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How to raise funds for your independent media startup

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You have an innovative idea for a media startup. You have sharp and useful content the public needs and wants. You’ve designed a logo, and you have a team working in their spare time. The only problem: You’ve got no money.

Financing independent media projects is not easy, but with a little creativity, you can make it work. Here are some funding streams to explore and examples of startups that are proving what is possible.

Crowdfunding journalism

Crowdfunding campaigns raise money from everyday citizens with a vested interest in stories or projects that may otherwise be overlooked. To raise funding, journalists can make an appeal by explaining how the money would help to create or sustain the project. Homicide Watch DC launched two years ago as a digital platform for reporting every homicide in Washington, “to improve community understanding of violent crime and raise the level of conversation about homicide.” Earlier this month, it raised more than US$47,000 to train journalism students and sustain operations via a campaign on Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects.

Spot.us is a platform for raising money to report specific stories. Finished content is published either by a partnering organization or by Spot.Us. The platform often works with local news organizations to get content distributed in as many places as possible.

The GlobalGiving Foundation’s Open Challenge helps nonprofits crowdsource donations, then rewards those who raise a certain amount. The Bhutan Center for Media and Democracy entered the challenge to seek funding for its Youth Voice Lab, a state-of-the-art digital media lab for youth. If the project raises US$4,000 from 50 donors by Oct. 1, it will be permanently featured on GlobalGiving’s website, where the project can attract attention from a new donor network and get access to additional fundraising tools.

Philanthropies and foundations

A wide variety of foundations help new media ventures get off the ground. For example, the McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs award provides US$14,000 in funding to women who want to start their own businesses. The Knight News Challenge funds “breakthrough ideas in news and information.”

Events

Hosting an event lets you connect with people interested in your mission and show them what you have to offer. The nonprofit news organization Texas Tribune is connecting their public service journalism with events to make money, like a weekend festival of ideas for people interested in local government. “Events are journalism — events are content,” says Evan Smith, the Texas Tribune’s CEO and chief editor. “And in this new world, content comes to you and you create it in many forms.”

At News University’s 2012 Revenue Camp, Rebecca Lovell, chief business officer of independent tech news site GeekWire, said a third of the company’s revenue comes from events including summit meetings; an awards ceremony; a "Wantrapreneur" event for those thinking about starting a business; and a ping-pong tournament. Aside from revenue, one of the pros of hosting events, she said, is building long-term relationships. For more, here's a Storify of her session.

E-books

Technology has made it easy to create new products at a small cost. For example, U.S. nonprofit news outlet ProPublica has put 90,000 ebooks on the market for less than US$2 each. Even at a low price, the revenue adds up.

Professional services, consulting

Does your team have knowledge or skills that other people would be willing to pay you for? Read, for instance, about how the digital division of the UK’s Northcliffe Media launched a full service digital marketing agency providing for small and local businesses.

New Chilean data journalism startup, Poderopedia, will launch the Poderomedia School before the end of this year to teach independent media, journalists, citizens and civic media in Latin America about news applications, computer-assisted reporting, open-source tools and more. It will also provide other training activities related to Internet, design and business.

Membership/subscription models

If you have valuable, niche content, don’t underestimate what people will pay for it.

“It’s powerful to be in people's inbox,” says journalist Rafat Ali, founder of online media hub paidContent, which covers the business of digital media and was bought in 2008 by The Guardian. For instance, Plant Closing News provides updates on manufacturing plants that are closing, and offers a 12-month subscription for US$999.

Don’t rule anything out

A South Wales postman has turned copies of regional newspapers into handbags at £75 each.

More resources for entrepreneurial journalists can be found here.

Learn more about crowdsourced journalism at PBS Media Shift.

Photo courtesy of Epsos under a Creative Commons license.

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