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The un-launching of a journalism platform

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The past week has all been about the winding down of – or ‘un-launching’ as I’m starting to think about it following the closure announcement.

Just like ‘launching’ a new online product or platform, ‘un-launching’ requires a surprisingly similar checklist of tasks.

The difference being, there isn’t the excitement of anticipation or the adrenaline rush of getting those final details ready and nervously sending it all out into the world – there really is nothing quite like launching for an all consuming experience!

No, with un-launching, there’s just the tasks.

My overriding priority has been to make sure everyone involved in writing for the site is paid up to date. All the writer payments for published articles are in the system and being ably handled by the Guardian’s accounts people.

Additionally, arrangements have been made separately for those writers who would have been commissioned had the site published as usual in October.

There’s been a lot of enquiries to answer from people involved in the site.

There’s been press statements and interview requests to deal with.

And there’s been an awful lot of people to thank as Contributoria had many friends and supporters who helped us massively over the past two years. (I think I’ve just about finished that….apologies to anyone who feels that I’ve missed them out.)

I’ve paid tribute to some of the amazing group of 5,000 writers with a last post highlighting some of their excellent work on the Contributoria Medium collection here today.

Plus I’ve attempted to bring together some of the reaction across social media and other publications to keep a record for the future in the Storify below.

That is, I think, all folks. Thanks for being part of it.

Written by sarahhartley

September 4th, 2015 at 1:52 pm

The importance of the writer profile

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I’ve put this blog post together with Contributoria writers in mind, but the points made here would be valid for any of those occasions when you need to put a ‘bio’ together for your online activity. As someone who inwardly groans at every request for profile details, I hope this approaches the task in a straightforward way.

The writer profiles on Contributoria are particularly important as they are the number one way that members of the community and publishing partners can sum up a writer’s abilities when deciding whether or not to back their story proposals and, as that leads to commissioning and ultimately cash, it’s worth making some effort.

Ten essential points when creating a writer profile

  1.  A sensible name
    Your own name is always best as it helps people check you out in other areas of the online world. Failing that a nickname is OK but avoid user names that are unmemorable number sequences or similar. Don’t forget that Contributoria is a community and so is made up of humans supporting other humans – we tend to respond coldly to number droids. Your name should appear in the first sentence of your profile so the reader understands what they are looking at – just like being introduced to somebody, you will often start with your name and then move onto the matter in hand. I have been asked in the past about using a pseudonym – for all the reasons above, using a pen name makes you something of an enigma. It’s a bit like sitting down the pub in a balaclava. But of course there can be valid reasons around personal security for using one and in those instances I’d ask that you get in touch directly for further advice (
  2.  Use a picture
    Just a straightforward head and shoulders shot will do the job. Just like your name, having a profile picture will help people build up a picture of the person behind the story. Just as with the social networks, people tend to regard the absence of a picture as dubious in some way, it instantly creates a trust barrier that doesn’t need to be there.
  3. Location
    Adding your base location, or the locations that you write about, can help make a connection. This is particularly important for those people who are looking to back stories from certain parts of the world for instance. But it could also be beneficial in making connections with other members of the community who perhaps live nearby or have a particular interest in a region of the world and might want to get in touch.
  4. Third person or I?
    It’s always slightly awkward talking about yourself in the third person but doing so makes it easier for the reader to take in the information. There’s no hard and fast rules and in fact there’s currently a mixture of first person and third person on the platform, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the Contributoria writer profiles also automatically appear in the footer of story proposals. Having it in the third person reads a lot better for the casual visitor who may not have looked you up on the writer page.
  5. What length?
    For Contributoria, the ideal length for the profile is up to 200 words. That should allow for all these points to be included while also keeping it reasonable for the footer of proposals. On other platforms it would be worth checking if there is an established style. Some sites ask for a short statement (i.e. one sentence, like Twitter) while others expect a mini CV.
  6. Include other work
    If your work has been published elsewhere, it’s well worth mentioning the different publications where people could look you up – you can also drop URLs into the profile and it will hyperlink . It’s also worth mentioning membership of any professional organisations and groups.
  7.  Other non-work
    If you’ve a passion for something – let people know. There’s no telling what serendipitous connections can flow from outlining your hobbies and interests after all, they are part of what makes you, you.
  8. Contact details
    End your bio with your contact details or hyperlink to ways that people can contact you such as Twitter, blog or your LinkedIn profile.
  9. Read and rewrite
    As with everything, there’s always that stray apostrophe or typo which it’s easy to remain blind to so having a friend to proof your bio before you publish it is recommended.
  10. Keep it up to date
    Remember that your bio is a living document and you should review it on a regular basis. As it’s fairly short it won’t take you too long to make changes that can be quite important to the reader and that all important potential backer.

