How Can We Get People to “Geek Out” About Journalism?

    by David Cohn
    August 8, 2008
    • If you just want the progress report on Spot.Us – scroll to the bottom. If you want to peer into my mind, read on.

    If I want to explain my job as founder of Spot.Us in one sentence,
    I’ll just say “I’m fundraising for independent journalists to do local

    Obviously it’s much more involved than that, but depending on how much energy I have, it works.


    But what’s the mission of Spot.Us? Perhaps of any Knight News Challenge project?


    What follows won’t be a personal mission statement, but could be construed as brainstorming to that end.

    Right now I’m fundraising so we can hire a journalist who will fact check the political advertisements for the upcoming San Francsico election.
    This is, as far as I’m concerned, a good cause. All I need is to find
    59 more citizens willing to donate $25. I’m lovingly referring to it
    now as the SF Election Truthiness Campaign and I have to believe I can find 59 SF residents who would see value in it.

    But what is behind this? My real goal (or obstacle) is to convince
    people that investigative journalism is worth their cold hard cash. My
    obstacle is not all that different from a citizen journalism venture
    that needs to convince people doing acts of journalism is worth their spare time.

    Part of the problem journalism faces is bad PR.
    “Big J” journalism is associated with newspapers and broadcast
    television. Products that are facing distress and are increasingly
    disavowed by the public. More and more people are deciding a newspaper
    subscription isn’t worth their money. That’s fine, but if journalism is
    a process, not a product – some other form of journalism must still be
    worth money. Right now getting people to donate time or money to
    journalism is probably akin to getting people to donate time and money
    to the library.

    (Note: I love libraries and actually worked as a librarian through
    college. My point here is to convey that for most people, newspapers ie journalism = dull,
    boring, self-sufficient, homework, etc. That’s a problem.)

    This chain of thought comes from a blog comment left by Anna Haynes that encouraged me to continue thinking about OhMyNews.
    We all know the citizen journalism goliath in South Korea. It is still
    the measurement of success in citizen journalism. But it hasn’t translated to the States. What they achieved
    wasn’t the result of some technological breakthrough. It was because
    somehow in that society journalism became cool.

    How did that happen? I have no idea – but that’s a million dollar question.

    Can journalism ever tap into the same energy as DIY knitting, gardening or tech tinkering?

    I’m not talking about
    a grassroots campaign here – that’s for initiatives that are struggling
    and need to organize people. I’m talking about a cultural shift of
    magnitude such that journalisms will be something people feel a cultural
    pressure to contribute to.

    We all think journalism is important, but we are bias. All too often in the
    journalism blogosphere we take this notion for granted. That somehow
    journalism is cool and important and it’s a shame if it disapears.
    Sadly, I don’t think the rest of the country feels this way. I fear
    that local reporting from newspapers could dispaear over the course of
    the next decade and normal every day citizens wouldn’t blink twice.

    Sorry for the skeptical rant. But hey, it’s good to get this stuff off my chest.

    • Status Update on Spot Us!!!!

    Current Mood: Busy, optimistic (despite post above) and juggling a few balls including.

    (a. fundraising: http://wiki.spot.us/election

    (b. Design for Spot.Us

    (c. Legal for Spot.Us

    (d. Always learning more things.


    (a. So far very happy with my decision to bootstrap the starting point of Spot Us instead of waiting till October for a big “ta-da” launch. We have two more pitches that we are fundraising for – the election fact-checking truthiness campaign being a very exciting one. More pitches to come soon, but at this stage, I’m taking them one at a time from reporters I know.

    (b. I hope to put up wireframes on the blog for all to peer at. It depends on how comfortable the designers are with that. I prefer sausage making being public, but I can understand their concern. At the very least – know we are making progress. Scheduled to launch in October (fingers crossed).

    (c. I am almost officially fiscally sponsored by the Center for Media Change which is run by Hal Plotkin. Long story short: To be a nonprofit I needed somebody to be my fiscal sponsor. If you check CMC’s one project right now: ReelChanges.org, you’ll see why this is a match made in heaven.

    (d. Studying: Crowdfunded and user-created advertising. Absolutely fascinating!!!!! SaysMe.Tv. These guys are taking video blogging and finding a way for everyday
    citizens to share the cost of getting it on local cable television.
    Crowdfunded public messages. Makes me think ala-cart content isn’t such
    a crazy idea. One very notable political use of SaysMe.Tv already

    Tagged: journalism ohmynews saysme.tv spot.us
    • Libby

      I agree that the big question is how do we make journalism cool. it boggles my mind that how city councils spend money isn’t worthy of the attention of a community of 100,000; yet everyone i talk to seems to be able to list the top 10 on American Idol, or something equally stupid, er, pedestrian. HELLO… what city councils do IS important. But we’re all “too busy” to pay attention, or, hark, get INVOLVED or at least get to know these politicians as human beings. They actually are human, and some of them are halfway decent people. So i’ll be watching to see if anyone has any suggestions, because i’m stumped.

    • Have you considered using http://www.thepoint.com for your donation campaign? They’re based with me here in Chicago, and this is exactly the sort of thing they said the website up for. Take a look and see what you think.

    • Great article David, if you or anyone reading this has any questions about SaysMe.tv and running your own commercials please feel free to write me [email protected]

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