to support her work by donating money.

From the journalist's perspective, the act of donation creates a strong connection between the donor and reporter. Reporters find it rewarding to have a direct link to readers. This connectedness also creates a strong sense of responsibility for the story.

Typically, though, donors prefer to participate solely by donating; they are not eager to leave comments or submit tips, nor do they get engaged in the story process to the extent that they closely follow any story updates. For the most part, donors feel that they've done their part by offering up money.

Spot.Us: A Journalist's Personal R&D Lab

For Spot.Us reporters, this platform is more than just a way to finance their work; they see it as an opportunity to experiment with new methods of journalism, for example in reader engagement.

The reporters also see Spot.Us as an opportunity to experiment with tools such as video and infographics. The site gives them the freedom to experiment that they seem to have been longing for. They feel there is a lack of opportunity to try new things when working for traditional news operations.

Reporters also consider Spot.Us as a good way to find partners for collaboration.

Donating for a Better Society

spotusdonor.jpgDonors don't seem to be contributing to a specific journalistic piece as much as they are donating for the common good. Donors rarely follow up with the stories they help fund, and they might not even check up on the finished story.

For them, it's not about the story; they want their donation to be a catalyst for change in society. They're hoping the story helps make this happen.

This notion provokes a question about journalism's role in society. Is the role of journalism only to inform people about issues and problems? Or should journalism also give the public a chance to make a difference, to attempt to solve a problem? If the latter is valid, then perhaps advocacy, cause-driven, or problem-solving journalism is more meaningful for the community than neutral, objective journalism that provides information but not the means to solve problems.

An example of problem-solving journalism is Huffington Post Impact, where journalism is married to causes. The stories on Huffington Post Impact report on issues like hunger at schools, or the misery of a family that lost a home in a flood. At the end of the story, the reader is given a chance to donate to a non-profit organization that can help alleviate the problem.

Based on my findings, at least some people consider journalism to be a means for contributing to social change. Therefore, journalism organizations should embed tools similar to SeeClickFix or new Knight News Challenge winner CitySeed, which allow the public to contribute to the betterment of the community with one click. Readers want constructive ways to participate, and journalism should give them the tools.

Journalism Aligned With Cause Marketing

Because the public donates for a cause, and not necessarily for journalism, the pitches on crowdfunded journalistic platforms such as Spot.Us should be more aligned with the features of cause marketing, a term applied to marketing efforts by non-profits working for social change.

In this era of declining media conglomerates, journalism organizations should have a clear message to readers as to why their stories matter, and how a reader can make a difference in society. It is important to note, though, that the strategy of cause-marketing works only for certain types of topics and journalism, such as the field of investigative reporting.

Participation as a Tool for Identity Building

In crowdfunded journalism, people share more than just the actual story -- they share the story of their participation in the process by tweeting and Facebooking. This act of participation binds people together. As one donor put it: "I felt I belonged to a community when I donated."

When Spot.Us donors spread news of their donation, they are also building their own identity. It says something about them, and they want to share that. That's a significant result and benefit for donors. As a result, journalists should think of how they can provide the public with ways to link identity and causes to reporting.

For more information about the study, please contact me at tanja.aitamurto at gmail.com, or on Twitter @tanjaaita

Tanja Aitamurto is a journalist and a Ph.D. student studying collective intelligence in journalism. She has studied innovation journalism at Stanford, and has degrees in journalism, social sciences, and linguistics. Tanja advises media companies and non-profit organizations about the changes in the field of communication. As a journalist, she specializes in business and technology. She contributes mainly to the Huffington Post and to the Helsingin Sanomat, the leading daily newspaper in Finland, as well as to the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Tanja splits her time between San Francisco and Finland, her home country.

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June 28 2010

14:00

Opening up journalism’s boundaries to bring change back in: How Knight and its News Challenge have evolved

It was with considerable irony that I found myself last week missing much of the action surrounding the announcement of the latest winners of the Knight News Challenge, all because I was scrambling to put the finishing touches on a dissertation about…the Knight News Challenge.

Go figure.

Now that the dissertation is finished (at least temporarily, in the hands of my committee members), I’ve had a chance to reflect on how this fourth class of winners fits into the overall picture that has developed from the Knight News Challenge. This contest matters because, far and away, it’s the most prominent innovation effort of its kind in the future-of-journalism space. And so, in some sense, the News Challenge has an agenda-setting impact on the rest of the field at large, emphasizing certain trends over others and altogether giving shape to what we think of as “news innovation.”

