It wouldn't be overly cynical to say that print media is in decline. Or, perhaps more fairly, that it is becoming harder and harder to get commissioned. The rise and rise of the internet has contributed to this in its own way, but some people aren't letting this be the death of science journalism. Instead new platforms are being developed to revolutionise the way which we fund and commission science journalism. These new platforms give writing opportunities not only to weathered professionals, but also to those looking to break into the increasingly impenetrable world of writing.
One new model which is being explored is crowdfunding. The essence of crowdfunding is that you ask people for money to do something that you like, but it is for something which they like as well, says Sebastian Esser, founder of KrautReporter.de. But this model hasn't yet been applied greatly to journalism.
Contributoria.com is one platform that is looking to use crowdfunding to revolutionise the world of commissioning and funding. It is not specifically a science platform, says Sarah Hartley, co-founder and editor, but a place for all long-form journalism where writers can pitch directly to potential readers who can then choose whether or not to fund them. The platform uses a 3-month production cycle, with a pitching phase followed by production and publishing phases, as long as the initial pitch receives enough backing. In response to the question, what do the people who fund the articles get out of the process? Sarah replied, "Contributoriais set up to be a collaborative community environment. I think our users feel a sense of altruism and a sense of belonging to a community." It shouldn't be viewed as a destination for reading articles; it is more of a community for writers, "a platform, a process and a cooperative."
Like most new commissioning and funding concepts, Contributoriareceived outside funding to launch. It received an initial grant from the Google-sponsored International Press Institute News Innovation Contest, and now receives funding from the Guardian Media Group. Nevertheless, questions have been raised about the sustainability of these new platforms once their initial funding runs out.
This new wave of funding and commissioning concepts isn't solely based on the crowdfunding model. Another emerging platform, Mosaic, takes open source to new levels. Giles Newton, editor of Mosaic, explained how the Wellcome Trust funds the platform, but the articles on Mosaic are not limited to Wellcome Trust-funded science. All Mosaic's stories are released on Creative Commons licenses, leading to many stories being taken up by mainstream media outlets, and inevitable surges in Mosaic’s site traffic. The ethos of Mosaic is that the stories are made available to all audiences, as long as Mosaic is referenced. None of the stories on Mosaic are copyrighted; this would undermine the whole concept of trying to gain wide audiences.< The talks concluded with a pressing question from an audience member who had been running a traditional publishing business for 14 years. He asked: "It is all well and good to have these platforms set up with enormous sums of initial investment, but in the long run how are you going to become economically viable? Are any of you going to be around in 14-years' time?" This does seem to be the most important point that is asyet unanswered. Are any of these new platforms going to become economically sustainable once their initial funding pools dry up? I, for one, do hope so.