APM acquires Knight-nurtured Spot.us crowdfunding site

By Mike Janssen

Minnesota-based American Public Media announced Nov. 29 the future cohabitation of two new-media tools for use by public media newsrooms. APM’s Public Insight Network (PIN), which helps journalists find story topics and sources in their communities, has acquired Spot.Us, a platform for raising money to support freelance reporting.

Launched in 2008, Spot.Us allows freelancers to post pitches on its website for stories they’d like to report and ask for donations to support their efforts. Spot.Us takes a 10 percent cut of the donations for its own expenses and charges news organizations to create surveys for their websites. Readers who answer the surveys get credits that they can apply to Spot.Us story pitches.

Since its founding, Spot.Us has helped support almost 240 stories, said co-founder David Cohn. In 2009 it raised $10,000 to send a freelancer to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean. The resulting story for The New York Times became a most-emailed article on the paper’s website. Another Spot.Us-funded project examined investments made by regents of California’s university system and ran in several California alt-newsweeklies.

Like PIN, Spot.Us has received support from the Knight Foundation. The acquisition gives Spot.Us the chance to scale up its work within the supporting structure of a larger organization, Cohn says.

As for APM, the merger will help newsrooms using PIN to work more closely with freelancers, which has become increasingly difficult in recent years, according to Joaquin Alvarado, senior v.p. of digital innovation at the network. “It’s a really acute challenge that newsrooms face and a trend we’re all trying to reverse,” he said.

Alvarado envisions that stations will also be able to use Spot.Us in a new way: raising money in support of coverage of a particular topic, then finding freelancers to do the work. KPCC in Los Angeles, run by an APM sister organization, and Louisville Public Media have already used Spot.Us to support reporting projects.

So far stories funded through Spot.Us have landed with a wide range of media outlets. Under APM, Spot.Us will continue to serve a variety of news organizations, “but importantly we are going to spend a lot of time focusing on what the positive impact can be in public broadcasting,” Alvarado said.

No money changed hands in PIN’s acquisition of Spot.Us, which is a nonprofit.

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