For the first time in Brazil, news site distributes journalism grants through panel of crowdfunding donors

The initiative is unheard of in Brazil: Distributing grants for independent investigative reporting and using online crowdfunding to collect the money. The news site Agência Pública announced last Friday, Sep. 20 -- a day before the deadline -- that it had raised the necessary amount to fund its project.

“We were hoping that the project would be well received but we were not thinking in numbers. [The project] surpassed all of our expectations because in addition to the large number of financial backers, we collected around 10,000 reales (or about $4,457 USD) more than the minimum. We were very happy,” said Natália Viana, director of Pública in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

The project, Reportagem Pública, had more than 800 sponsors and raised more than 58,000 reales (or about $25,852 USD) to finance new investigative reports. For each real donated, Pública will receive one real from the Omydiar Foundation through matching funds. Every person who donated to the project is now member of an editorial council that will vote on the story proposals submitted by journalists. Pública had originally planned for ten scholarships of 6,000 reales (or about $2,674 USD), but Viana said that the success of the crowdfunding effort will allow for more grants.

Viana said there has been a lot of interest from journalists. “The deadline [to send the report proposal] is Friday Sep. 27 and we have already received more than 80 proposals. Our biggest challenge now is to carry out the pre-selection process of these reports that will then be forwarded for a vote. Pública will use clear criteria: Consistency in the pre-investigative phase, the experience of the reporter, the capacity to conduct investigations in an independent fashion, and the feasibility of the investigative [project],” Viana explained.

The journalists interested in submitting proposals to Reportagem Pública must fill out a form with their idea. The selected proposals will be placed on Reportagem Pública's website (currently in demo form). The editorial council will vote on the proposals from October 7-20. After that, the reporting projects that are selected will be developed by the reporters. “Do good background research and think of how to present your pitch in an interesting fashion [geared toward] lay readers. A good photo or video can make all the difference,” Viana suggested.

In the midst of a business model crisis in journalism, which has led to massive layoffs in newsrooms and investment cuts in long-form journalism in the last few years, the success of the project shows that other sustainable methods of independent journalism are viable. According to Viana, that is what Pública is betting on.

Crowdfunding for journalism

In addition to Pública’s grants, other successful initiatives suggest that collective financing could be an alternative for independent journalism in Brazil.

In March 2011, Cidade para Pessoas (Cities for People), a journalistic project dedicated to urban planning issues, started crowdfunding its work. Created by journalist Natália Garcia, the project raised 25,000 reales (or about $11,143 USD) to finance a trip around the world and bring back ideas to Brazil on how to make a city more inhabitable. A second edition of the project was financed yet again. The stories that were produced during the trips are being published in text and videos in Cidade para Pessoas' website.

Non-profit Brazil Reporter also raised more than 20,000 reales (or about $8,914 USD) with the project “Gentrification Architecture” that seeks to investigate the last two São Paulo municipal administrations, which expelled poor city dwellers from the central region of the city.

The independent journalism site Viomundo is also starting to raise money for readers to help keep the site editorially independent and to produce five reports. So far one of the proposals has been financed.

Three other documentary projects on public-interest topics will be crowdfunded to take off the ground: “Belo Monte-War Announcement,” about the construction of the controversial hydroelectric plant in the Xingu river, had 3,429 supporters and raised more than 140,000 reales (or about $62,000 USD). “Dominio Publico” a project that investigates investments made for the World Cup and the Olympics, especially in Rio de Janeiro, raised more than 106 million reales (or about $47,247 USD) from 2,042 supporters. The “Partial Rebirth” about Brazilian childbearing raised more than 140,000 reales (or $62,400 USD) with the help of 1,228 people.

Beyond these projects, citizen and community journalism projects such as the “Friends of Januaria” -- which aims to train citizen reporters and to monitor public spending to later publish it online -- and “News for Those Who Live” -- which produces a community newspaper with the help of residents from the Rio favela Cidade de Deus -- were also financed collectively.

Correction 09/27/2013: A previous headline erroneously said Agência Pública was the first news site in Brazil to use crowdfunding to finance independent investigative reporting. While the site's Reportagem Pública is the first to distribute grants through an editorial council composed by donors who contributed to the crowdfunding effort, other news organizations in Brazil have collected funds through the internet in the past.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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