Written by sarahhartley

June 25th, 2015 at 11:51 am

Posted in Journalism

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‘How I successfully crowdfund my journalism’

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Danielle Batist is an independent journalist who is one of the most consistently successful writers on Contributoria.comin terms of securing backing for her work – funding at least one article a month for the past year, mostly two. In fact she’s managed to fund 22 articles in 9 months via the site. I was interested to hear how she does it and to share her experience for the benefit of other writers looking to crowdfund their work on the independent journalism network.(Disclosure: I am editor/co-founder.) Here’s what we discussed during an interview today.

The main tools she uses are an email newsletter, her blog and social media. The email newsletter she uses to keep people informed about her Contributoria work is a specially selected list of people who have chosen to receive the conversations about the crowdfunding site, rather than her more general newsletter.

When she first started with Contributoria, Danielle told her general newsletter subscribers what she was doing and asked those interested to sign up to this new one. It’s not the biggest subscription list, approx 150 people, but all the members are particularly interested in this activity.

I wanted to make sure that I was giving people something that they wanted to receive, especially if I am knocking on their door every month. You can have hundreds and hundreds of subscribers but then not many people will open it. I always check the click and open rates for the newsletters. If you’ve ever done any marketing, and many journalists haven’t, but that is a skill set you need for any sort of crowdfunding.

I have really high engagement – 70-80% who open the emails – because I only send them out to a group I know who want it.It’s not so much about numbers as quality. The main point I think is consistency. I have dates in the calendar every month and stick to them.

The email cycle begins at the start of every month with Danielle outlining what she has recently had published thanks to the subscribers’ efforts, as well as outlining what’s coming up that she is looking for support with.

And the information about the support required is very detailed. She estimates that helping people (to help her) takes at least a couple of hours every month.

“You have to make it very clear, with some people you have to actually ring them up and talk them through the process.”

On the financial side of things, the emails are very specific about what money is required and what the money is being used for.

For example, if it is about travel I try to explain about it and what I do. For non-journalists, they don’t necessarily know how it works and you have to point out that if you’re travelling to New Orleans or Chile you’re going to need the first couple of thousand pounds just for flights and then there’s food and getting back before you start with the time.

This diagram I saw at a crowdfunding event in Norway last week shows the typical journey of a crowdfunder – friends and family first, then friends of friends, and then a need to get out into the world.

As with all crowdfunding activity and, shown the diagram above, Danielle’s first port of call is with family and friends but it is her approach to the wider potential of community of interest around her articles which I find particularly inspiring.

Take her coverage of the Homeless World Cup, a story she’s been covering for ten years for a multitude of publications. Knowing the topic so well meant Danielle had knowledge about many people already involved and interested in the subject – volunteers, referees and organisations etc. They were not the same people who’d sign up to back her work (or even usually read in English).

She was able to target the organisations she was writing about – sometimes simply urging them to tweet to their own followers – as well as a wide net of individuals and groups she knew would be interested in the subject whether or not they would be interested in getting involved in her other endeavours.

In addition to pitching one-off topics, Danielle has also been funding an entire series on Contributoria. She told me thet her ‘someone I met’ feature had been something of an experiment to see if people would be interested in reading whatever she came up with each month, rather than her spelling out exactly what they should expect in return for their support.

I have also been promoting the series on my website, which some people have told me they first found it and started supporting: Some months I get creative about where I promote my proposals: at the bottom of my email signature, in newsletters to ‘fans’, twitter, facebook, linkedin and other places.

Finally, just in case you think this all sounds rather exhausting, here’s what Danielle had to say about the pressures of crowdfunding versus traditional pitching.

If you’d like to support Danielle’s current proposal, please click here.

Written by sarahhartley

March 19th, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Ten things someone else knows about crowdfunding

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I’m interested in crowdfunding in all its guises, shapes and sizes and am keen to quiz people about their experience of using it for journalism when I get the chance. I’ve already posted here about the things I learned in 2014, but now I’m sharing someone else’s experiences – Jon Hickman’s in fact. Jon is a senior lecturer at Birmingham School of Media and a member of the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research. He wrote this article for the February issue of Contributoria after it was successfully crowdfunded. The non-commercial share and attribution licence on Contributoria means I can republish here also.

By Jon Hickman, originally published at Contributoria.

I’d not really done any crowdfunding until 2014. Sure, I’d backed the odd Kickstarter project but I’d not really ever used it myself for anything. However, by the end of the year I’d written quite a few pieces through Contributoria and I’d successfully delivered my own Kickstarter project too.

