How next-generation schools and news media might be funded

As I write this, Kelly Centolella is only $200 short of the goal described by last week’s guest blogger, which is the purchase of a document camera she can use as a teaching aid in her Los Angeles charter school classroom. Fundraising on the Web is efficient. I’m happy for Kelly and her students, and I’m pleased that as a byproduct, I witnessed the impressive effect of grassroots participation. I appreciate the lesson.

Lately, I’ve been receiving enthusiastic promotional email messages from David Cohn, who recently launched Spot.Us, a nonprofit online venture supporting grassroots-funded journalism in the Bay Area of California. David was among the few identifiable talents involved in the (disastrous, let’s be honest) online journalism experiment that 900 unwitting volunteers, including me, participated in almost two years ago. He struggled tirelessly to keep that sinking ship afloat in 2007, before most traditional news media organizations looked up to see there was a storm on the horizon. Now David is the wiser, though not wizened, and ever optimistic commander of a new vessel. (T.T., if you’re reading, I hope you appreciate the resuscitation of the naval metaphors.)

Spot.Us, David’s latest endeavor, is the result of a healthy Knight Foundation grant that is allowing him to conduct a journalism experiment of his own. Spot.Us permits any donor to select a story of interest to Bay Area residents and then contribute to a fund that will pay a reporter to cover the subject. The public can suggest stories that should be reported, and journalists can post online pitches requesting funding for stories they claim to be willing and qualified to report. Donors consider the essential value of covering the story, as well as the skill of the reporter offering to investigate and write about or broadcast it. The story pitches and assignments occur on the Spot.Us website for all to see, as though it were a transparent newsroom.

According to Spot.Us, the reporting funded by the public through its site is normally licensed under Creative Commons, which means it can be reprinted for free with proper attribution. However, if a news organization partners with Spot.Us and contributes at least half of the funds required to cover a story, then the news agency can claim first rights to publish the resulting report. If a news organization purchases exclusive rights, then the donations from the public are refunded by Spot.Us, as I understand it.

My generation needs to heed the online networking of the succeeding generation. Having observed the outcome of Kelly Centolella’s project to raise funds for classroom equipment online, through DonorsChoose.org, I believe David Cohn’s concept of community-funded reporting, Spot.Us, might just float.

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