Publishers share lessons learned in crowdfunding

LION publishers shared important lessons Friday on the use of crowdfunding for journalism projects with both Beacon and Kickstarter. In

October 3, 2015 by Chris Krewson


LION Summit coverage by Sally Duros

It’s important to check with your readers and get some initial feedback before moving ahead with a crowdfunding project, agreed Brian Wheeler, Executive Director of Charlottesville Tomorrow, a nonprofit newsroom, and Traven Rice, of The Lo-Down, a commercial news site that covers the Lower East Side neighborhood in New York City.  

In the case of the Lo-Down, the editors carefully selected a specific topic to crowdfund. They decided on Lower east side small business survival. Although their focus was a problem, the coverage will focus on solutions.

The Lo-Down’s project was run on the Beacon platform as part of a pilot with the Dodge Foundation.

Rice’s skills as a filmmaker proved useful in setting the right tone in the promotional video. It begins “What happens if small business are replaced by national chains? Your support will allow is to pound the pavement and tell the story of this community.”

Although the Lo-Down is a commercial publication, it is mission driven and has community building as a priority.

“We really did it as a community engagement project,” Rice said.

The campaign successfully completed in June with $28,000 in funding for a yearlong investigative project of eight stories and a concluding community forum. The Lo-Down also has a monthly print publication.

Half of the funding came from local businesses who also provided the rewards for backers.

In Charlottesville, Wheeler said when “Crowdfunding it’s important to pick a subject that the community will be motivated about.”

The Charlottesville site is built on the Armstrong CMS.  A mobile optimization project required the editors to raise some extra money.

“It was bugging us so we figured it was bugging our readers as well,” Wheeler said.

But the Kickstarter campaign to raise money to enhance the mobile site was unsuccessful. The campaign featured a video made with a free tool called, that allowed the editors to storyboard the pitch.

Wheeler also discussed a successful Kickstarter campaign which engaged the community. Using 3D models in Google Earth and their partnership with the local newspaper, Charlottesville Tomorrow was able to present a thorough picture of a transportation project to the community. (See “Engaging community to address a public project” —  Brian Wheeler, Executive Director, Charlottesville Tomorrow.)

Download a Baker's Dozen Kickstarter Tips as shared by Dylan Smith & Brian Wheeler at the June 2015 LION conference.

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