Community-funded news site Spot.Us introduced several new features and a streamlined design yesterday in response to user feedback. The updated format provides readers with a more interactive role in the journalism they help fund. Among the changes are story updates, the ability to create "assignments" for other users, and a presence on Facebook and Twitter.
The idea behind Spot.Us is simple: Stories begin when readers submit tips or journalist pitch stories. A price is set for the proposed article and Spot.Us lets the public donate to fund expenses for reporting.
The system has safeguards in place to prevent special interests from influencing a story. "We limit how much any one person can donate...so you need a group of people to contribute to a pitch to make it a reality," founder David Cohn told the Editors Weblog. Once the article is finished, readers can view it for free on the website and news outlets can distribute it through a creative commons license. Cohn says approximately four articles are funded from Spot.Us per month.
Cohn hopes the new design of the website makes for a more user-friendly experience. "We have received a lot of feedback from folks about how we could improve and this was us listening," said Cohn.
One new feature lets users create "assignments," like crowdsourcing photos or reviewing documents, which gives readers a new opportunity to contribute to journalism without necessarily funding it. It's part of what Cohn calls the transition from "community funded reporting" to "community powered reporting."
Another change gives readers easier access to story updates through blog posts on the site. Some updates will even make the front page of the website, helping to show readers progress on pitches they initially funded and making journalism a bit more transparent. Cohn soon hopes to make it easier to fund stories by introducing a widget on the site that enables users to donate without ever leaving the page.
While the site is based in the Bay Area with another branch in Los Angeles, Cohn is soliciting suggestions for other cities that might be interesting in their service. Expansion is clearly on the table.
With more changes on the way, Cohn is hesitant to call it "Spot.Us 2.0" just yet, he wrote on the website's blog. "This is Spot.Us 1.9."
David Cohn will be speaking at the World Editors Forum in Beirut in June, see www.wanlebanon2010.com for more information