But to understand the News Challenge in full, we have to step back and consider the organization behind it — the nonprofit John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the leading funder of journalism training for years and now the biggest philanthropic supporter of news-related startups and experiments. This, of course, is especially true in the nonprofit news sector: Just pick your favorite news upstart (Voice of San Diego, Texas Tribune, et al.), and chances are it has a good share of Knight funding. [Including this website — full disclosure, the Knight Foundation is a financial supporter of the Nieman Journalism Lab. —Josh]

So, the question that prompted my dissertation was simply this: With all this investment and influence in journalism innovation, what is the Knight Foundation trying to accomplish? (We can put this another way. Mark Dowie, in his 2002 investigation of nonprofit foundations, said, “If foundations are indeed ‘America’s passing gear,’ we need to ask what, or whom, they are passing, and where are they taking the country?” In our case, if Knight is akin to journalism’s passing gear, how — and toward what future — is it attempting to drive the field?)

The short answer is that Knight has sought to innovate journalism in part by stepping away from it, by making a strategic shift from “journalism” to “information.” This broadening of boundaries has created crucial space for innovators — from inside and outside journalism — to set forth a reformed view of what journalism is and ought to be. Chief among these new ethics is the emerging ethic of participation — the sense that journalism not only can be participatory, but indeed should be, and that something is missing if the public isn’t involved. In this sense, the foundation and its innovators, in rhetoric and action, are working to bring change to the rather ossified occupational ideology of journalism, or this professional culture that has developed much of its authority around the idea that it has gatekeeping control over what passes as “news.”

Now let me try to explain the longer answer. First, I came at this case study of the Knight Foundation and the Knight News Challenge from a number of angles: interviews with foundation leaders and more than a dozen KNC winners (namely, the ones who seemed to want to build a news organization/platform with their funding); an analysis of hundreds upon hundreds of pages of documents, such as foundation reports and News Challenge applications; and even some statistical analysis using a large body of data gathered on KNC applications from the first three years (the 2007, 2008 and 2009 contest cycles). There isn’t space in a single post to summarize my findings from each of these areas, but elsewhere I presented some early results on the KNC, and you can contact me if you’re interested in the final dissertation come July.

For now, I’ll touch on the big picture: how the Knight Foundation and its News Challenge have evolved in recent years.

From the news industry to the crowd

The Knight Foundation has long been a leading supporter of journalism education, and for much of the 1990s and early 2000s did this through the endowment of chaired professorships at journalism schools around the country. But after Alberto Ibargüen took over as foundation president and CEO in 2005, Knight began to realize that, as Ibargüen has said, it shouldn’t be in the business of teaching best practices for jobs that might not exist in the future.

Around the same time, Ibargüen and Knight became attracted to philanthropy’s growing use of challenge contests and other means of tapping into the “wisdom of the crowds” to find solutions to problems. If the “problem” for journalism in an era of digital disruption was the need to find new or refurbished models through which journalism’s core functions and societal benefits could be achieved — to “meet the information needs of communities,” in the foundation’s common refrain — then Knight was making a break from its past in turning away from faith in industry expertise and toward an acknowledgement that the solutions may well come from the aggregate expertise of a participatory crowd of contributors.

The Knight News Challenge was born in 2006 in this context: as a contest attempting to tackle a big professional problem (the shrinking of newspapers in many communities) by purposefully looking beyond the profession alone, seeking to engage a whole range of people — techies, entrepreneurs, activists, etc. — and their ideas that might shake up journalism. This crowdsourcing strategy is seen both in the nature of the contest — which is open to all — and in the actual content of the proposals that have been funded, many of which have a crowd-focused component of distributed participation (from Spot.Us in 2008 to Ushahidi in 2009 to GoMap Riga and Tilemapping in 2010).

From professional control to participation

These connected assumptions — that neither Knight nor the news industry had the solutions to its “informed communities” problem, but that answers could come through participation from distributed crowds that were newly connected online — led Knight to conclude that it should give up control over some facets of its philanthropy, as it did with its challenge contests, first the Knight News Challenge and more recently with the likes of Knight Community Information Challenge and Knight Arts Challenge.

What’s more, the foundation chose to give up control over maintaining journalism’s professional boundaries of exclusion — of defining journalism by one’s professional status — thus rhetorically opening the gates to greater participation from audiences. This was no small shift. Professionals, by nature, seek to be autonomous from outside influence, and so an acknowledgment of one’s lack of expertise or lack of control is a serious departure from the professional paradigm. Nevertheless, Ibargüen’s logic — of openness, of distributed control, of crowd wisdom and collective engagement — is more in tune with the digital media environment and its participatory culture. And, in this sense, his logic may reflect the Knight Foundation’s adaptation to the situation — its own way of “figuring out the flow” (Ibargüen’s words) and leveraging the momentum to accomplish its purposes.

