When Michael Brown was shot to death in Ferguson, Missouri last year, Mariah Stewart began covering the ensuing aftershocks on a shoestring, a newly minted journalism school graduate juggling a national story with her job as a bra fitter at a nearby mall.
Unaffiliated with any news organization, Stewart funded her journalism through Beacon, a crowdfunding platform that allows journalists to solicit contributions directly from their readers. Before long, Stewart’s reporting from the epicenter of unrest was spotted by The Huffington Post, which used Beacon to raise more than $40,000 to fund her coverage for an entire year.
Although the year has expired, HuffPost and Stewart don’t want to stop reporting from Ferguson, and they’re turning to readers for help once again. Today, HuffPost and Beacon jointly announced the launch of another crowdfunding campaign to keep Stewart on the social justice beat in the St. Louis area.
In a post announcing the campaign, HuffPost D.C. Bureau Chief Ryan Grim noted that Stewart’s career as a journalist will not be determined by the success or failure of the campaign. If HuffPost doesn’t reach its $40,000 goal in the allotted time, Stewart will join the outlet’s national reporting staff and move off the Ferguson beat full-time.
“This is about having a reporter on the ground, covering Ferguson at the local level, not about whether Stewart stays,” Grim said in an email to Poynter.
Grim says Stewart will be getting a raise, though he declined to offer specifics in an email.
When HuffPost launched its first campaign last year, the crowdfunding gambit was greeted with a mix of enthusiasm from readers who wanted to see more reporting from St. Louis and criticism from those who thought the company should pay for the journalism on its own dime. In interviews, HuffPost countered that crowdfunding was a tenable model for its Ferguson outpost and noted that on-the-ground reporting from the city wasn’t sustainable without reader support.
Dan Fletcher, Beacon’s co-founder, gave the second crowdfunding campaign good odds of success. Several high-rolling donors from the last year have already re-upped, which means the initiative will launch with upwards of $5,000. This time around, reader support will hinge on whether the story remains fresh in their minds a year after Brown’s death.
“The great unknown is whether people are thinking about Ferguson to the degree that they were last year,” Fletcher said.
For Stewart, the campaign bookends a year of work that has included stories on local politicians, the fallout from a landmark Department of Justice report on the state of the Ferguson Police Department and chronicling the prominent protesters that surfaced in the wake of Brown’s shooting. She says her work has improved through mentoring from HuffPost scribe Ryan Reilly, whom she has shared bylines with over the last year.
But after a year, there are still untold stories in Ferguson, and Stewart says she wants to stay there if she can.
“My heart is truly invested into the stories coming out of Ferguson and the St. Louis region,” she said. “I’ll never forget those August days I chose to go to Ferguson.”