When lay people like you and I think about marketing we tend to just think about one part of it, advertising, and that’s the sharp end of something called ‘push marketing’: a team of people scope an opportunity, develop a product or service, and then take it into the market; at the most extreme end of things that opportunity might be quite slim but the Don Draper-types in the ad team can make the product sell anyway.

So that’s ‘push’ as in “let’s shovel this at them and make them buy it”. Pull marketing goes the other way: the customer in some way demands the product, and then it’s created for them. So when Threadless ask us to vote on which t-shirts they should print, that’s pull marketing and when you order a mug from a CaféPress store that doesn’t exist until it’s made for you, that’s pull marketing too. Crowdfunding is pull marketing.

It’s asking people what they want, generating demand through dialogue before the product is even made. That’s great because it can save you a lot of time. My Kickstarter project was for a book, 101 Things Birmingham Gave The World: by asking people if they wanted to read it we could gauge demand; if we hadn’t got the support we got we wouldn’t have even written it and certainly wouldn’t have got a load of them printed — after all the world already has too many unread books.

If you build it they won’t necessarily come, just ask some of the people whose work made it to Kickended — a collection of Kickstarter projects that didn’t raise a single penny. I’m pretty baffled by these projects: imagine, they didn’t even get a sympathy back from their mums.

No one is looking for your crowdfunding project, you’re going to have to tell people it’s there; counterintuitively your pull marketing needs some push marketing to get it started.

We all have a network, a mesh of people whom we have various levels of connections to. The things that build networks are shared interests, values and goals. That’s pretty handy when you’re crowdfunding because if you are interested in your project there are people all around you who will be interested too.

They in turn will know people who have similar values and interests. Just putting it out there on Facebook and Twitter should return something and make sure you don’t feature on Kickended — unless your idea makes no sense at all, in which case thank goodness you haven’t done any work yet.

Beyond the scatter gun of the social graph, you can make much more pointed moves: think about the sub-groups of your network, and the key players within those, take the idea to them personally and canvas their support as a backer, but more importantly as a champion for it. When working on Contributoria proposals I tend to think in my head about the parts of my network that will be interested in the story, I package it for them, and I reach out to those people on a one to one basis — most of the time it works.

Some of the people who back your crowdfunding projects will be backing them because it’s you not necessarily because of the project itself. The more of this you do, the less of that sort of support you’ll get. That’s not a huge problem for Kickstarter projects as they’re something of a one-off, but with Contributoria if you are pitching monthly it feels like you’re always asking for something. That’s proved to be tiring for me as a writer. I realised that I’d become embarrassed about asking for backers and had pretty much stopped sharing links to my proposals, which has then cost me getting some work commissioned. The thing is I needed to stop with the asking for a while for the sake of friendships and for the sake of how I felt in myself. Which leads me to…

Once you start pushing, asking people to help get your project off the ground, it can feel a little bit like you’re just going around with the cap out: “asking people to back you is a form of panhandling” says my book co-author and fellow Contributorian, Jon Bounds “it’s embarrassing to be honest, especially when it’s a little unclear what they get from it except for more of my words in the world”.

OK, let’s get a little deeper into the ‘begging’ thing for a second. A crowdfunding pitch needs a narrative, and part of that needs to address the question “why is this being crowdfunded?”. When Zach Braff used Kickstarter to finance a film there was some controversy over the project: Braff faced criticisms over why he wasn’t using his own money and why the film suddenly secured significant studio funding; it appeared to many that his Kickstarter was simply a publicity stunt, and that the crowdfunding had never been needed.

Much closer to home, Birmingham Impact Hub recently ran an ambitious Kickstarter to raise £50,000. This caused local controversy because nobody could understand what they were doing or why they needed so much money. In the end they made their target, but not before they spent a lot of time addressing peoples’ concerns.Get your story straight, and you should be golden.

Sounds pretty obvious, but don’t lose sight of the fact that the money you raise isn’t profit, and that you are going to need to deliver things. We left lots of contingency in our Kickstarter’s financial plan and we used all of that contingency money up — if we hadn’t budgeted for our stupidity we’d have eaten into the profits too. It’s good to know just exactly how stupid you are before you start.

If your Kickstarter project involves sending physical products you must plan for the logistics. Packing a few hundred rewards can take a lot of time. Unfortunately we didn’t know just exactly how stupid we were when it came to dispatching goods — fortunately for us the counter staff at Moseley post office are totally fine when you turn up at ten to closing time on the Friday before Christmas with 300 packages. I am forever in their debt.

