Growing number of journalistic projects funded collectively, says research; Learn how to succeed with crowdfunding

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  • February 24, 2016

By Giovana Sanchez

The Brazilian Ministry of Justice investigated cases of explosions in cars produced in the country after a Brazilian news site produced a report about them. A digital media startup launched in Venezuela, creating a new source of independent information for citizens in that country. In Argentina, a fact-checking organization can keep politicians and other public figures accountable by comparing their statements with reality.

These initiatives may not have been possible without the help of crowdfunding. They are indicative of a trend noted by a recent Pew Research Center survey, which found the number of journalistic projects created with the help of crowdfunding is increasing around the world.

While only 17 journalistic projects received contributions in 2009, the number almost tripled in the next year, when 64 initiatives were successfully financed, according to data from Kickstarter that was analyzed by Pew. In 2014, 168 projects were funded; in just the first nine months of 2015, 173 projects were paid for by the public.

The number of people who support these initiatives also increased - from 792 in 2009 to 25,600 in 2015, according to the survey. Most journalistic projects from that time period were independent (71%), having no connection with a specific media company.

In Latin America, crowdfunding is a popular strategy for media outlets and journalists looking for financial support to complete specific projects.

Of the 111 projects listed with the classification 'journalism' in the Brazilian crowdfunding site Catarse, 57 were fully funded; most of them were posted in the last two years.

For Natalia Viana, co-director of Agência Pública in Brazil, crowdfunding is an "essential" strategy. When the news site launched its first campaign in 2013, it put donors on the editorial board —  that is, donors helped to decide which stories to publish. The second campaign, in 2015, raised more money; reports funded by the project are still being published.

"It's a growing area in Brazil and is very promising. Crowdfunding has the advantage that it is not a 'purchase' of a product. It is collective support for a cause — in our case, investigative journalism," she said in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

"It is a campaign, it needs to engage hundreds of people, it needs meticulous planning. The main advantage is that it is not only a financial strategy — it’s a way to engage people in your organization and with the journalism you produce."

Venezuelan news site Efecto Cocuyo has also used crowdfunding to support and promote independent journalism. The organization launched a campaign in early 2015; it achieved 35 percent of its goal, but the money was raised in U.S. dollars. With the rise of the dollar in the following months, their new funds almost doubled in local currency.

"What worked with us was the visibility of the initiative nationally and internationally. We also had investments from Venezuelans in other countries and here,” said co-founder Luz Mely Reyes in an interview with the Knight Center. “The connection of the donors to the cause is also very important. The cost of learning is that we did it all in-house with the little knowledge we had, and, therefore, we did not use all the tools that might have generated greater impact."

Argentinians from the fact-checking project Chequeado are more comfortable with the crowdfunding strategy after three successful campaigns. The group does not depend solely on crowdfunding to support themselves, but also contributions from companies, international organizations and stories sold to other news media.

"The strategy [crowdfunding] is good because it allows you to be autonomous. And if anyone stops supporting, it does not mean the end of the media outlet. Also, crowdfunding implies work. In Argentina there is not much of a crowdfunding culture. Often the result is not immediate. It involves a communication strategy, contacts with allies, etc.," explained Laura Zommer, Chequeado CEO, in an interview with the Knight Center.

Tips for a successful campaign

In a text published in 2014, Agência Publica listed some lessons learned from its crowdfunding campaigns and tips to create successful projects. One is being honest and "transparent about the goals, intentions and use of money."

Laura Zommer from Chequeado suggested to clearly define the message being shared. "It must be clear why you are asking for money and it is important that there is transparency in the funds. Also, show the team and the people who are working on the project. Another recommendation is that you do not start with hyper ambitious projects, but modest goals that allow success."

Luz Mely Reyes of Efecto Cocuyo said it is important to "invest in creating a narrative that allows potential donors to know the history and the reasons for the initiative." Then, she recommends finding a key audience, organizing a presentation letter or video and seeking support that is not just financial in nature. "Much of our impact was due to colleagues, friends and people who do not know us sharing news about the project for free."

Finally, Reyes said that you must be prepared to "talk, share, contact and then talk, share and all over again."

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.