Crowdfunding attracts the hyperlocal news crowd

On August 10, hyperlocal news publisher Charlottesville Tomorrow successfully met its goal for its July Kickstarter campaign while Homicide Watch  Aug. 14  launched  a  Kickstarter campaign to keep open Homicide Watch DC.

Hyperlocal sites are having mixed results with their crowdfunding efforts, despite the abundance of crowdfunding sites to choose from  including IndieGogo, Razoo and long-established journalism specialist site Spot.us.

Charlotteseville Tomorrow successfully raised $7,094 with its kickstarter campaign for a very well stated project: “Help Cville Tomorrow build 3D models of the U.S. 29 Western Bypass and see the plans in a way we can all understand!

Check out CVille Tomorrow’s great video.

On Aug. 14, Homicide Watch founder Laura Amico launched a Kickstarter campaign to keep the Homicide Watch D.C.  project operating  while she attends Harvard as a Nieman fellow.  As of Aug.  20, the project had raised $13,497 of  its $40,000 goal.

“It took us about six weeks to get from “let’s pitch on Kickstarter” to having a pitch up. I think it’s a much longer, more involved process than many people realize.”

Amico said on the BlockbyBlockCommunity Resource Facebook page.

“In short, my advice is this: plan early, plan often, submit early and be prepared to revise.”

Amico had wanted to launch a  Kickstarter campaign  to fund a year-in-review package. When she couldn’t get approval for the campaign, she did the package without funding.

Kickstarter currently shows 7 journalism projects.  It also lists three journalism related projects that were funded successfully at more than $80,00o and three projects that were successfully funded at less than $5,000.

Because of the diversity of creative projects offered, Kickstarter has a large pool of potential investors watching.  Spot.us, which was created to serve the journalism niche has a smaller audience.

Crowdfunding with Kickstarter is an all or nothing approach

While Crowdfunding with Kickstarter is an all or nothing approach, Spot.us is not. If you don’t reach your goal – it is up to the reporter to decide whether to go ahead with the project or not. Spot.us reporters have historically been able to keep the funds raised whether they reached their goal or not.

Each of the sites fits a particular audience, said Tom Stites, who is currently using Spot.us to fund his co-op The Banayan Project.  Stites recommends TribecaFilm‘s site for a nifty how-to for Kickstarter neophytes. He said:

Razoo makes things easy for nonprofits, which have to jump through hoops to make donations to Kickstarter tax-deductible. [While] Spot.us is itself a 501(c)(3), set up in a clever way to make donations to freelance reporting projects tax-deductible, which is an advantage it has over other sites.

Stites also said on the BxB Facebook page.

Other interesting crowdfunding sites include Indiegogo and StartSomeGood, a new venture started by Ashoka people. With Kickstarter you get zero unless your campaign meets or exceeds your goal; with Indiegogo, you get whatever you raise; StartSomeGood is a hybrid of the two.

The secret is that all the platforms are essentially passive — the only thing that makes donations happen is relentless campaigning.

David Cohn, aka DigiDave, created Spot.Us for journalists who wanted to fund independent reporting projects, ie specific stories, while Kickstarter was created to fund any creative project.

“If you want to raise funds to launch a NEW kind of editorial project (a magazine, or fund a year of your site, etc) Kickstarter is a good platform. For smaller projects – Spot.Us is better. I am not even sure if it makes sense to try and raise 1k or less on Kickstarter to do a specific reporting project. “

Brian Wheeler and his team at CTVille Tomorrow put together a one pager  on how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign. I’ve distilled the tips from Jennifer Markey, Community Engagement Ccordinator, into ten principles that should serve any hyperlocal well and any kind of campaign well.

  1. Create a compelling project.
  2. Produce a light, personal promo video.
  3. Create momentum by timing updates.
  4. Position each update differently, with a unique hook, ask and thank you.
  5. Appeal personally to contribute and “share.”
  6. Follow up each gift with a thank you and a request to “share” the ask.
  7. Request and encourage team members to “share” the ask.
  8. Distribute one press release (and cross your fingers. )
  9. Work social media: Two emails to subscriber list. Ask on Facebook and Twitter at least once per day.
  10. End at the right time. Wrap it up when you think people will be most likely to donate.

Cohn: Why Open source is important to journalism crowdfunding

“Spot.us launched about two months before Kickstarter,” said David Cohn, aka DigiDave. “At that time IndieGoGo was around – but only funding independent fiction films.”

Cohn pointed out that while Spot.Us was an early website for crowdfunding – the concept was already old.

“I took many lessons from Kiva.org, SellABand (which I think is now closed) and others. In fact, crowdfunding for journalism existed long before there were ANY of these platforms. A guy named Chris Albritton funded his trip to report in Iraq in 2003! “

Cohn points out that he wanted to create a crowdfunding platform that was open source and that could be used by any journalist or newsroom. In the case of Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and other platforms, the means of production/fundraising is owned by someone else.

“Crowdfunding is low-hanging fruit. There is no reason somebody shouldn’t give it a shot. That said, it’s much more powerful to own that process (similar to App.Net‘s recent success) than to rely on other organizations to create the infrastructure for us. In that respect – part of what I was doing with Spot.Us was to create an open source platform that any organization could use and incorporate. To my knowledge – Spot.Us is still the only open source crowdfunding platform.”

What this means is that given the technology knowledge, a news site could incorporate spot.us functionality and it would be 100% legal. There’s also less risk that fees could become exhorbitant.

“The journalism community should OWN the crowdfunding they do. If not – then the only real winners of a crowdfunding revolution would be folks at NPR who, if they wanted, at least have the basic infrasturcture to take advantage of the cultural shift. Everyone else has to get in line at Kickstarter. “

Read a storify on this subject.

Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on Google+ and on twitter at saduros.

 

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