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BEACON: WHEN NETFLIX MEETS KICKSTARTER

Kickstarter_Netflix_Beacon© Netflix / Kickstarter / Beacon

‘Aboriginal people represent just 4.3 per cent of Canadians, according to Statistics Canada, and Aboriginal women comprise a similar percentage of Canadian women. Yet, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, they represent more than 11 per cent of all missing women and approximately 16 per cent of all female homicide victims. (…) Back me financially and I’ll immerse myself in this important Canadian issue.’

Journalist Jane Gerster published this ‘pitch’ on Beacon, a crowdfunding platform specialisng in journalism projects. If she had pitched to a traditional media outlet, it is highly likely that the chief editor would have paid her the equivalent of a few days work. With Beacon, she earned 5 235 dollars, which will let her embark on a more long-term investigative report. The internet users who have given her financial support (to the tune of USD 5 per person) will get access to all articles by 150 authors for a month.

Will crowdfunding be the salvation of journalism? The thought is in the air – it is a system which encourages extensive investigative reports and is an antidote to certain damaging side-effects of digital journalism which often tends towards ‘list-ickles’ and ‘clickbait’. However, to date, most initiatives of this type have failed. As reported in an article in the American Journalism Review, the Spot.Us platform that focussed on Californian issues failed to take off, as did Indie Voices (alternative issues), Vourno (for video) or Emphas.is (for photographs). Will Beacon, launched in 2013, manage to pull it off? Will its system, based on unlimited access, like Netflix, assure its success? It is difficult to say just yet, but its rapid growth is an encouraging sign.

It remains to be seen whether journalistes can respond to this new tool. Even the way that the platform operates represents a paradigm shift – in exchange for USD 5, the web user subscribes to a stream of articles by a specific author. This principle shines the spotlight on the writers, much more than the traditional media do. To make it work for them, reporters must be able to sell themselves, do their own marketing and become their own brand. However, marketing is not really taught at schools of journalism, and runs diametrically counter to the values that journalists have espoused heretofore. Maybe it is time for change?

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