A publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

When the golden goose stops laying

What are the perils and pitfalls of crowdfunding journalism?

Words by Ali Winters
Storify by Julie Milland

Melissa Sweet, the moderator of Crikey’s public health blog, Croakey, thinks the outlook for long-term viability in journalism through crowdfunding is poor.

“The research studies I’ve seen generally suggest that this funding model is successful for one-off ventures but is unlikely to ever become the basis of sustainable funding [for journalism],” she told an audience at the New News conference at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre. 

Ms Sweet was joined in the panel discussion on crowd funding by Kelly Briggs, who has just completed a three-month, crowd-funded stint as a guest blogger for Croakey.

Ms Briggs, who writes The Koori Woman blog, pitched for a three-month salary of $7000 to write the column about Indigenous health issues. She managed to raise $7600 from 140 backers.

Ms Briggs said crowdfunding was an “act of self-determination”.

“As an unemployed person, this is a way for me to make money but to also give something back.”

But with the sponsorship having ended, Ms Briggs must now plan a second crowdfunding campaign if she is to continue as a paid contributor for Croakey.

The co-founder of local crowdfunding platform Pozible, Alan Crabbe, revealed that Pozible’s journalism projects were 10 per cent less likely to be successful than other projects and had about a “47-to-48 per cent success rate”.

Kickstarter, the most popular worldwide crowdfunding platform has a similar story to tell about journalism.  The success rate for journalism projects promoted by the site since its launch in 2009 is around 34 per cent compared to an overall strike rate of 42 per cent. Mr Crabbe said journalism pitches tended to be more text-based than video, which was the proven formula to a successful crowdfunding campaign. 

Despite such a dire prognosis, there have been a number of journalism projects that have taken a chance and come out on top.

LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) newspaper The Star Observer successfully raised $103,938 through a Pozible campaign that ended in September. And hair-stylist magazine Culture, which hauled an impressive $201,768 in August — Pozible’s most successful journalism campaign in dollar value.

Pozible has linked with 30 journalism projects since its inaugural journalism partnership with magazine New Matilda that was in urgent need of funding mid-2010.  It raised $175,838 but folded three years later.

Former editor Marni Cordell said crowd funding was not an iron-clad guarantee of financial security.

“I think crowdfunding can work, but it’s also limited and unpredictable. Earlier in my career, I could rely on an unpredictable income but I needed something a bit more stable,” she said.

[<a href=”//storify.com/JulieMilland/crowdfunding-journalism-a-report-card” target=”_blank”>View the story “Crowdfunding Journalism: A Report Card” on Storify</a>]

About The Citizen

THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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