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Brother, Can You Spare $2,500?

Web platform helps fund creative projects. But will it help journalism?

Crowdfunding enabled freelance journalist Chris Killian to hit the campaign trail.

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Kickstarter has emerged as something of a life raft for the struggling journalism industry. The crowdfunding Web platform, popular for small-scale tech and creative projects to raise capital, is being tapped by media types for everything from gas money for freelancers to laid-off writers endeavoring to launch their own magazine. But as hacks look for handouts, the question arises: Can anybody build a sustainable business this way?

Chris Killian, a freelance journalist who raised nearly twice his goal of $2,500 to document the 2012 election across swing states from a Volkswagen van, believes that the model works best for individual reporters, so long as they remind donors that contributions don’t amount to influence. “It’s an incredible tool for those unaffiliated with news orgs that don’t have the deep pockets,” Killian said. “But it is incumbent on the journalist to explain that in no way will the donation impact the journalistic requirement to be unbiased.”

Yet for larger organizations, it may be hard to continue to go back to the well to keep the business afloat. “I think the charity model doesn’t work for journalism in the sense of the reader receiving value,” news industry analyst Ken Doctor said. “We are seeing a push with subscriptions and memberships though, where readers are paying a lot more of the freight.”