Crowdfunded journalism considers relationship with funders

Stacy Kess, an Ohio-based freelance reporter, launched her Kickstarter campaign in May this year.

To start her project, she had to first list a description of her campaign: she wanted to create a publication where young journalists could learn balanced reporting and present a well-rounded picture to an audience. And she needed Kickstarter to get the funds to help her start it.

Raising small amounts of money from large amounts of people can raise concerns about pressure from those who give money, similar with with traditional advertising. However, some reporters and media ethics professionals aren’t seeing any issues, as long as the process is honest and open.

Kathleen Culver, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Journalism Ethics, said individual reporting projects can get off the ground with this type of funding, although like with any kind of journalism, editorial independence has to be a concern.

“So if it’s crowdfunded, you should be avoiding the influence of people who made donations to you. If it is donor funded, like funded by a foundation, that foundation should not have a say in your reporting. If it is advertising supported, advertisers should not have a say,” she said. “So independence is one of the hallmark ethics in journalism that we need to pay attention to regardless of where the money is coming from.”

The number of crowdfunded journalism projects increased tenfold between 2015 and Kickstarter’s launch in 2009, earning nearly $9 million, a Pew Research Center study published at the beginning of this year found.

Kickstarter is one of the largest sites for crowdfunding and the only one to offer a distinct journalism category. Pew Research Center researchers analyzed publicly available data for proposed projects in Kickstarter’s journalism category.

Magazine projects were the most popular format for crowdfunded journalism projects, whether they were for launching new publications, expanding coverage or standalone articles.


Kess only used Kickstarter to help pay for WHY Magazine’s startup costs, rather than fund content-related projects later on. She wants young reporters to be trained away from advertisers’ influence.

“I don’t want to do that because I don’t want that pressure on my writers. The whole concept of WHY is training journalists. If I were to go to Kickstarter or any of the other [crowdfunding] platforms to fund a particular project for one of the apprentices, what I could see is a problem with that,” she said, citing concerns that donors would also not fund an article that would take an impartial view.

Her campaign ended in June without meeting her funding goal. However, she plans to try again later this year.

Linda Solomon Wood, editor-in-chief of the National Observer, successfully used Kickstarter for three campaigns, with her latest one funding a series on climate change in 2015. For her, crowdfunding is the cleanest relationship to have with people funding her organization’s work.

As the editor, she’s the one in communication with the donors, so there is a separation between them and the reporters.

“Have I ever had anybody write me and tell me that we weren’t doing the right kind of coverage? No. Because once again I think that where the integrity lies in all this is conceiving a project that you really are going to do,” she said.

Her previous Kickstarter projects were already in motion, so she and her organization had a track record in delivering their stated goals.

Culver advises that it’s important for project producers to communicate their ethics to the donors: why the story is untold, how it will serve the public interest.

“Talking about why we do what we do is something we often miss in journalism and I think it’s a big ethical win when we do it,” she said.

Crowdfunded journalism considers relationship with funders


Clark County, NV needs more Tagalog-speaking poll workers

Noelle Fujii/ VOICES

Section 203 of the Voting Right Act requires the provision of language assistance during the voting process, and Filipinos who speak Tagalog in Clark County in Nevada is one group that has been recognized as needing assistance.

In 2014, Asians made up 10 percent of the population, an increase from 9 percent in 2010. They are the fourth-largest ethnic group in the county.

Audio story:

Clark County, NV needs more Tagalog-speaking poll workers

Ranks of minority journalists largely unchanged in a decade

The number of minorities working in U.S. newsrooms has stagnated over the last decade and more needs to be done to change that, says UNITY President Russell Contreras.

The American Society of News Editors (ASNE), which aims to have minorities comprise about 38 percent of newsrooms, found in a 2015 survey that blacks, Asians, Latinos and other minorities make up about 13 percent of news staffs, a number that’s remained largely unchanged these past 10 years.

The results of this year’s newsroom survey will be released in September.

Noelle Fujii/ VOICES

“What the survey is saying, it’s reporting what we already know,” Contreras said. “But it’s also telling us we’re still, after all these years of surveys, not doing enough.”

At UNITY’s annual Diversity Caucus, leaders from ASNE reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to diversifying newsrooms, not just in newsroom numbers but also coverage strategies.

One focus this year was whether the term “gay bar” was appropriate to use in coverage of the June 12 Orlando, Florida shooting at the Pulse nightclub that killed 49 people and wounded over 50 more.

“I think if we didn’t have conversations like that we could actually make the problem worse in our coverage,” Contreras said.

Karen Magnuson, chairwoman of ASNE’s Diversity Committee, says the industry changes forcing newsrooms to cut staff are among the biggest challenges to diversity.

Many people of color also aren’t gravitating towards newspapers these days because of low pay, Contreras says.

“My fear is that it’s going to become a field of the privilege,” he said of newspaper jobs. “Only those that can afford to do it will do it. And that’s going to have a profound effect on our coverage.”

Peggy Holman, executive director for the nonprofit Journalism That Matters, suggests changing the structure of newsrooms to encourage more community journalism and different perspectives is part of the solution.

Since 2012, Journalism That Matters has partnered with ASNE to find ways to diversify newsrooms by engaging communities, said board member Mike Fancher. The organizations launched the Engagement Hub, a platform where peers could learn from what others are doing to engage communities and integrate a variety of voices into the news.

Hollis Towns, executive editor for the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, where minority staffers have grown from 10 percent in 2008 to 25 percent in 2016, says there needs to be more commitment from media executives to diversity.

A newsroom’s success, he says, comes from being diligent in vetting all applicants and not settling on a new hire too early.

And diversity isn’t just about color or ethnicity, Towns says. It’s also about a variety of thoughts, conversations and life experiences.

But as newsrooms become more diverse, industry leaders acknowledge there will inevitably be pushback.

“When you have stations that hire a bunch of people of color, you get a reaction from a certain percentage of the population saying it’s too fast,” Contreras said. “Well, no. It’s not too fast because it should have happened a generation ago. Deal with it.”


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Social Media Video: How Diverse is Your Newsroom? 

Ranks of minority journalists largely unchanged in a decade