All of this works to “open up” journalism in a way that allows something like crowd participation — which is still mostly at the margins of mainstream journalism — to become not only palatable but indeed truly valuable, a very ethic of good practice, in a rebooted formulation of journalism. This, in fact, is the general perspective of the KNC winners I interviewed, and is one of the core themes I explore further in the dissertation.

From journalism to information

In more recent times, the Knight Foundation has undergone a further evolution from “journalism” to “information,” both in rhetoric and practice. First, remember again that Knight’s ultimate goal is helping people get the information they need to function in (local) democracy. Historically, it was the newspaper that took care of providing that crucial information, and so the News Challenge was an effort to work on the problem of declining news at the community level.

But, as the News Challenge developed over time, Knight staff began to wonder if they were unduly focused on the “means” of informed communities — on the troubled journalism profession — and instead should be giving more emphasis to understanding and promoting the “outcomes” of informed communities, with less regard to how those outcomes were achieved. It’s kind of like being less concerned about the well-being of doctors and more concerned about public health, whether or not doctors are the ones doing the healing. As Ibargüen told me in an interview:

If you’re being agnostic about the form [i.e., digital delivery], shouldn’t you really focus on the end result? [Emphasis mine.] That is, stop trying to figure out how to fix current media and instead ask the question, “What does a community in a democracy need? What kind of information does it need in order to function well within a democracy? Where are we now, and what public policy can you support that will get us from where we are now to where we ought to be?”

In other words: Worry less about journalism and more about quality information, however it gets gathered and distributed. This line of thinking led to the formation of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. This high-level commission produced a report that was among the major future-of-journalism treatises to emerge in 2009. While journalism does receive fairly substantial treatment in the report, Amy Gahran was “struck by how little [the report] had to say about how professional journalists and mainstream news organizations fit into the future of civic media.”

Even more, the Knight Foundation appears to have realized that it can have a broader impact in philanthropy and society to the extent it downplays “journalism,” a term that, like it or not, comes with the baggage of stereotypes and a professional identity complex. “Information,” by contrast, has no particular ideology, and therefore can be malleably shaped to suit the circumstances. By invoking “information” and “information needs,” the Knight Foundation has been able to communicate to and connect with a range of fields, foundations, and corporations in a way “that we almost certainly would never have done before,” Ibargüen said. Because “information” is an empty vessel, open to interpretation, it has enabled Knight to speak the language of other fields, even as it seeks to advance the interests of its own. As Ibargüen told me:

One of the lessons for me is that when I used to talk about this as journalism, I’d get the great glazing of the eyes, as people would say, “Get over yourself, you’re just not that important, you know!” And now I know to say, “OK, this matters, this is at the center of almost anything. You tell me your subject, and I’ll tell you how information matters.” [Emphasis mine.]

This journalism-to-information shift can be seen in how the News Challenge has developed. My own examination of winners over the years suggests that projects have become less and less about “producing journalism” and increasingly about “supporting information,” some of which might be considered journalism in a traditional sense. And this gets us to the big existential question: What is journalism, anyway? In a world where the boundaries (rhetorical and structural) around news gathering, filtering, and distributing are becoming increasingly hard to detect, when does information become journalism? It is in this soup of uncertainty and confusion that the Knight Foundation has sought to bring profession-wide change: opening the boundaries of journalism and its own philanthropy to the logic of crowd wisdom, and using its position as a boundary-spanning agent, straddling several fields, as a means of bringing fresh ideas into a field that sorely needs them.

June 18 2010

08:20

MediaShift: What are the effects of crowdfunding journalism?

Over on MediaShift, PhD student Tanja Aitamurto shares the first of five posts detailing some of her research findings in ‘collective intelligence’ in journalism.

Platforms such as Spot.Us and Kickstarter have shown that crowdfunding can work as a financing mechanism for journalism. We will likely see more crowdfunded stories in the future, which means it’s important [to] study how crowdfunding impacts journalism and the role and work of a journalist.

She offers five observations “on how the crowdfunded process impacts journalism from the reporter’s and donor’s point of view”.

Full post at this link…

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June 17 2010

17:03

Spot.Us Case Study Shows Impact of Crowdfunding on Journalism

Platforms such as Spot.Us and Kickstarter have shown that crowdfunding can work as a financing mechanism for journalism. We will likely see more crowdfunded stories in the future, which means it's important study how crowdfunding impacts journalism and the role and work of a journalist.

I'm currently in the process of completing a Ph.D. project about collective intelligence in journalism, and my case study about Spot.Us attempts to address these issues. I interviewed 15 Spot.Us donors and reporters for the study, which I presented last week in the form of a research paper at IJ-7, the Seventh Conference on Innovation Journalism at Stanford.

