Crowdfunding Journalism: A New Financing Model for Freelancers?

from journalism student Sarah Petz’s Indiegogo campaign to report in Uganda

from journalism student Sarah Petz’s Indiegogo campaign to report in Uganda

Toronto-based freelance reporter Naheed Mustafa always paid her own way when she reported from abroad. But that meant that about 70 percent to 80 percent of what she earned went straight toward paying for the costs of traveling.

Most news organizations don’t reimburse freelancers for travel costs, and the ones that do don’t offer a lot. Mustafa was looking for a more cost-effective solution, so she turned to crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to raise $15,000 to travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan for in-depth reporting on how its citizens are affected by conflict and war. After two months, she successfully reached her goal and will head abroad this month.

In a shrinking economic climate, many newspapers are cutting back on freelance budgets and expense reimbursements. Frustrated with this new reality, some journalists have taken financing into their own hands.

Joey Coleman has completed two crowdfunding campaigns, raising more than $20,000 in total, and used the funds to provide extensive coverage of Hamilton, Ontario, municipal politics. And a Carleton University journalism student is hoping to raise $5,000 to help pay for costs while reporting in Uganda.

These campaigns — and their success — show that the Canadian market is game to pay for quality journalism.

“I think it’s the wave of the future,” said Mustafa. “Consumers are going to pay journalists per item or pay individual journalists because they support their work. And that’s how people are going to be able to do the work they want to do.”

People are willing to pay, even if they don’t have to
The younger generation may have grown up during an age of “free” news on the Internet, but Coleman said his fundraising campaign shows even they are willing to pay for quality journalism. Many of his contributors were in the 25-to-30 age bracket, and while they mostly chipped in $5 or $10, he said it’s a substantial amount of money coming from a student.

“It’s a real gesture that says to me that the cynicism of, ‘People will not pay for news unless they’re forced to pay for news,’ is incorrect,” he said.

While the average contribution to Mustafa’s campaign was around $50, she was astounded when one contributor gave $5,000 towards her fundraising. “I thought that was pretty amazing to me,” she said, “that people would be willing to give me that much money out of their pocket with no receipt, with nothing back to them except for the opportunity to help out and to read what I come up with.”

Mustafa and Coleman did offer perks for escalating contributions — such as exclusive updates or access to events, and souvenirs from abroad — to provide more incentive to potential funders.

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