How crowdfunding is revolutionising journalism – and the world

Crowdfunding for tech start-ups, smart inventions and even movies isn’t anything new, but what about the impact of crowdfunding on journalism? Khari Johnson explains how this revolutionary idea has the power to change the world as we know it

Crowdfunding is beginning to feel a lot like social media did a decade ago.

It’s been around for a couple of years and still isn’t taken seriously by some people, but it’s forecast to explode and have a massive impact on life as we know it. Like social media, pretty soon it may become so common that it’s a normal part of a lot of people’s jobs and lives.

That could certainly be the case for a lot of journalists. About a year ago I created the website Through the Cracks to follow the impact of crowdfunding on reporters and storytellers. We now have about a dozen journalists in half a dozen countries around the world monitoring crowdfunding in journalism. We’ve followed thousands of campaigns across dozens of platforms and what we’ve seen is amazing. It reinvigorates my hope for the future of journalism.

We’ve seen brand new start-ups earn seed money, independent news outlets become the go-to alternative to state-owned media and freelancers with their own following succeed. We’ve seen innovation and reporting that fills a hole in the media landscape and brings under-reported stories to light.

This isn’t considered an option by everyone yet, nor has it taken roots in every part of the world, but as it grows in acceptance and adoption, we may be in store for some incredible impact.

Its campaign isn’t over yet, but Positive News is now part of that trend, a trend that can come with a deeper relationship between reporter and reader and has the potential to be about a whole lot more than money.

“One of the most exciting things happening in journalism right now is crowdfunding’s ability to empower communities and bring to life stories and storytelling ventures that wouldn’t exist otherwise.”

The other day I was reading a story about news start-ups that made me roll my eyes. There was some new information but for the most part it was an old story, a progress report about Vice, BuzzFeed and the same dozen or so companies I hear about again and again.

I mean, I get lost in BuzzFeed videos sometimes just like everyone else, but it’s not the most exciting thing happening in journalism right now. Not to me.

One of the most exciting things happening in journalism right now is crowdfunding’s ability to empower communities and bring to life stories and storytelling ventures that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

We saw it with hyperlocal Brixton Blog & Bugle, a Sleaford Mods documentary and the swift reaction to #indyref in Scotland that brought funding to news start-ups there. We also saw it when a crowdfunding campaign started by a newspaper raised more than £1,000,000 in a day to rebuild a Manchester dog shelter.

A few weeks ago citizen journalism site Bellingcat used open source tools, citizen journalism and a quick GoFundMe campaign to challenge assertions made by Russia regarding the crash of flight MH17. That’s exciting.

The idea that a community – be it online or geographic, hyperlocal or worldwide – can band together to bring reporting to life or take other collective action at this speed is a new phenomena. In the wake of a tragedy, scandal or years of neglect, people can start to ask questions.

Is the mainstream news avoiding the hard questions? Do they lack ambition or fail to meet the diversity of the community they cover? Do they cover problems but offer no solutions? Do they measure page views but don’t seem to keep track of impact or engagement or strengthening bonds in the community? Do you believe someone should stay on the job after a major environmental catastrophe or the church shootings in South Carolina to ensure the story doesn’t just become forgotten in the churn of the news cycle?

Journalists and communities that identify a need and work with a passionate audience now have options.

Some of these options existed before but not with this ease or speed. With crowdfunding you can test an idea, get the money and be set to go in a matter of days or weeks.

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Crowdfunding is set to outpace venture capital spending in 2016, according to industry researcher Massolution. Previous projections by the firm have crowdfunding set to double in size several times over in the coming years. One example of how this might happen is in the US, where on 19 June regulators approved the start of equity crowdfunding, a kind of investment in businesses that people of average income haven’t been able to do since the Great Depression

Community share offers through crowdfunding, as Positive News is doing, is an exciting new idea. It isn’t just investment in a figurative sense because you feel connected to a cause or you get a free T-shirt: you get shares. You can literally own the media. People can invest in positive news or community news or whatever else touches your heart, impacts your life or fits into your investment strategy.

Crowdfunding may not be the silver bullet that cures all that ails journalism, but it’s going to fuel a hell of a lot of experiments and innovation, and we’re just starting to see the ways crowdfunding can fit into a larger strategy, help sustain social or business ventures and bring new ideas into the world.

We are inviting our readers to #OwnTheMedia. Become an owner now and help us become the first crowdfunded global media cooperative.

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