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Newsfreed: crowdfunding the future of investigative journalism

New crowdfunded journalism platform aims to restore trust in journalists and keep quality writing alive in the process

Journalism is in crisis. With the rise of instant, free content delivered by the internet to the palm of your hand, traditional media has been forced to compete for a share of ever-decreasing attention spans or face extinction, and funding for in-depth, quality journalism is becoming scarce.

Many believe the golden days of investigative journalism are over, and for those that value quality writing the future is looking bleak.

Is this the future of news?

But the promise of increased connectedness that the internet brings doesn’t have to be a death sentence for journalism, according to journalism student Laura Secorun of City University, London, who is developing a way to fund in-depth reporting by bringing readers and reporters together through her crowdfunding platform, Newsfreed.

“There’s this kind of morosity in journalism nowadays, you know, impending doom,” says Secorun, who came up with the idea of Newsfreed with fellow student Michele Teodori over a cup of bad coffee on a rainy day in London.

The team are raising money to launch their project on the crowdfunding platform RocketHub, but unlike other early stage start-ups, Newsfreed is not an attempt to build a business to make money.

Laura Secorun believes the future is bright for investigative news

“We’re not going to make a profit out of it, we’re just going to break even, we’re going to take 5 per cent of the funded projects. What makes Newsfreed different is that it’s only for journalism. Our idea is to help a lot of innovative formats that cannot find their place in conventional media just yet — people who are doing multimedia, data journalism, infographics, and things like that, are hard to find, and hard to fund.”

Meaningful stories

Both journalists and the public want meaningful stories to be written, according to Secorun, but the separation between the two is stopping this from happening, she says.

Her platform will allow both journalists and the public to suggest story ideas, allowing users to browse potential stories, and stories that there is a genuine demand for will be written and funded properly, without outside interference. And importantly, donors will be funding a specific story, not a journalist or an organisation. “We believe the public has been hugely underestimated. If there is interest for a story then that story should be able to get out,” she says.

Newsfreed is not an attempt to build a business to make money

“There’s two sorts of stories that we care a lot about and we think there’s not enough of, either very local stories that do not get covered, and international stories, ones that cross borders.”

Donors will be given exclusive access to the stories that they fund for the first fourteen days, after which the journalist will be free to sell the story on.

Watch the Newsfreed pitch video

Rebuilding trust between journalists and citizens

Being independent and transparent is a cornerstone of the thinking behind the project, says Secorun, and while they have been approached by investors, they have turned them all down in favour of crowdfunding to make sure their independence is not compromised by anyone else’s agenda.

We want the stamp of Newsfreed to stand for independence

“A lot of people approached us from business, incubators and angel investors and stuff like that. We sat down and we said if we allow people to invest at this stage, then the entire independence of the project is jeopardized. We want the stamp of Newsfreed to stand for independence.”

Freedom from advertising and editorial agendas will create a more honest process that benefits both the journalist and the reader, and well funded investigations will ensure that the journalist is paid according to the value of the story and how much work goes into it, says Secorun.

“It’s trying to re-value quality journalism that so many people take for granted. The sort of in-depth stories that you can only produce with a lot of time and skill that maybe would not get conventional media interested.”

Making value out of news

Revaluing journalism is something that the whole industry is struggling with, with some papers going down the route of paywalls for their websites. But Secorun is not interested in tearing down the old media models, she just wants the opportunity to do her job properly — to write stories that people want to read.

“There’s nothing wrong with newspapers, it’s not about going against that, it’s about just doing our job, and if we can not do our jobs inside those institutions for now, let’s just go straight to the people. It’s not about destroying anything, it’s just about empowering what is already there: good journalists telling incredible stories that are dying to be told.”

The modern world still needs journalism

With journalism up against the ropes, many are asking questions about the role of the journalist in years to come. “If we can be replaced by an algorithm, then we deserve to be” says Secorun. “But we truly believe that the world still needs really good journalists. There’s no substitute for first hand, in depth reporting.”

If we can be replaced by an algorithm, then we deserve to be

Whatever the future of journalism, this generation of journalists may have to play an active role in shaping it, or risk compromising their values, says Secorun.

“At the end of the day, Newsfreed is just a tool, one that we hope will promote really good quality investigative journalism and shine a light on stories that go untold for a lot of reasons. As soon as citizens and journalists start working together again, then the sky’s the limit.”

Would you crowdfund investigative journalism? Could this be the iTunes of news? Let us know in the comments