Cronkite News crowdfunding campaign builds on industry trends

Cronkite School senior Carolina Marquez sets up a 360-degree camera overlooking Ciudad Juárez as part of the coverage of Pope Francis' visit for Cronkite News Service, on Feb. 14, 2016. A group of students went as part of the school's Borderlands initiative to report on the U.S.-Mexico border and southwest issues. (Miguel Otárola/DD)

The Cronkite News borderlands desk is getting involved with a new trend of journalism crowdfunding in an attempt to raise $50,000 to fund in-depth reporting on border issues.

This method has seen widespread use, from the $2.15 million dollars raised last summer in a lighthearted attempt to bailout Greece to young filmmakers utilizing these platforms, often creating trailers and asking for funding to make full-length features.

Recently, the journalism industry has also begun asking the public for help with more in-depth projects.

According to research from the Pew Research Center, 658 journalism-related projects were proposed on Kickstarter between April 2009 and September 2015, with more than $6.3 million in funding given to those proposals.

In this emerging crowdfunded-journalism industry, individuals seeking the resources for their own investigations pitched 71 percent of projects over the report’s seven-year span. Established media organizations, including ProPublica and the Boston Review, made up 22 percent. Meanwhile, elementary schools, high schools and universities made up the last 7 percent.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism will now be adding to that 7 percent.

The project is aiming to spend its $50,000 goal to create more opportunities for students to do journalism on the Arizona-Mexico border.

On Friday, several Cronkite students embarked on a seven-day trip to El Paso to cover Pope Francis’ visit to Juarez, Mexico, with editors of the Cronkite News borderlands desk. These editors are distinguished Latino issues and borderlands journalists Alfredo Corchado and Angela Kocherga, who launched the Cronkite School’s bilingual border reporting program this past fall.

These extended reporting trips are rare for many reasons, but mainly due to a lack of funding for in-depth reporting, Kocherga said. This issue extends outside of universities, as newsrooms have had to cut back on more involved coverage in lieu of breaking news to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle.

“Sustainability stories, voter stories, immigration stories … these all get lost in the shuffle when you’re dealing with day-to-day coverage,” Kocherga said.

So when Beacon, a crowdfunding platform dedicated to funding journalism projects by matching donated funds, partnered with the Cronkite School to work toward expanding borderland coverage, the school saw it as chance to jump into a trend that has barely even made its mark on the journalism industry.

“We see this as a way for people to weigh in on what issues they think are important,” Kocherga said. “This could fund different types of coverage that typical newsrooms aren’t covering anymore.”

Eric Newton, Chief Innovation Officer at the Cronkite School, has been spearheading the borderlands crowdfunding effort.

“It makes sense to find out, in the context of a journalism education (following) the teaching hospital model, whether crowdfunding could be a helpful source of revenue,” Newton said. “We wanted to see if a larger crowdfunding project that the entire news organization could benefit from was possible.”

Cronkite News borderlands reporter Chloe Nordquist has been working on the border, focusing on pairing visuals with in-depth reporting.

“In order to cover it properly, you need to be on the border,” Nordquist said. “With the issues that borderlands entails, you need to go and interact with those communities that are being affected.”

Independent news organization the Tucson Sentinel also saw the value in more detailed coverage of the border. In a Kickstarter campaign that ended on January 31, staff proposed photographing every mile of the border to assemble an interactive map. The publication set its goal for $5,000 and raised $13,648.

Currently, the Cronkite School and Beacon have raised almost $36,000 of the proposed $50,000 – about 71 percent of the way to their goal. With nine days left, Newton is hopeful that the school will reach its target.

“The last week is the time for a lot of the contributions. That’s why they have deadlines. It’s now or never,” he said.

Editor’s note: Former Downtown Devil editor-in-chief Miguel Otárola and special projects editor Molly Bilker are reporters with the Cronkite News borderlands team. They did not contribute to the reporting or editing of this article.

Contact the reporter at Kelsey.Hess@asu.edu

Additional reporting by Caleb Manning.