2,800 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
Of all the industries affected by the spread of the internet, few were hit as early and as hard as newspapers.
With news articles becoming readily available online, newspaper circulation dropped. Advertisers moved online, where they pay less for ads, target them more specifically, and track effectiveness more accurately. Less advertising money meant big layoffs; many local and regional papers had to unceremoniously close their doors.
News outlets have adapted to the money crunch somewhat, by putting up paywalls, attracting more readers (and advertising dollars) with click-enticing fluff stories, or through finding other revenue streams, like hosting events. But with less money to go around, reporters struggle to find jobs, and important stories do not get the coverage they deserve.
Crowdfunding has been mentioned as a potential way to finance journalism, and there are some examples that show how the public can fund news coverage. The Dutch news startup De Correspondent recently raised $1.3 million through crowdfunding, for example, before it published even one article. Matter, a long-form journalism organization, raised $140,000 on Kickstarter last year, and was recently acquired by Medium.
Last week, NPR’s Planet Money team also decided to try out crowdfunding one of its stories, launching the Planet Money T-shirt Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $50,000. Earlier today, the campaign passed $300,000, making it one of the most successful journalistic crowdfunding efforts to date.
The campaign is very straightforward in that there is only one reward level – $25 for a Planet Money shirt depicting a martini-sipping squirrel. The shirts will have a QR code (or just a short link) that will lead backers to a page explaining the shirt’s manufacturing process, from the cotton getting picked, through the sewing process, to the shirt actually bring shipped to backers. (The campaign was inspired by economist Pietra Rivoli’s book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy.)
At the campaign’s launch, Planet Money’s Alex Blumberg told Current.org that making the shirts and reporting the story would require roughly $41,000, with the rest of the funds going to a “news reporting boot camp.” It’s unclear whether that’s still the plan, given the campaign’s wild success.
Campaigns like this show that crowdfunding and journalism can mesh well together. But it doesn’t mean reporters should look at crowdfunding as a savior.
The most successful campaigns featured well-known journalists who had little trouble attracting backers. Less prolific reporters who lack support of a large audience and the trust of backers, meanwhile, have had a hard time reaching their campaign goals. Spot.us, for instance, which was created to help these lesser-known journalists, has struggled mightily after a promising start. Let's see if NPR's highly successful Kickstarter campaign can ignite some enthusiasm around crowdfunding news.