Growing a Community and The Importance of Being Iterative

    by David Cohn
    August 28, 2008
    As always: If you just want the status update of Spot.Us
    as a project -scroll down to the bottom for a nice digestible list of
    what’s going down. Or – keep reading for detailed thoughts.
    This will be cross-posted at the Spot Us blog.

    Two months ago I decided that instead of sitting on my hands and waiting for a “tada-moment” to launch spot.us, we should just get started by using a wiki and a blog.

    “Best decision ever” (said in the voice Jeff Albertson).


    Producing something from nothing

    Granted, the site can best be described as fugly (take a guess what
    that means) it has been effective. We’ve now funded two investigations
    (details below) with a third almost funded.


    More important than the hard stats is the momentum being created
    around what spot.us represents: “community funded reporting.” We even
    received some national attention, albeit a bit premature.

    Far more important than media attention – we’ve formed a community.
    It’s a loose community – but mark my words, it’s a community.

    My last post at Idea Lab asked “how can get people to geek out about journalism?” I’m still not sure what the answer is – but I am becoming convinced the only way to find out is “to just get started.”

    Momentum by Definition Keeps Going

    The day I put out a call for pitches to upload on the wiki I received one from an eager journalist named Alexis Madrigal.

    Alexis and I knew each other purely through email (I had interviewed him
    for the beat blogging project). Point is – we were acquaintances, but
    Alexis didn’t owe me any favors. He saw something in spot.us that
    inspired him. That’s why in his pitch for spot.us he only asked for
    $250. It’s not much – but I’ve come to find out that Alexis was never
    interested in money. He probably put in $2,500 worth of labor into the
    final investigation (which will be published in a series next week).
    More than that – he donated $50 to the second pitch on spot.us which
    was looking to raise $2,500 to fact-check the political advertisements
    for the San Francisco election.

    When I saw that Alexis donated to this second pitch I teared up a
    bit. Along with Alexis seventy-three other people, many of them
    journalism colleagues, donated an average of $33 to fund this
    investigation. It’s hard to express my gratitude, but I try here.

    While it could be argued that the first funded pitch was symbolic –
    it was exactly what Spot.Us needed to get the proverbial ball rolling.
    It was a spark that gave us momentum which is now gaining speed.

    “Community funded reporting” is a large boulder of an object, but
    it’s starting to move – because everyone is pushing. Seeing everyone
    push beside me only pumps me up. So either stop encouraging me or get ready – cause my feet are only going to stomp harder.

    And hopefully – the harder I stomp, the more people will hear the
    call for action. I become more passionate about this by the day.

    Meanwhile, bystanders who were cautious to jump in at first are
    starting to see the momentum and are joining. I’m pretty confident
    Spot.Us will have another round of pitches coming soon – covering
    diverse issues like the elderly and police relations in Oakland. A part
    of me is hoping the pitches won’t come in until October when we are
    fully launched, but if they appear in my inbox tomorrow, we will start
    crowdfunding for them tomorrow – journalism doesn’t wait. And Spot.Us
    will continue to be iterative. Right now the communities needs are
    being quelled – but much more infrastructure is needed as we ramp up speed to organize acts of “community funded reporting.”

    We will get there and in the meantime – we are learning.

    Project Status Report

    1. Coverage in the NY Times was great – unfortunately we weren’t at full capacity to deal with the interest that people showed.
    2. Funded two pitches – hopying to go three-for-three. Just $90 shy of our goal.
    3. Regardless – our community pushes forward and is growing by the day.
    4. Design is coming along very well. Should be done within the week. Here are some samples.
    5. Development is going to start really soon. Get ready to shake-and-bake (ugh, did I just say that?)
    6. Getting some pro-bono legal work done in September – hopefully ready for launch in October.
    7. Banking issues being worked out. E-commerce is a fun little side-lesson for me.
    8. Taking Ruby on Rails courses at the Community College of San
      Francisco. Unfortunately it’s not an intro to programming class so the
      vast majority of it is over my head – but it only hurts if I try really
      hard ;)
    9. Having fun – becoming more inspired every day by reporters and civic leaders who lend encouragment.
    Tagged: crowdfunding design spot.us

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