Crowdfunding is often cited as an alternative funding source for news, but journalists who launch a campaign on Kickstarter have the odds stacked against them.
According to new statistics from Kickstarter, the popular worldwide crowdfunding platform, the success rate for journalism projects on the site since its launch in 2009 is 34.38 percent—less than the sitewide success rate of 42.74 percent.
A little over 65 percent of the 1,346 total journalism projects proposed have been unsuccessful, meaning that they didn’t reach their funding goals and thus were not funded at all. Kickstarter doesn't allow partial funding of project. It's all or nothing.
When money is pledged to a project that fails to receive full funding, Kickstarter refunds the money to the project's would-be donors. So far, more than US$452,000 has been returned to donors of journalism projects that didn't reach their goals.
That success rate is similar to projects launched in categories like games and crafts. (Music, theater and dance projects have had some of the highest success rates on the site.)
Now, Kickstarter is trying to up the odds for journalism projects. Until June, journalism projects on Kickstarter did not fall into their own category. Instead, they were placed under categories like Publishing or Nonfiction. So Kickstarter created a specific journalism project category and re-categorized older projects that previously would have been considered journalism.
“We really love journalism projects and want to give them more visibility on the site,” Kickstarter communications representative David Gallagher told IJNet. “And creating a separate category for them is a way to do that.”
As the meaning of journalism shifts, the category allows project owners to determine what is an act of journalism and who is a journalist.
“It’d be a vast understatement to say the world of journalism is currently experiencing a lot of change,” Kickstarter wrote in a statement. “To us, that means it’s more important than ever to make sure journalists have the tools and resources to try new things—whether they’re professionals looking for innovative ways of funding and sharing their work, or ordinary folks with a hunger to tell the stories around them.”
Despite the high rate of unsuccessful projects, the site has been used to fund groundbreaking journalism. So far, 385 journalism projects have been successfully funded; the majority (238) raised between US$1,000 and US$9,999.
Journalists have used Kickstarter in a range of ways. Some have raised money to help them cover stories that were underreported or overlooked by mainstream outlets. Editorial cartoonist Ted Rall, raised money to travel independently to remote provinces in Afghanistan to cover the war. Photojournalist Gerd Ludwig, traveled to Chernobyl to document the aftermath of the nuclear disaster 25 years later.
Others have used Kickstarter for projects that use innovative and interactive storytelling. Homicide Watch raised money to cover every murder in Washington, DC, for one year, using primary source documents, social networking and original reporting. FOIA Machine aimed to streamline the complicated process of filing and tracking public record requests. Matter brought together reporters from leading global news outlets to launch a new platform focused on in-depth, long-form journalism.
Established publishers and organizations, both large and small, have used Kickstarter as a lab to innovate, including increased audience engagement and interactivity. National Public Radio’s Planet Money T-Shirt project traced the global supply chain by following the creation of a tee shirt. More than 20,000 contributors gave a combined total of more than US$590,000, which was more than 10 times the amount the program sought. And earlier this year, IJNet interviewed the founder of a small regional tech news site who funded a print magazine for the South by Southwest Interactive conference through a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign brought in US$9,300, surpassing the fundraising goal by more than US$2,000.
Along with the creation of a new category for journalism, Kickstarter also announced a new curation partnership with The Guardian. The move aims to provide more resources for journalists looking to innovate and investigate.
To learn more and use the platform, visit Kickstarter.
Jessica Weiss is a Bogotá-based freelance journalist.
Image courtesy of Flickr user 401(K) 2012 under a Creative Commons license.