A week ago at this time a small group of journalists and new media stalwarts were at Adobe headquarters in San Francisco talking with two dozen social cause proponents (they run a marvelous little private philanthropy fund called the Full Circle Fund) about the new Spot.us initiative.
David Cohn, who writes below about the interesting issue of whether audience-funded journalism would work better for beats or stories, explained the contours of his nascent project, while a consultant, journalists for the San Francisco Bay Guardian and Fog City Journal, and yours truly pitched in with thoughts about where this whole citizen journalism business is going.
My contribution consisted of the observations that traditional newsrooms are becoming more and more disconnected from real people's lives, thanks to newspaper chain budget cuts, while people are becoming increasingly connected to each other, and to alternative news sources, thanks to the Internet and social networks. That random acts of journalism (a term I coined a few years back) need to be supplemented by sustained and deeper examples of journalism at the community level. That Digg-style crowdsourcing overly relies on mainstream media sources rather than original grassroots reporting. And that efforts like Spot.us, where citizens fund stories at the community level, are important experiments that bear watching -- and, more importantly, sustained support.
But what made the evening memorable was that these folks clearly got it. They didn't need to be convinced that corporate budget cuts were hurting journalistic coverage at the local level, or that certain kinds of stories weren't being covered because they fell outside the accepted frame of standard news conventions. They didn't need to be persuaded of the value of neighborhood storytelling. Instead, they asked tough, informed questions about the marketplace business model, mulled issues around fact-checking, editing and reputation, and suggested a revenue-sharing model to share freelance fees with the spot.us community.
Two days later, PBS's NewsHour ran a segment on the rise of independent nonprofit journalism, citing such efforts as Pro Publica ,the Center for Investigative Reporting, American University's Investigative Reporting Workshop, the Global News, with correspondents in 53 countries, and the Center for Independent Media.
Something is beginning to stir. And I think it will have lasting consequences for us as a society.