(Investigative) Power to the People! Crowd funded journalism
Journalists have not had their most optimistic decades . Dubbed “America’s fastest shrinking Industry”, the newspaper industry has seen ad revenue halve since the year 2005. Similarly, the newsroom workforce has been reduced by over 20%. The often mentioned cause for this drastic downturn is the internet. It has changed the way people find information, and maybe more importantly the way information finds people. Newspapers have acted on this revolution by offering their content online, and after initial struggles many have find a membership model that suits their customers. However, a major problem has been largely unsolved; the impact of this reduced newsroom staff on the quality of journalism, and in particular investigative journalism.
Investigative journalism is a type of journalism where one subject or topic is deeply researched. A journalist may spend months or years working on just one of these articles. It can be considered of vital importance for the accountability of both company and government, as its most famous example the Watergate scandal showed. However, such extensive research requires a lot of resources, which is the object that newspaper currently lack. Furthermore, now margins have shrunk to dramatic lows, the desires of advertisers have become central. They do not necessarily want accountability, and as a result investigative journalism has largely disappeared as a priority for traditional media. Does this mean that investigative journalism an art that will continue to lose its resources?
Not if some start ups, such as Yournalism can help it. They have reassessed the journalism business model, and have found a revenue model away from the traditional advertisers. Yournalism believes that the necessary resource can come from the famous crowd. Crowd funding has seen a large increase in interest in the last couple of years, and can be used for a wide array of financing such as movies and books. This increased popularity of crowd funding can for instance be seen in the huge number of blog posts describing one of the various new iterations possible with this method of financing. But how can investigative journalism be funded by the crowd? As mentioned above I will take the example of Yournalism, which is a recently launched (30th of September) Dutch start-up by former Volkskrant employees. On their website various research topics have been posted, such as whether the European Medicine Authority is cooperating with the pharmaceutical industry. When a certain research question reaches the target of €3000, a freelance journalist attached to this question will be able to start working. Besides funding, the crowd can contribute by submitting research topics or offering research tips. Yournalism believes that this platform is the perfect match between information that the crowd wants, and the impartial research that is lost in today’s media conglomerates.
But what do you believe? Do you think that the crowd can fund this type of journalism? The cynic in me would question the actual impact of crowd funded journalism. Isn’t the point of investigative journalism to uncover the stories that people do not even know exist yet. Furthermore, would prepaying the journalist not negatively impact his/her desire to do extensive research, and thus the overall quality?