There is something new under the Sun!News comes this morning of what might be called Community Supported Environmental Journalism. The concept is not so far from the Community Support Agriculture (CSA) movement that I've seen in organic agriculture. In that case you "subscribe" to a farm. For an up front fee at the beginning of the growing season you get a share of the crops all summer long. The farmer gets the funds needed to keep the farm going and the buyers get a close connection with the farm and the farmer -- as well as great tasting food. Now that concept seems to be cropping up (just a little pun there) in environmental journalism. Andrew Revkin of the NY Times' Dot Earth blog reports on Spot.us, a website that publishes "pitches" by journalists seeking to cover an environmental story. Readers can then buy into that coverage by making donations.
It's an interesting concept that puts journalistic (and potentially photojournalistic) ideas out in the rough and tumble of the marketplace. Making pitches to editors has always been part of the freelance business, of course, but this really puts you out on the firing line. You would, however, get real feedback on your story idea. After all, it's easy enough to call an editor an idiot for not seeing the brilliance of your story. It's tougher to put that same story idea out there on the internet for everybody to see and then have nobody show interest. A major league blow to the ego there.But just maybe you get the funds to do the story. And getting the coverage done in the first place is the biggest hurdle you have to get over. Once you have the material (that would be photos in our case) all kinds of opportunities open up. You can read Revkin's story here: http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/10/new-models-for-environmental-communication/ And you can find Spot.us here: http://www.spot.us/ Can it work? Well, one recent coverage included Lindsey Hoshaw's story on Pacific Ocean flotsam that appeared in Science Times. So I this point I'll go out on a limb and give it a definite "maybe." As Revkin said this is "cloud financing" of journalism. In this case I'd give the same advice I always give to photographers pondering the jump to freelance: try to keep your day job as long as you can. But it's one more road to the future and you've got to applaud the concept and effort. Good luck to the folks at Spot.us.