Things get lost in the post, things get damaged, people don’t know how to get the ebooks they ordered onto their Kindles… Once you have been backed on Kickstarter you’re a company in the eyes of your backers, even if you are actually just a couple of friends publishing a toilet book, as my compatriots and I were. We spent a lot of Christmas week sending emergency replacement parcels out and offering technical support. We went above and beyond in doing this because we owed these people, because we’d made them a promise.

When it’s going well, crowdfunding is a big adrenaline rush. We worked hard to get 101 Things Birmingham Gave The World backed, and we were rewarded. Our target was modest but enough to do the project.

We smashed it. For a while it felt like every day we were dreaming up new stretch goals just trying to get the total higher and higher so we could do more and more, make the book better and better. In the end we got to hire a great local artist to design a cover, we got enough of a print run together that we could work with a local supplier (instead of shipping it all out through Amazon’s print on demand service as originally planned), and we raised enough cash to hold a book launch. The thing we did was so much better than we ever could have imagined and better than we could have afforded — it all happened because of our backers.

Written by sarahhartley

March 8th, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Ten tips on using Contributoria to fund your journalism

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Contributoria member Raymond Joseph recently wrote this list of tips to help follow members of the South African freelance community get the most out of I though they were well worth a wider airing so, with his permission, I’m blogging them here too.

If you’ve any further pointers that you’d like to add, do fee free to add them into the comments or drop me a line.

You can also follow the progress of Ray’s article here – members can collaborate with it too.

1. Loads of people pitch ideas for Contributoria, but not all get enough support to be commissioned. So, since the crowd gets to decide what to support – and therefore what is published – it’s important to actively market your pitch via social media and other networks, to garner support;

2. The story needs some general appeal to ensure enough people want to read it and, therefore, support it

3. Support one another. Lots of people whose pitches I’ve supported in the past returned the favour and supported me in return.

4. While the free points option means anyone can lend their support, as a writer and beneficiary, I feel it important to put something back. Therefore, have taken out a paid for £2 (around R40) a month membership, which I can cancel very easily on the site at any time. This gives me 250 points – rather than 50 for the free sub, so I can share the love far wider. (There is also a £6 sub that gives you 500 points to distribute, as well as some other benefits).

5. Don’t be greedy, since the higher you set your fee, the more points you need to garner. And always explain what your fee will be used for – other than paying you- especially if you are asking for a high fee. (Average fees appear to be around £350-400). So if there are additional costs, like travel, a photographer etc, say so in your pitch.

6. You keep copyright and control of your work and publication in Contributoria should be seen as a beginning, not an end. While they actively market work published on the platform and seek further sales (for which they take a commission), you too should be marketing and trying for further sales. My mantra, as some on Southern African Freelancers’ Association (Safrea) would have heard over the years, is “One story, many sales” – i.e. the first sale should cover your costs and ensure a decent profit. Everything after that is “cream” and it’s the reason why we must defend our copyright ruthlessly and charge for any – and all – additional usage. So just like we are paid for print, so should we insist on payment for online. And if a publication doesn’t want to pay for online use, exclude it when you sell your story.

7. At the moment only one picture can be added to an article but work continues to improve the platform so that more pictures can be published. Using a picture can help attract attention to your story.

8. Always remember to say thank to people who have supported you – and make sure they get to see the finished product.

9. There is an area for a biography so writers should complete that to let potential backers know who you are, your background and other work.

10. Add a profile pic. Not only does it help people put a face to a name, it also helps them to recognise your work across other platforms and social media.

* If you are Cape Town based and working on journalism or coding for social good, you might be interested in some of the media training Ray and I are carrying out in February. We are running workshops on advanced social media, storytelling and working with media organisations. If you are interested in finding out more, please drop an email to mentioning your project or organisation.

Written by sarahhartley

January 13th, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Things I learned about crowdfunding journalism in 2014

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2014 has been the year of crowdfunding for me. To inform my work helping to make the best possible experience for writers on the Contributoria* network, I’ve undertaken various experiments across the sector.

As well as asking for support for pieces of my own journalism, I’ve backed other people’s work using four sites – Kickstarter, my own Contributoria, Crowdfunder and Beacon Reader. This is a personal account of what I’ve found as well as some important insight from people who have been successful.

Different approaches

The current crop of crowdfunders offer uniquely different solutions to the problem of bringing together multiple funders for journalism. Of the platforms I concentrated on, Kickstarter approaches it to fund projects, work which has a specified timescale; Crowdfunder is aimed at community projects; the Contributoria community funds individual articles on a monthly basis and Beacon Reader makes it about supporting a person in whatever they choose to write about, as well as some projects.


I supported one Kickstarter journalism project in the year – Eliot Higgins’ Bellingcat for investigative citizen journalism which raised £50k+.

