A New Crowdfunding Campaign Connects Community, Small Businesses and Solutions Journalism

small biz survive logo-2

The Lo-Down, a six-year-old community news site and monthly magazine on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, just launched a very smart crowdfunding pitch. They are asking their community to help fund a one-year reporting project on the struggles of small businesses in their neighborhood.

Here is why I think this is clever:

Listening to Community:

The project was sparked by feedback from local residents who were worried about preserving the unique local character of their area. “Small businesses are the heart and soul of the Lower East Side, but they are endangered,” the team writes. By listening carefully to their community Ed Litvak, Traven Rice and The Lo-Down Team were able to tap into the passions of their readers but also meet specific needs. Thus, the crowdfunding campaign is also a community building effort, inviting more people more deeply into the reporting process.

collage2Connecting with Advertisers:

At the same time, this work helps shine a spotlight on the small businesses across the Lower East Side, many of whom are also advertisers on the site. The editors are not giving advertisers any preferential treatment or coverage as part of the project, but just by shining a spotlight on the challenges of local entrepreneurs they are helping connect residents and businesses. In addition, Litvak and Rice have structured the crowdfunding rewards with both residents and local businesses in mind. A number of local shops donated rewards for donors and other businesses have been stepping up to contribute to the campaign.

Buy Local (News):

Finally, the focus of the campaign gives the editors a chance to talk about themselves as a small business, reminding local people about what it costs to do the great journalism they do. Building on the interest in buying local, they can illustrate how small businesses across their area — included themselves — need community investment to survive.

Solutions Journalism and Community Engagement:

The project builds on years of terrific reporting by The Lo-Down on changes in the neighborhood. Since they were founded in 2009 The Lo-Down team have been documenting contentious real-estate, land use, and housing debates. However, with this project, Litvak and Rice are applying a solutions journalism approach to the reporting. If funded, this project will help strengthen their capacity to do this kind of ground-level reporting and give them the flexibility to test events and engagement activities with local residents.

Judging by the initial response — they raised 40% of their goal in the first two days of the campaign — the project has struck a nerve.

If you live or work around the Lower East Side, you should support their work. The Lo-Down is part of our journalism sustainability project at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and we have kicked in $5,000 in matching funds for the project. This is the second campaign one of our partner sites has run with Beacon, a platform that is specifically built for crowdfunding journalism. The team at Beacon have been great partners, working with local sites.

If your community is facing similar issues and challenges, this crowdfunding model could easily be duplicated in other cities.

See our earlier posts for more crowdfunding advice from local newsrooms and independent media makers.

Losing Our History: Link Rot and Local News


“If you work in a newsroom today, the legacy of your born-digital content is probably at risk… If you run a digital news business, one of your greatest competitive advantages is going 404 every day.” In a post on how broken and dead links are dismantling parts of our history, Ryan Thornburg of UNC writes that the story of our generation “is being written in digital sand” as pages disappear and links break.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is studying how to better preserve born digital news and information in North Carolina (the Knight Foundation and the Reynolds Journalism Institute are also working on this), but this is something we should all care deeply about.

Melody Kramer recently wrote about the potential of archives as tools for community engagement and possible revenue streams. Melody’s post sparked a much longer post from Steve Buttry with a series of really interesting ideas for how local news organizations could leverage their old content. See also these resources from a training I held on news archives last year.

This is an excerpt from the Local Fix, our weekly newsletter on journalism sustainability and community engagement. Subscribe here.

Three Must Read Newsletters for News Nerds

Our newsletter has been growing quickly in recent weeks, thanks to all of you who have been helping spread the word. There are a lot of other great organizations with newsletters (APIINNLION, etc) but here are a few terrific newsletters from individuals who are deeply passionate about one very specific topic.

  1. Mobile Media Memo is a great round-up of links related to changes in the mobile landscape but what I love about the newsletter is the second half where Cory Bergman writes insightfully on the trends he is watching.
  2. The Drone Journalism Newsletter is the best source for debate on the evolving legal landscape around drones in journalism as well as general updates about interesting experiments, tools and resources.
  3. Melody Kramer’s Newsletter — Kramer started her newsletter after leaving NPR and it has quickly grown to be a must read. The focus here is generally on civic and public life as seen through the lens of media and civic tech. Each newsletter is brief but full of big ideas.

