Should the public fund Investigative Journalism?

With newsrooms and the media constantly under financial threat of extinction, how will the future of investigative journalism continue? One model suggested is that the public be responsible for funding the investigations that will uncover the corruptions that exist in our power centres.

A new website called Uncoverage, soon to be launched, will test that theory and attempt to determine the value that the public puts on investigative journalism. Will they, indeed, pay to have a story investigated? Reporters and non-profit organizations will be able to log on to the site and create a profile and project so that they can crowdsource a particular story that they feel is significant to report. The public will then decide whether it wants to donate to the execution of the project so that the creator can complete the project. If the projects are non-specific or simply fall under a general topic – the Ukraine, for example, the site administrators will then divide thte funding donated under that topic to the various projects that are connected.

The website was founded by an entrepreneur who believed that the current model for funding journalism was failing. Israel Mirsky says that his interest in depleted uranium triggered his interest in finding a solution to this issue. He was interested in seeing more information about the topic and his only option was to buy a paper that may or may not report on the topic and hope for the best. His idea was that paying for only material that you wanted would serve both the consumer and the media.

The Center for Public Integrity logo
The site is working in conjunction with its partner, the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit, non-partisan organization committed to uncovering misuse of power, funds and betrayal of public trust by both private and public institutions through the use of investigative journalism. The Center is based in Washington, DC. Their projects will also appear on the site.

Mirsky describes investigative journalism as a shrinking industry and notes that the presence of web reporting is driven more by traffic grabbing topics such as entertainment and celebrity news. He compares the his venture to sites like Kickstarter where an individual can invest in a wide range of interest areas that is specifically inspiring to them such as start-ups or creative projects in film and art, stating that those sites are often seeking a one-time investment. The difference with Uncoverage will be that it can be set up to create an environment where serial funding is possible.

The administration of the site will take a small percentage of each transaction and will support the projects through fact validation, editing and some marketing. Service providers such as editors will also receive a portion of the funding over and above the administrative fee. People that want to donate can suggest topics but these will be vetted by the site administrators to make sure that they adhere to the high quality Mirsky would like to uphold. He hopes to attract experience journalists and not writers trying to break into the profession. Completed work will be posted on the site but the intention is to ensure that it also sells to other media outlets in an effort to garner the highest level of distribution and exposure.

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