He was lucky to win early support from a BBC producer who volunteered to make the striking and professional video which fronted the campaign, and then he plunged in. I asked him about the experience:

“I had three weeks to put together a Kickstarter. I went to a professional campaign management company in New York and they helped me put it together. A lot of the money was for costs I’d already spent and then 20% went to campaign team and 8% to Kickstarter so that was a big chunk and then there was the money I’d already spent on the website. If I ran it again it would be for a much smaller amount because I wouldn’t have those costs now.”

The first thing to notice about the Kickstarter experience is the idea of layers of reward. I was unreasonably pleased to receive my Bellingcat T-shirt as well as special access to a non-public part of the site as a thank you for my cash.

But while T-shirts is a fairly standard offer, the idea of exclusivity prompted some difficulties for Eliot in getting a coherent message across.

“I was advised by the crowdfunding campaign people that I should keep the Bellingcat site closed and only for people who were donating until the end of the campaign. Unfortunately that’s led to some people believing it is subscription-only even though it’s an open website and created that wrong impression in some people’s minds.

“Crowdfunding is also a hugely stressful way of having to do something, when you are working by yourself especially. I was getting all sorts of interviews for the promotional work and found it hard to do the work needed to do the stories for the content to actually go on the site at the same time.”

The hyperlocal publication, A Little Piece of Stone used the UK based Crowdfunder for its campaign to raise a £15,000 target to improve its website and found that people responded to meet 75% of that by the Friday of week one.

Despite the town of Stone being a very small place, site publisher Jamie Summerfield reached out using social media and other platforms to widen the potential funding net.

As he posted at the Community Journalism blog, early on in the process, he also found that promotional aspect hard work:

“I don’t think it’s something to be entered into lightly. Crowdfunding requires a huge amount of effort, as we’re discovering! I hadn’t anticipated the amount of work required just to get your campaign to the start line. But if you get it right, and you can get the support of your audience (as I hope we’ll be able to do) then a successful campaign is a wonderful platform to galvanise support and move towards sustainability.”

Unlike the system at Kickstarter, as a (very small) funder, I didn’t feel quite as involved in the process using Crowdfunder. Once I’d paid the money and been thanked, that seemed to be about it for involvement so I’d be interested to hear if others’ experiences of the site differ.

Like many Contributoria members, I am both a funder and fundee on the platform. (Please note, I have chosen to donate any fees earned from writing on the site to charity, more than £1K to date).

The writers I’ve backed on the site have received some, or all, of my monthly ‘points’ allocation – a currency all members receive and can spend towards their chosen targets. Those points are then automatically translated into real pounds and pence for the journalists.

As a writer, I have pitched stories which have likewise been backed, or not, by other members of the community. So far they have supported me to write about topics as diverse as the pressures on journalists to sexual exploitation in the LGBT community raising money for the Frontline Fund and Barnardos respectively.

I asked for people’s support on Twitter and Facebook as well as using my subscription newsletter to outline what I was planning to write about and update people on how that was progressing.

Because I didn’t need people’s actual cash – people joining Contributoria get a small amount of points for free – getting the necessary support involved explaining how the system works rather than extracting their credit cards.

Membership on Contributoria does have benefits outside of cash and meant I could receive help and input on my articles as well as, likewise, helping others with their work. This collaborative aspect is so far unique among the crowdfunding sites I’ve used.

Of course, my own use of the site to fund stories doesn’t fully reflect the experience of all the thousands of members, many of whom have earned significantly more from the site and used it to fund travel to places as far afield as Botswana.

The members are worth contacting for further tips and experience if you’re looking to fund your own work at the site and one of them, Jon Hickman, is currently writing about his own experiences of crowdfunding here.

Beacon Reader

When I saw how well Lyra McKee Had done with this site ($11K+) by accessing significant funding for a whole series of articles which investigated a murder cold case in Northern Ireland I chose to support her. This means that $5 has been going out of my PayPal account automatically every month. I don’t have any particular input into what she chooses to publish, I have to trust that she’ll serve up another interesting episode in the story, which she does on a regular basis.

Because the Beacon Reader content is largely behind a paywall for members, I asked her how she’s managed to amass so much interest in her work.

“I genuinely have had a fantastic experience using Beacon – the team bends over backwards for writers, the support you’ll get is literally second to none and they’re always prompt/on time with payments. Like any crowdfunding campaign, though, you need a good video pitch or it’s going nowhere. I was very, very lucky; I had a friend who was a fantastic amateur filmmaker with a £2,000 camera who was willing to help for free and a composer friend who charged me just $100 for a track (and was happy to wait to see if the crowdfunder was successful first).

