Crowd-Funded Journalism Goes Big Time

[responsive]Beacon-ferguson[/responsive]When the world’s attention turned to Ferguson, Missouri last month, the Huffington Post turned to crowdfunding site Beacon to help them provide in-depth and ongoing coverage.

“Thanks to donations from over 628 backers, The Huffington Post was able to raise over $40,000, which it used to hire a reporter to cover the Ferguson story as it unfolds over the next year,” writes Ricardo Bilton in Digiday. “In a similar vein, TechDirt used Beacon to raise $70,000 for its coverage of the net neutrality debate.”

Originally launched as a site for writers, Beacon is increasingly helping to close the gap between publishers’ budgets and the news they want to report. And in an era when more and more publishers are drastically cutting their news room staff, this evolution makes perfect sense.

“Media outlets swoop in to cover something and as the story fades, they leave,” said Huffington Post bureau chief Ryan Grim. “There is not [a] single publisher that has a bottomless budget. Even Al Jazeera has to make these choices — and they pump money out of the ground.”

Beacon takes a page from Kickstarter’s book, allowing readers to fund journalism projects and connect in a real way with the writers and the publishers. It’s another way around the traditional ad-based revenue model that has been such a challenge for publishers.

“We’re all about offering an alternative to the ad-supported content model,” said Beacon co-founder Dan Fletcher. “Ads support content, but only content that’s generally relevant to a very broad audience. There’s a premium put on page views, and as a result a premium put on content that generates page views.”

Many of us in the industry firmly believe that readers want—and are willing to pay for—great content, and that the advertising-based model is not the only feasible solution. This proves it, with Beacon funding more than 150 projects so far. It’s an intriguing development in the publishing industry, and one that could have a major impact on how invested readers feel in the brands they support.