How crowdfunding journalism affects reader relationships

By: Catalina Albeanu, As more journalists choose crowdfunding as a way to finance individual projects or kickstart new media organisations, what impact does being funded directly by readers have on the way journalists work?

Dutch outlet De Correspondent set a record for crowdfunded journalism when it raised $1.7 million (just over £1 million) last year, offering one year memberships in exchange for contributions.

De Correspondent publisher Ernst-Jan Pfauth said the outlet does not have readers, but ‘members’ who have the opportunity to contribute to the journalism produced at De Correspondent.

“I think one of the biggest untapped resources of knowledge in journalism is the knowledge of your readers,” he told in a podcast.

The relationship is so much more direct because we owe our very existence to their generosity.Ernst-Jan Pfauth, De Correspondent

When De Correspondent reporters are working on a story, they write about it on their personal profile first to allow members to send tips or ask questions.

A Little Bit of Stone Crowdfunder campaign 2014 from A Little Bit of Stone on Vimeo.

The reporting process at De Correspondent regularly involves this step, unless the story in question needs to be kept under the radar before publication.

“This brings a depth to the journalism that you wouldn’t have without them [the members],” he said.

“And because we’re a crowdfunded journalism platform, the relationship is so much more direct because we owe our very existence to their generosity, so that really helps in establishing a relationship.

Members can now react to what De Correspondent journalists are working on, but Pfauth said he was also looking at ways to make it easier for them to contribute story ideas.

“This is something we have to work on because [at the moment] the initiative of a new story is always with the journalist.”

At collaborative journalism platform Contributoria, crowdfunding is built into the process that sees an idea develop from pitch to published story.

Screenshot of Contributoria’s October 2014 issue,

Contributoria members each receive a number of points per month to donate to their favourite pitches, and projects that get backed move on to the research and writing stage.

In this phase, members of the platform can help form the article, asking questions or making suggestions to the writer.

“The opportunity is there that if somebody wishes to get involved they can,” said editor Sarah Hartley. “Obviously the writer does have the last say in the end, they don’t have to take any notice of other people’s views although we rather hope they do.

“And we do encourage them to take part in the discussions because that will help make a better story.”

Hartley said there has been no indication of members expecting to have “a great deal of influence” over the piece as a result of crowdfunding.

“You’re joining a community and that’s what you’re paying for,” she said, adding that members have been supportive of writers. “It helps the final piece by having that transparency early on.”

But how do journalists financing individual projects in this way feel about being paid directly by their audience?

Jess McCabe, acting features editor at Inside Housing and freelance features writer, crowdfunded a series of features about the economics of domestic abuse, to be published by non-profit news service Women’s eNews.

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