“I was also very lucky to have a fanbase who had followed my progress with the book via Twitter/my blog and wanted to help any way they could. Basically, I was surrounded by this network of people who were willing to go to the wire for me, even though most of them had never met me. It was humbling. These were the ingredients that made it work. I started off by giving my work away free – blogging, tweeting, Facebooking. I did this for 2-3 years. People grew to like it then they wanted to support me.

“I think this is the part people forget about when discussing crowdfunding; you can’t just ask people for money when they don’t know you (unless you create something that, for whatever reason, goes viral). You have to give them something for free first.

“The one thing I would say – it’s very hard to grow your fanbase when your work is hiding behind a paywall. The Beacon team understood this – if you’re a writer or subscriber who shares a link on Twitter, your followers can read it for free. But I think, in the future, the most effective model will be – and has been – freemium. Take Serial, for example – they asked readers to donate over the course of a week so they could make Season 2. Listeners didn’t need to be coerced or threatened with a paywall – they coughed up. People will pay for stuff they love. If you want them to pay for news, create stuff worth loving and then stick the tip jar out.”

My own experience of Beacon Reader has been rather less successful, so far. After publishing a few articles to what felt like an empty room being behind the paywall, I did start a project with the US site based on a family mystery I’d be interested to investigate further and which I felt could end up revealing some wider international intrigue.

I’d asked for a fairly small amount of money – $2,000 for three months work which included travel and several multimedia pieces as well as a few feature length articles.

It was a shock when the site organisers suggested I send out 500 personal emails to garner support for it. And it was here that I also ran into some cultural issues – the people I started approaching were members of the family and extended circle. They were mostly older British people and found my approach odd to the point of rude.

Feedback came through saying they felt as if they were being involved in a pyramid selling scheme, it was all a bit US and the language of the site too brash for them.

I failed to reach my target (I actually don’t have hundreds of people I could approach for cash, sadly!) and it’s difficult to gain wider traction without more effort than I could muster at the time. Plus I simply didn’t have the time to make a video – in hindsight that looks to have been a key driver for both Lyra and Eliot.

That said, I am continuing with the site, just approaching it in a rather more gentle manner to see if I can build it up over time. Feel free to follow me here. (And I couldn’t agree more with Lyra – the staff at Beacon are extremely helpful and encouraging for anyone wanting to dip their toe.)

So there we are, a year of crowdfunding journalism viewed from both sides of the fence. If you are looking to crowdfund work, or support others doing so, in 2015, I’ve come up with these five takeaways in summary:

1. Understand the different site offers
It’s well worth investing some time considering all the different options – ask yourself what it is that’s being funded, i.e work, person, project? How does the platform work? Does the language used on the site fit with your personal style? Will the demands fit in with your other activities?
Ask someone who has been successful on the platform how they feel about the site, how accessible the people behind it are and whether they can offer any advice for a newbie.

There’s a good list of further sites with summaries of their own particular approaches here at

2. Consider the timeframe
Some sites offer a quick turnaround on funding decisions (Contributoria is in calendar months) others rely on longer-term effort to establish a presence as Lyra did with Beacon. There’s also some psychology with timing in terms of when to pitch ideas and how long to run them for – having a shortish, defined timeline makes it easier for potential backers to understand the process and feel an urgency to get behind the call for action. If you’ve ever undertaken a sponsored swim, run or similar, these sort of behaviours will sound familiar.

3. You will need a properly planned strategy
Plan all the activity out ahead of making the call for funding. Things you need to think about include the milestones for the project or stories, what is going to happen/when, the promotional activity, how/where the backers will be involved, how long is the relationship to be, what do you want from backers other than cash, etc. etc. Once the call for funding is live, it will be a juggling act to deliver on your part of the promise while also promoting the need for funding. A full content and activity calendar planned out in advance will be a great help plus allow more time than you think strictly necessary to explain what you are doing – I soon discovered that even the term ‘crowdfunding’ is largely unknown outside of the tech/digital world.

4. Social media alone will not work
BUT social media is incredibly important. As with the launch of any content driven project, having a documented content plan for your social media channels will help you target the message appropriately.

Video proved to be the clinching thing for two of the projects I’ve mentioned here so, depending on your choice of platform, might be worth investing time with.

Simply asking for cash is unlikely to hit the spot outside of family and friends but being inventive with social media to offer specific interest points to your followers or rewards such as exclusivity, picture access or merchandising could support your campaign.

Using newsletters and other platforms such as blogs and LinkedIn can also help widen the net of potential backers and find people who might be interested in investing.

