Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Spot.Us merges with the Public Insight Network

Nov. 29, 2011, 1:04 p.m., Posted by David Cohn

crowdfunding

Image Credit: Jules Brelaz

In 2008, Knight Foundation helped launch Spot.us with $340,000 in seed funding  through the Knight News Challenge, an international contest to find innovative, digital ideas for delivering news and information. Today, Founder David Cohn reports exciting news:  American Public Media's Knight-funded Public Insight Network has acquired Spot.us. “Mergers between between new and existing news initiatives can drive innovation,” said Michael Maness, Vice President for Journalism & Media Innovation program. “We saw this earlier this year when Knight News Challenge winner Document Cloud and Investigative Reporters and Editors combined forces, and we are hopeful for as successful an integration between these two Knight partners.”

By David Cohn

Spot.Us launched in November of 2008. Counting the months of planning (and applying for the Knight News Challenge) that went into the launch and I’ve been working on Spot.Us for almost four years. In that time we’ve pushed boundaries, had many successes and shortcomings which I’ve tried to share along the way. As I’ve always said – Spot.Us will never be perfect. It will never be “done” and that as long as we can strive for something we are making progress.

Today we are taking a big stride by formally merging with the Public Insight Network. There is a lot to suss out with this merger but when you sit and think about it the merger makes a lot of sense.

The Public Insight Network (part of American Public Media) was co-founded by my friend Michael Skoler, now at Public Radio International. It’s a software platform (similar to Spot.Us) that has long been at the forefront of how Public Media can interact with and take cues from the public by giving them a means to inform journalism. Individuals can provide insight to make stories more informed, insightful and reflect the community in a truer sense. Spot.Us is built on a relationship with the public giving them a kind of editorial control and influence over what stories should be done. Both create a media that is more responsive and responsible to the public’s needs according to their own volition. Combined we offer both opportunities to readers, creating a more nuanced relationship between a news entity that uses PIN/Spot and the public.

Creating and managing a more nuanced relationship – that’s what “public media” should do. I hope that as Spot.Us and PIN merge we can continue to push the boundaries in transparency and participation in the process of journalism so that media organizations can better serve the public.

All of this is under the backdrop of my gig at UC Berkeley’s J-school which is a blast. Spot.Us is my baby, but just as it is time for it to grow up and move out of the house, it was time for me to tackle new problems. Through this merger both are happening.

I will continue working at Berkeley’s J-school and I will remain the founder and a part of the Spot.Us team moving forward. But it is high time for Spot.Us to grow wings and move beyond what any small team can accomplish. I believe under the PIN leadership of Joaquin Alvarado Spot.Us can grow to accomplish much more and I intend to be there as we reach for higher goals and aspirations.

There will be much to write about in the coming months (years). I’m happy to say that Spot.Us is able to fund itself as a project for the first year of this merger and if revenue grows, could do so indefinitely. But for the moment I want to keep this post short and sweet. Spot.Us will continue. For the moment it will be status quo. There will be changes moving forward but we will remain an open platform that will fundraise for independent journalists and news organizations.

And to close it off – an excerpt from the first IdeaLab post I ever wrote about Spot.Us.

As I see it – community funded reporting is low-hanging fruit. The Knight News Challenge is all about doing research and development – the kind that isn’t done elsewhere in the industry.

Now, it may turn out that this low-hanging fruit is poisonous. But aren’t you glad that somebody is at least going to give it a good honest bite to find out? More importantly – aren’t you glad it’s somebody who shares the values of the news industry? Fact is, this idea is going to be a learning process. My goal isn’t to solve the business woes of journalism. I don’t think anybody can do that. But I do intend to taste the fruit of community funded reporting and report back as clearly as possible how it tastes. Fact is, this idea is going to be tried by somebody. My fear, however, is that those who get to it first successfully don’t have journalism’s best interest in mind – but the bottom line.

I’m happy to report back that the fruit isn’t poisonous. In fact, I think it’s time we begin to harvest at a larger scale.