Beacon, the crowdfunding-for-journalism platform that launched almost exactly a year ago and was co-founded by Facebook’s former managing editor Dan Fletcher, continues to sign up new journalists interested in using the platform. But it is also growing in a different way — namely, by signing partnerships with existing media outlets to do crowdfunding campaigns based around a single topic. The latest is a project with Newsweek that was announced on Wednesday.
The weekly newsmagazine, which was acquired last year by a somewhat controversial company called IBT Media, said that it is working on an investigative feature about sexual assault on college campuses, and in order to help provide the resources for writer and editor Mandy Van Deven to do the project, it has set up a crowdfunding campaign in partnership with Beacon.
A post at Newsweek says the project, called “Understanding The College Rape Crisis,” will involve real-time updates from Van Deven while she is embedded on campuses across the U.S., as well as a series of in-depth reports and other features based on her research. In effect, contributors are subscribing to a stream of content that will be produced over the life of the project, and the goal of the campaign is to raise $20,000 by November 26.
The editors at Newsweek said that part of the reason they decided to set up the partnership was that the platform and the crowdfunding model allow for more transparent journalism:
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”At Newsweek, we are excited about and seek out new models of journalism, particularly those that encourage greater transparency in all stages of the reporting and publication process. We understand that crowdfunding is not the end-all solution to the financial challenges faced by many publishers and journalists. However, we do believe that it can help provide a greater level of journalistic freedom in certain difficult-to-finance projects where editorial mission and public interest align.”[/blockquote]
Crowdfunding isn’t just about the money
Beacon’s first partnership was with The Huffington Post in August: it created a “Ferguson fellowship” that funded reporter Mariah Stewart and allowed her to report on the aftermath of the riots and upheaval in that town following the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, as well as giving her access to training and tips from Huffington Post staff. Her stories appear at Huffington Post.
The arrangement came under fire from a number of media-industry insiders and journalists, who complained that the Huffington Post should fund that kind of reporting all by itself, since its corporate parent is online giant AOL. But I argued at the time that the use of crowdfunding to help pay for such projects is actually a smart way to let readers (or potential readers) show that they are interested in a specific topic, and to create an ongoing relationship between them and the reporter.
Beacon co-founder Adrian Sanders made a similar point in an email to me about the Newsweek partnership. Crowdfunding is “a way to find out what readers find truly valuable,” he said, and gives content creators or publishers the opportunity to “push initiatives forward that wouldn’t necessarily make sense in the traditional ad-driven business model.”
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”The reality is that HuffPost got criticism from industry pundits, but the readers spoke with their dollars — they wanted this to happen and it did. That’s about as close to real democracy in action as I’ve seen. It’s not up to Beacon about how and where news organizations should spend their dollars, all we’re doing is saying: Here’s a chance to do more with new revenue models and create a hyper-engaged readership around this editorial at the same time.”[/blockquote]
Sanders said that Beacon is working on other similar partnerships with a number of media companies, including The Huffington Post. One such deal was also announced on Wednesday — a partnership with the Pacific Standard, where a reporter is working on a series about Ebola and the food crisis in West Africa.
Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Christian Scholz