5. Get ready to work hard.

If you haven’t already realised this from the experiences I’ve detailed here, you’ll need to be prepared to work hard! Sadly crowdfunding doesn’t simply mean exposing your brilliant idea to the world and waiting for the cash to flow in, it does require planning, a certain amount of marketing nous and a little pinch of cheek. You’ll need to allow enough time to undertake it properly and approach it as a job of work for the maximum success.

Good luck and remember, what goes around, comes around so why not give a little to learn a lot.

These are my personal reflections on using crowdfunding for journalism – I’d love to hear yours. Please do feel free to share via the comments below or on Twitter.

Happy New Year!

* Disclosure: I am editor and co-founder at Contributoria.

Written by sarahhartley

December 31st, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Contributoria in 2014: What writers want for Christmas

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As the year draws to a close, looking back to how things have played out is a regular concern for many and media folk could be accused of being especially  absorbed in reviewing the year that was.

At Contributoria we recently released the figures on the right of this page to do just that, take stock of what’s felt like a remarkable first year for the independent journalism network myself, Matt and Dan launched into the world on January 1 2014.

Only in existence for a year and already it seems like a lifetime ago we won that Google IPI News Innovation Contest with the basic idea for its prototype.

But, exciting as they are, the stats only tell part of the story. Behind those blunt measures, there’s been plenty of conversations, plans and dreams too. And for me, a major pre-occupation throughout 2014 has been thinking about ‘what journalists really want.’

The easy answer is to say, ‘proper financial recognition’ and of course, money is always going to be an issue. But once the payment question is out of the way, what then? What really matters every day?

Measure of everything

Publishers spend plenty of energy working out metrics and measures for just about everything – page views, dwell time, shares on social platforms etc. etc. and that’s great to get a feel in aggregate but, what really gets a writer fired up?

I don’t know m/any journalists who get out of bed in the hope that the shareholder will get a better return on their news org’s holding! Without being puffed up about it, didn’t we all get into this to ‘change the world’ in some small way?

Looking for common threads running through the work of many of the Contributoria writers, a really important outcome would seem to be around the impact their work has, its influence.

And that’s one of those things that’s hard to measure despite being easy to spot when it does happen.

Stories with impact

We saw this recently with the startling piece by Harry Vale who wrote about his first hand experience of working in a High Street bookmakers.

It was one of those pieces of writing that couldn’t be ignored – it screamed, snarled, swore and spat in the faces of those who think having access to gambling machines on every poverty-hit spew-splattered street corner is acceptable.

To date its been widely read and shared from the Contributoria site; prompted complaints to the Gambling Commission (the Confidential intelligence line is at 0121 230 6655 if you feel moved to do that too); been read and tweeted by campaigning MP Tom Watson and featured on the primetime BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Show (last Friday if you want to listen again).

Harry’s on his way to writing the second instalment just now and my gut feeling is that this still has some way to play out. Follow what happens next here.

Perhaps another interesting measure of influence can be seen in the global reach and appeal of a story and the places it travels. We’ve seen this many times over the year and do our best to help writers track what happens after their articles are published under a Creative Commons non-commercial share and attribution licence.

Rich McEachran’s piece on the feasibility of eating insects was one such piece. While it was a popular read here in the UK – where we’re seemingly happy to eat bacteria-filled chicken but wince at the idea of grubs – it also had resonance in parts of the world where eating insects isn’t quite so taboo.

The topic was such a good talking point for South Africans that the Big Issue magazine there used the story for its cover issue – and sold out.

The Big Issue in South Africa

As well as the arresting image, the editors there provided a useful recipe and asked ‘crickets or beef?’, providing an informative nutritional breakdown.

I asked Rich about the article’s popularity:

Some people don’t like to be told what to eat, but they do like to be intrigued. Others are concerned about the environmental impact of their meat consumption … I guess the article has been popular with both camps because, even though the thought of eating insects is yuckish, the idea that we could all be consuming them in the form of cookies and tortillas, snack foods that we love, made from cricket flour, makes us want to taste them and find out more. Well I do anyway.

Back in July, two of the Contributoria writers, Jen Wilton and Liam Barrington-Bush travelled to Spain to find out more about the unusual town of Marinaleda. They couldn’t have known as they packed their passports just how that story would mushroom into publications around the globe, including:

  • Truth Out (1,900 Likes)
  • Yes! Magazine (1,500 Likes)
  • New Internationalist (1,000 Likes)
  • ROAR Magazine (1,000 Likes)
  • openDemocracy
  • The Ecologist

and then last month it was translated into Portuguese and published in Brazil.

