Spot.us founder David Cohn has generated about $65,000 with an approach that remains true to his main focus — user-funded journalism — at the same time it broadens the pool of payers for news.
Cohn launched Spot.us a couple of years ago as an early experiment in crowdfunding that enables individuals to donate money to support specific reporting projects.
Tuesday afternoon, Cohn issued what he termed a “state of the Spot” report summarizing the site’s experience with 160 projects funded by 5,000 contributors. Along the way, Spot.us has partnered with 95 organizations, sometimes involving quite imaginative alliances, and has picked up seven journalism awards.
But it’s the site’s use of advertiser surveys that I’ll focus on here.
In brief, it works like this: An advertiser agrees to put up a certain amount of money, say, $5,000. Cohn works with the advertiser, often a foundation or cause-oriented group, to create a survey with a few questions designed to be completed in just a couple of minutes. Upon completion of the survey, the user is invited to allocate $5 of the ad revenues to a story in need of funding on the Spot.us site.
The survey gets the advertiser increased awareness as well as the user opinions reflected in the survey responses.
It also accomplishes some things for Spot.us: It creates a new form of ad revenue and it gives users a way of supporting journalism without any money leaving their pockets.
Some excerpts from my e-mail exchange with Cohn about these surveys:
“The idea has always been in the background but it really hit home when Spot.Us was approached by an organization that wanted to fund us to report on a specific issue. That goes against what Spot.Us stands for but, if I’m honest, I really wanted their money! So I told them we’d promote their specific issue and make sure people engaged with the issue, etc. — but that once they did that we’d let the community decide how the funds get distributed.
“In fact, our current sponsorship was very similar. The Roblee Foundation was interested in seeing more coverage on issues of teen pregnancy. Rather than just hand us the money and then us turn that into reporting about specific issues (which many nonprofits do) we took the money and created a survey about teen pregnancy and how it’s portrayed in the media. This way the Roblee Foundation accomplishes its goal of raising awareness about an important issue and the community gets to fund important stories of their choosing.”
Cohn also shared what he described as his “favorite feedback from users”: ‘This is one of the best advertising experiences I’ve ever had. I gave something of what I know, I got something of what they wanted me to know, and I gave the resulting spot $ to a story I wanted to support.’ “
That sounds like a satisfied customer to me, the sort of satisfaction news organizations are going to need to cultivate in the interesting days ahead.