This is the first of two blog posts based on my paper. In this post, I offer five observations on how the crowdfunded process impacts journalism from the reporter's and donor's point of view. The quotations below are taken from the interviews I conducted with Spot.Us reporters and donors.

The Reporter's Point of View

Donating bonds readers to reporters -- Donating is a significant act that bonds reporters to the community members (a.k.a. readers). Reporters said it's very motivating to see that the community is willing to support their work. This is how one Spot.Us reporter described the feeling: "It feels great. It feels gratifying ... And seeing somebody paying $20 for a story -- it is way more than 20 cents." Reporters described the act of donating as "heartening," "gratifying" and "personally motivating, beyond professionally motivating." They consider the donors as their supporters. For them, donating is an act that supports their work and the topics they are working on.

Strong sense of responsibility -- The connection created by donations develops a strong sense of responsibility within the reporters. Reporters described this as being different from the feeling of responsibility that comes with a traditional assignment. It goes beyond the usual feelings of "professional responsibility." A Spot.Us reporter explained how this additional level of responsibility felt to her: "It is more than having it written in a nice style and formatted properly, things you worry about for an editor. You worry more about the accuracy, really honest reporting and presenting the issues correctly, because these people have directly invested in you."

Direct connection to the readers -- Rather than writing for an editor, reporters said they feel as though they're writing for the community. They find it rewarding to have a direct connection to readers, and to know who the readers are. One reporter said: "When I started working on the story [for Spot.us] I already knew who the readers are, whereas when writing a usual story [in a traditional journalism model] sometimes it feels like writing for a black hole."


Discomfort with pitching -- Spot.Us reporters don't feel comfortable pitching in public. For example, they feel hesitant to reach out to their social networks to raise awareness of their pitch. "I'm a journalist, not a salesperson," said one reporter. "I can't make myself go out and promote my pitch." Another reporter compared pitch promotion to begging by saying it's like asking for spare change by shaking a tin can on the street. Traditionally, journalists pitch directly to editors rather than to the public. Reporters said they would feel more comfortable promoting their pitch in public if Spot.Us organized promotional events that they could participate in.

Freedom to experiment -- Reporters said Spot.Us is more than just a way to finance their work; they see it as an opportunity to experiment with new methods of journalism, and an opportunity to experiment with tools such as video and infographics. The platform gives the reporters freedom they have been longing for.

The Donor's Point of View

Donating doesn't bind donors -- Donating doesn't bind donors as strongly as it binds journalists. After donating to a story, donors often don't return to the Spot.Us site to read the final work. They are more likely to stay connected with the story process if they receive notifications from Spot.Us, but even then the connection remains loose. "I'm not actually engaged with what has happened on the site," one donor said. "I will wait to get the email [telling me] here's the story done, here you are, here's the output of it. A part of it is that I'm not incredibly close to these stories."
spotusdonor.jpg Not eager to leave comments, submit tips -- Donors are not eager to participate in ways other than donating. They usually said that they don't have enough knowledge to submit tips to a story. One donor put it this way: "I participated by donating. I don't have so much to say about the topic, and I'm not used to leaving comments on websites." The donors rarely interacted with the journalists, even though Spot.Us encourages readers to do so.



Donating to a good cause -- Donors tend to support stories that have relevancy or connection to their lives. However, the primary reason for donating seems to be that they want to support a healthy society, and they consider journalism to be an essential element of this. Donating is more about supporting a good cause or the common good, rather than supporting a specific story pitch. Donors do not expect a master journalistic piece for their donation, though they are happy if that happens. "I don't think I'm gonna get anything [for my donation]," said one donor. "I'll learn something out of the process ... I consider this as a donation for the common good, more than anything else, or any kind of personal gain."

Donating to change the world -- Donors hope the stories they support will make a difference in society. They see articles as a way to produce change for the better in society by revealing wrongdoings or inequalities.

Donating builds one's identity -- The act of donating to a pitch helps builds one's sense of personal identity. Donors who are on Twitter usually tweeted after they had donated. Some donors said the act of donation made them feel part of the community, even though they were unable to define what that community is.

In my next blog post, I will discuss and analyze what these observations mean for journalism. For more information about the study or for the full paper, please contact me at tanja.aitamurto at gmail.com or on Twitter as @tanjaaita.

Tanja Aitamurto is a journalist and a Ph.D. student studying collective intelligence in journalism. She has studied innovation journalism at Stanford, and has degrees in journalism, social sciences, and linguistics. Tanja advises media companies and non-profit organizations about the changes in the field of communication. As a journalist, she specializes in business and technology. She contributes mainly to the Huffington Post and to the Helsingin Sanomat, the leading daily newspaper in Finland, as well as to the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Tanja splits her time between San Francisco and Finland, her home country.

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