Journalism And Micro-Funded Reporting

Here’s a noteworthy story from Harvard’s Neiman Journalism Lab: MinnPost is a nonprofit news project birthed in 2007 from the tumult of Minnesota’s crumbling traditional newspaper infrastructure.

They’ve received funding from Knight Foundation and from subscribers, but are now branching out via news micro-funder Spot.Us in an attempt to raise a whopping $40,000 to fund Minnesota gubernatorial coverage. This is a big deal for a few reasons.

First, MinnPost is asking for a lot more than most Spot.Us story pitches. A casual look at other pitches shows budgets of a few hundred dollars or a goal in the low thousands. Second, MinnPost is trying to expand their coverage through an ongoing series (reporting on state politics) rather than a specific story of perhaps niche interest. Perhaps most intriguing of all, however, is that if this budget is fully funded within the next five months (the time frame for Spot.Us to donate), it could help answer the question of whether news reporting will be more often decided by readers, publishers, or the market.

There are those who make the argument that certain types of reporting, and certain news features, exist or disappear based simply on whether there is public demand for that information. But is there necessarily “market demand” for investigative reporting or a watchdog for the governor? When news budgets are squeezed, and departments need to be cut, you can bet that investigative reporters will be cut before those on the sports beat.

The success or failure of MinnPost’s Spot.Us campaign may end up saying a lot about a city’s real desire to keep politicians’ feet to the fire in the next age of journalism.

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Also: An anecdotal refutation of the boogeyman that the demise of print will mean the demise of quality content.

Update: Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason Magazine compares Spot.Us and Kiva, the international micro-lending website, taking the opportunity to chastise a recent (atrocious) FTC proposal that would result in government-funded reporting. Also, a parting shot at the decline of print newspapers from The Onion.