Crowdfunding independent journalism in Latin America
Camille Padilla Dalmau is the co-founder of 9 Millones, a Puerto Rican crowdfunding and publishing initiative that has raised $55,000 for independent journalism, distributed to 31 projects. She is a Columbia Journalism School graduate and worked at El Diario and NowThis before creating 9 Millones.
Why crowdfunding matters for journalism
- The question of how to finance journalism has always been at the forefront in the digital era – a question that is particularly salient today with the closure of digital native Buzzfeed News and Vice News filing for bankruptcy.
- In contexts of authoritarianism and local political instability, media outlets have to find new ways to fund their journalism to remain afloat when they are needed the most. Crowdfunding allows outlets to finance their coverage while maintaining editorial independence.
- Over the past several years, crowdfunding via the internet has become a popular way to engage public support and provide financial backing for a number of journalism projects, many of which come from underrepresented or underreported communities. Projects like De Correspondent in the Netherlands, Republik in Switzerland and El Español in Spain have raised millions in their crowdfunding campaigns.
Watch Camille's seminar
5 takeaways from Camille’s talk and the discussion
1. Crowdfunding gives the opportunity for a diversity of stories. 9 Millones started as Padilla Dalmau noticed how stories about Puerto Rico focused on a certain type of narrative about the island: poor Puerto Ricans, tragedy, and stories lacking agency. 9 Millones is a platform that allows Puerto Rican journalists to crowdfund so they can develop their own journalism projects.
"9 Millones is a space where reporters can be themselves and do the stories they want to do. I'm letting them follow their curiosity because usually our reporters' curiosities are very connected to the community's curiosity," said Padilla Dalmau.
2. Be clear about your editorial independence. To keep with the editorial independence of 9 Millones, the organisation does not take money from those that are involved in politics, investment companies or who have done ‘environmental or social harm’ to Puerto Rico. However, since crowdfunding deals with smaller amounts, they have not encountered issues of conflict of interests.
Padilla Dalmau says that it is important to be transparent with audiences and donors about the journalistic process and the editorial independence of the project. “We're very clear with the people that donate that we have our editorial independence,” she said. “You're giving us this money, but we are doing our own process. So I think being clear about editorial independence is important.”
3. Let people into the reporting process. By having audiences be part of the financing process, outlets should communicate to their audiences about the timeline of production. Padilla Dalmau thinks this is a great opportunity for media literacy as you can explain to the audience why certain reporting processes take so long.
“Sometimes we get money from people so we feel a pressure to get this done,” Padilla Dalmau explained. “We want to do it well, but also, it's an invitation to let people know that the story producing and the investigative process, especially if you're doing investigative journalism, takes a long time.”
4. Diversify your revenue stream. “We have gotten some money, but it's not enough to be sustainable,” said Padilla Dalmau. She explains that one of the ways to make crowdfunding financing sustainable is to diversify your revenue streams. 9 Millones produces high-quality journalism, but it also sells merchandise, provides workshops, and applies for grants and partnerships.
5. Meeting the crowdfunding goal isn’t everything. Padilla Dalmau explained that crowdfunding is a tool that helps reporters pursue the stories they want to pursue without the pressures of a newsroom or finances. She told the story of one of their journalists who was looking for a partnership to be able to meet her crowdfunding goal.
“She already had people that put their money for this story and she felt like she was empowered as a journalist to go and say, ‘hey, I have the support of people to tell the story. I just need a little more,’” she explained. The partnership went through and the journalist felt she was able to ask for what she wanted because of that existing support. "I want to create spaces where journalists feel like they have more power. Crowdfunding, even if you don't meet your goal, can also be a tool to show support and get you started," said Padilla Dalmau.
The bottom line
Crowdfunding can serve as an alternative tool for journalists to fund their reporting and tell the stories they want to tell – stories that perhaps have been overlooked by mainstream media organisations. Journalists must be clear with audiences about their editorial independence, as well as the reporting process, in order to be transparent regarding expectations. Overall, crowdfunding can empower journalists to develop their own projects while engaging with the public.