Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pay to See Your Story Idea in Print?

So James Rainey from the LA Times seems to be in the mood to analyze the media--in another column he wrote this week, he talked about Spot.us as a new model for paid journalism. People come up with ideas for stories that they would like to see reporters investigate and publish, and submit them to Spot.us. The story ideas are often about local topics that reporters wouldn't normally cover or may not know about. But to get a reporter to cover the story, the idea must be paid for. Stories cost about $500-$1000, and no person may contribute more than 20% of the funding price. Here's the explanation provide on Spot.us's website:
Spot.Us is a nonprofit project of the Center for Media Change. We are an open source project, to pioneer “community funded reporting.” Through Spot.Us the public can commission journalists to do investigations on important and perhaps overlooked stories. All donations are tax deductible and if a news organization buys exclusive rights to the content, your donation will be reimbursed. Otherwise, all content is made available to all through a Creative Commons license. It’s a marketplace where independent reporters, community members and news organizations can come together and collaborate.
That's one way to avoid the financial pitfalls from which so many news organizations are suffering--don't report on anything unless it's interesting enough to the public that they are literally willing to pay for it. Instead of other potential models for the future where you try to make consumers pay to read a story, you don't waste any time or resources in the guessing game of what will sell. In Rainey's article, the founder of Spot.us, David Cohn, says, "Ideally Spot.us is a platform, not a news organization...That is really important to me, because I should not be the one to define what is and isn't journalism, what should and shouldn't be on Spot.us."It's an interesting idea, but I feel like problems could easily arise. For example, why couldn't competing news outlets simply read the suggested story ideas, do their own investigation, and publish the story before it may even be fully funded on Spot.us? The website tries to get around this issue with the Creative Commons license: "The end content produced by Spot.Us will be given away for free unless a news organization has contributed either 50% or 100% of the total cost. In that situation - we will grant that news organization temporary copyright to the article." As we discussed briefly in class today, copyright infringements are difficult to prove and even to track in the age of new media. Any thoughts on a website like this? Does this degrade our conceptions of what qualifies as news and undermine the work of other traditional journalists?

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