As most people know, an increasing number of news organizations are abandoning in-depth reporting in favor of entertainment and celebrity stories. At the same time, the few media that remain dedicated to serious journalism are weakened by dwindling circulation numbers, a loss in advertising revenue and an awkward transition from print to web.
Over the past several years, most photojournalists have experimented with new ways of sharing their pictures with the world. Whether through their own individual websites or free online sites like Lensculture, Foto8, and BlueEyes, there are now more ways than ever to display and share visual journalism. As a consequence, it is now quite easy to find quality photojournalism without ever picking up a newspaper or magazine. Unfortunately, not nearly as much innovation has taken place to fund these photo stories as has taken place to display them. Aside from obtaining a grant (or taking on a side job), there are very few ways to replace the funding that major news organizations once provided to cover conflict, foreign affairs and investigative stories.
If one takes a look outside the narrow field of photojournalism, it is clear that other realms have developed alternative funding models. In broadcasting, we find that NPR and PBS rely mainly on donations from their listeners and viewers. Kiva is an excellent micro-lending site that links entrepreneurs in developing countries with lenders. In 2007, the band Radiohead released music and listeners could name their own price. Spot.us relies on crowdfunding to pay for local news reporting in northern California.
It is high time that photojournalists also experiment with alternative funding models. Over the coming months, I will be testing a variety of methods and sharing the results here.
As a first step, I am participating in the beta testing of a new social micro-payment called Flattr. If you register with Flattr, you choose to pay a small monthly fee. You decide the amount yourself, and at the end of the month the fee is divided up between all the pages you choose “flatter.” Click below for a quick video explanation:
Since the platform is still in testing, you need an invitation to register.* (You can now register here.)