Spot Us – the future of community journalism?

With many local newspapers having closed over the past year and several others in financial trouble, you could argue that communities will have fewer opportunities in the future for publicity on important local issues.

Local papers have acted as a vital forum over the years in discussing regeneration plans, economic development and the general improvement of an neighbourhood.

The media has been able to promote an area’s culture, highlight the good work or mistakes of renewal agencies and inform people about opportunities in training and jobs.

Losing this service could mean many neighbourhoods will be worse off. But the dire straits of the newspaper industry may also present an opportunity for communities.

Neighbourhoods with no media outlet can take inspiration from a project in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A community funded reporting scheme called Spot Us allows locals to donate cash in order to commission journalists to write articles on what they regard as issues of importance.

The great thing about Spot Us is that anyone can pitch an idea for an article. Topics currently being looked into include an investigation into the poor state of local streets and the water shortage crisis in the area.

If a news organisation buys the story, the donations are reimbursed. In the case of the story not being bought, it’s released for free use which means the community may get some publicity anyway for the issue they care about.

If a certain pitch doesn’t reach its cash goal, the money is returned to the donator. The upshot is that the system is fair and nobody will feel like they are being ripped off.

It’s also flexible: the cost of articles can vary from $150 for a short story, up to $1,400 for an investigation.

This idea gives the community a potentially powerful outlet that they didn’t necessarily have before. Indeed many neighbourhoods have long disliked their local paper for sensational, superficial reporting.

It could also help engage the community in their area and could act as an important forum for discussion on local matters.

And as for all the out of work reporters, it will give them an opportunity to work on serious journalism that means something to communities.


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