This is an excerpt from the Local Fix, our weekly newsletter on journalism sustainability and community engagement. Subscribe here.

New Guides for Helping You Crowdfund Journalism

One of our partner sites, New Brunswick Today, recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign. I talked with the editor there and went behind the scenes with Beacon, the platform they used. The American Journalism Review also profiled Beacon in a post this week. Two other good journalism crowdfunding posts were published recently too. The team behind the world record breaking campaign at De Correspondent penned “A short guide to crowdfunding journalism.” And Through the Cracks, a site dedicated to covering journalism and media crowdfunding efforts, offered “three tips for crowdfunding hyperlocal news.” I’m glad to see more attention being focused on specific strategies for local newsrooms. Over at Inc., Laura Montini writes that “crowdfunding success is twice as likely the second time around” because of the community you’ve created.

This is an excerpt from the Local Fix, our weekly newsletter on journalism sustainability and community engagement. Subscribe here.

Rebuilding the Infrastructure for Independent Media

Much of the work we’ve been doing over the past year has focused on creative experiments designed to help local news sites develop community-driven products and services beyond local advertising. We believe that sustainability of local news demands deep models of community engagement and a diversity of revenue streams.

However, at a recently gathering, one journalist argued that no local newsroom is sustainable if they can’t afford to hire a lawyer. For too many journalists, one lawsuit could bankrupt them or their newsroom. Other journalists struggle to pay the legal costs of fighting to free up information from government agencies. Access to affordable legal support is one piece of critical infrastructure for independent media.

“No local newsroom is sustainable if they can’t afford to hire a lawyer.”

Over the last year, working with local newsrooms, we’ve been exploring what kinds of infrastructure community media need. In addition to legal support, journalists often ask for marketing help, administrative assistance, technology and web support, access to software, trainings, and insurance. These are functions that have traditionally been built into news organizations, but in our “post-industrial” journalism era, with the rise of more smaller, networked newsrooms those “backshop” services have disappeared for many journalists. Continue reading

How Is Your Newsroom Using Data?

The Dallas Morning News is creating a central “rolodex” of data about the people they are reporting on (sources, politicians, and other contacts). Justin Ellis at Nieman Lab reports that while it is useful behind the scenes, it also can power public-facing news apps that help illustrate networks of influence and connections.

On Medium, Fergus Bell explores how the growing ubiquity of sensors will enable newsrooms to collect “user generated data” from our audiences. See for example WNYC’s sleep project (user’s could link their FitBit accounts to WNYC’s app) or their Bored and Brilliant project (users could opt-in to have their phones send usage data to WNYC).

I’m seeing more and more discussion about the human elements of data journalism, reminding us that there are often people behind the numbers. At Journalism.co.uk the Guardian’s data editor Alberto Nardelli argues, “Without humanity, data alone is meaningless.”

This is an excerpt from the Local Fix, our weekly newsletter on journalism sustainability and community engagement. Subscribe here.

Yes, I’m Aggregating the Debate About Aggregation

Last month 538’s Nate Silver took Vox to task for its aggregation of maps and charts on social media. Which prompted a long response from Ezra Klein about how Vox approaches aggregation. I mention this here because every local newsroom I talk with has struggled with how best to aggregate and also with the frustrations of having their stories unfairly ripped-off. Klein’s post raises some useful questions for thinking about your own aggregation practices, and Audrey Watters adds to the discussion on her blog. One measure of “ethical aggregation,” she argues, is whether it adds or extracts value from the ecosystem. Capital New York reports that the New York Times’ front page aggregation experiment has been a “resounding success.” Becoming a trust hub for links to your own stories as well as the best of the web is bringing readers back and bringing in ad revenue. In the past, Nieman Lab profiled how the Atlantic and the Washington Post have approached big aggregation projects. There are lots of good ideas in those posts.

This is an excerpt from the Local Fix, our weekly newsletter on journalism sustainability and community engagement. Subscribe here.