I wondered if they could explain the huge success of that article. Liam said they both felt it had something to do with the positive message expressed:

“Lots of progressive press can be as guilty of just writing more and more stories highlighting the bad stuff out there (with good cause), but which can have a really demoralising effect on peoples’ outlook. So when alternatives come to light, I think they provide a bit of relief, that the world isn’t as bad as it can sometimes appear from reading the news…”

Here’s to even more of that in 2015!

* If you’d like to join the freelance writers on and get paid for your original journalism – from anywhere in the world – join us here.
And if you’d like a print edition or e-reader of the best stories from our online issue each month, then you can sign-up for those there too.

Written by sarahhartley

December 18th, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Journalism

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Mapped: Contributoria stories from October

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Image: Dean Vipond.


One of the most inspiring things about working on has been the global spread of issues and interests our writers have demonstrated.

Here is just a snapshot – this month’s issue mapped, simply touch the image to explore the world of stories.

Although most active in the UK and Europe (not surprising considering that’s where the team is based) the growing community of writers has also been turning their attention further afield.

The global nature of the coverage is something we noticed from day one on the platform and is continuing apace, helping to answer one of our initial aims in starting the site by exposing new writers and stories that might not otherwise emerge.

If I had to pick three personal favourites from this month which show that diversity, I’d suggest taking a look at Naomi Klein: “We’re not who we were told we were” (Canada), Kalashnikovs and cameras on the road to Syrian freedom (Syria) and Who makes the best cup of tea: George Orwell or Douglas Adams? (UK).

The full range of articles from the October issue can be access via the map above or by continent here:




Middle East


Indian subcontinent

Image: Dean Vipond

If you’d like to join the freelance writers on and get paid for your original journalism – from anywhere in the world – join us here.
And if you’d like a print edition or e-reader of the best stories from our online issue each month, then you can sign-up for those there too.

Written by sarahhartley

October 10th, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Journalism

Tagged with , , , ,

Collaborating on stories – getting the message out with shareable interactives

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I’ve been experimenting with different ways to get the message out about the opportunity to collaborate on stories I’m working on and came across this neat way to embed multimedia elements into a single picture. Called, it means you can embed the links to other media (using different styles of icons) and create an easily shareable final interactive image. No code required.

Simply mouse over the image and the buttons to click onto for additional material become visible.

I’m just about to finish this story about a charity working with entrepreneurs in Congo which has been funded by members of Contributoria and so have created this particular image in a bid to spread the word here on my blog, via my newsletter, on Twitter and Facebook etc.

But it’s very easy to see how it could be powerfully applied to a news feature with multimedia elements emanating from a strong picture too.

Written by sarahhartley

September 21st, 2014 at 11:22 am

Getting independent journalism to new audiences @Contributoria


Having a printed newspaper certainly gets you noticed! Obvious in many ways, maybe, but for a digital start-up, using the power of print might not seem the most likely route but it’s certainly paying off for us at

As fellow co-founder Matt McAlister says on his own blog:

We weren’t exactly surprised to see so much interest in the printed version of Contributoria because we intuitively believed people would like it in newspaper format, particularly if it was designed nicely. But the effect on the business has been more than just a nice-to-have.

First and most obvious is that people understand what we’re up to. The mental leap required for understanding community-powered journalism can be challenging even for people who are in the business. But it only takes one or two seconds to explain it when you can give someone the output of what we’re doing to hold in their hands.

They’re encouraged to hear that our business model is about membership in a community, but that sometimes requires an explanation. When they see the newspaper they see quality journalism, and that’s something everyone understands.”

And, most importantly, it’s getting our writers noticed too. All the articles published on the platform are provided under a non-commercial share and attribution licence.

This means blogs and other non-profits can use them at no extra cost and we organise a re-licensing fee for commercial publishers (which is shared with the writer). Having the re-licensing button added to the bottom of each article has made this aspect easier to understand this month.

The first Contributoria writer to have an article syndicated to The Guardian was Rich McEachran with this article about edible packaging and there’s soon to be more appearing there too.

It’s also working internationally – prolific Contributoria writer Danielle Batist has found her way over to the South African Big Issue with her piece about London’s exiled Zimbabwe radio while Peter Dorrie’s piece about the politics of fishing in Africa is informing folk via the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty.

The Women’s Environmental Network is featuring Fanny Malinen’s article on food sovereignty and I think we’ve all lost track of the number of outlets which Jen Wilton and Liam Barrington-Bush’s piece about the Spanish town of Marinaleda has reached – New Internationalist, The EcologistTruth Out, Yes! MagazineROAR Magazine….this list goes on.

Exciting times indeed. If you’d like be a part of this community of independent journalists, you can sign up here.

Written by sarahhartley

September 9th, 2014 at 9:46 am