I’m not asking if you would pay for press coverage as a business if it were possible. I’m asking if you would ever do it as an individual, when you think there’s something that’s been under-reported or even downright unreported to date and you want to see that situation changed. If you were looking for a story to be told that you consider to be missing from the news coverage already out there, would you be inclined to take out your wallet, and maybe even rally your friends, family and peers to do the same in order to be able to pay a reporter to do the fieldwork on your behalf?
Because that’s exactly what Global For Me‘s is trying to do.
Here’s how it works: you suggest a story to be investigated on the GFM website, and donate personally or together with others until you have the necessary funds to effectively have the company find and hire a journalist for you to—and I’m quoting from the website here—”go to briefings, press conferences, request interviews or door stop reluctant interviewees on your behalf.” Examples given on the homepage include politicians and local authorities but also “celebrities” and “anybody else”. In my opinion, that sounds more like hiring a private detective, but maybe I’m missing something here.
Could this model ever work?
In theory, it doesn’t sound all that bad. Communities are formed around a given topic and its members, aided by peer pressure and the use of social networking services, jointly decide what exactly should be investigated, a reporter does his or her job and gets paid the standard rate for it, Global For Me keeps a commission and the audience gets the news and/or answers to certain questions it was longing for delivered right at their virtual doorsteps. Everyone wins, right?
In practice though, I’m not convinced it will work. The service would have to receive a heap of traction before the model gets even remotely viable enough for the journalists who would take on work through the service as well as for Global For Me. I’m also inclined to believe people would fund certain investigations to have a reporter discover what they want to see discovered, and that more often than not the end result will not live up to their expectations. And since there’s isn’t a publisher / editor to act as gatekeeper, who would they turn to to complain about possible bias or sloppy reporting? And looking at it from a different perspective, who’s to say freelance journalists – even if unvoluntarily – at some point wouldn’t start reporting stories the way the original commissioners (and the ones paying the bill) would want to see them reported?
It’s worth noting that there are other organizations providing this type of service, but like Spot.us – perhaps the most familiar example of an online marketplace for community-funded reporting – they are non-profits and are not looking to commercialize the whole thing like GFM does.
So let’s go back to the original question: would you consider paying a reporter to report a story on your behalf, and why (not)?