Journalism is under "significant threat" from commercial interests, says Scoop Media founder Alastair Thompson, who last week launched the Scoop Foundation Project to give public interest journalists a sword to fight with.
Similar to Propublica in the US, the Scoop Foundation is a non-profit (although it's still to attain charitable status) funding journalism projects which are often looked over by commercial media for not having mass appeal or due to the financial costs involved with investigative journalism. Thompson says in particular there will be a focus on local government issues and news from the provinces.
"There's a lot going on in New Zealand that's not reaching the media at all. There are industry sectors which have little or no coverage at all," he says.
Although a separate entity from Thompson's Scoop Media, he says his for-profit business will provide $100,000 of "in kind" support to the foundation and its chosen projects – including infrastructure costs, advertising and fundraising work .
Update: Unlike Propublica, the Foundation doesn't maintain a working newsroom. Thompson says his organisation plans to give the stories it funds to different media outlets in order to garner wide coverage for the information it uncovers. The Foundation is in preliminary discussions with publishers about what this arrangement might look like, but he's unwilling to give names at this point.
Thompson says it's unlikely any current full-time journalist will be eligible to receiving funding, "we're not paying newspapers to do stories themselves", instead he expects it will give part-time or unemployed journalists, students and bloggers the ability to do important pieces of reporting.
Thompson says there's an appetite (and more importantly a need) for more investigative work in New Zealand. He gives Scoop's Pacific news portal (pacific.scoop.co.nz) as an example of work that fits the bill.
"It's not really anyone's focus and yet it is important and needs to be done," he says.
It can be argued that if there was an appetite for this kind of news from consumers, media companies would already be producing it and placing advertising next to it. Financial journalist Bernard Hickey launched a similar initiative to the Scoop Foundation last year called journalism.org.nz , which received much praise from the media and public but failed to generate enough money to continue.
A more successful example of crowdfunded journalism is from blogger (and when the media need him to be, hacker) Keith Ng, who raised over $5,000 from over 200 donators as a token of appreciation for his expose on the WINZ kiosks.
"The difference between what Bernard did and what we're doing is we have more resources behind us. We have a large project team made up of great journalists and the ability to publish work," he says.
The Foundation has support from some well known journalists, including Gordon Campbell (The Werewolf), Alison McCulloch (freelancer), Pattrick Smellie & Jonathan Underhill (BusinessDesk), and Russell Brown (Public Address) – who all have an affiliation with the Scoop Cartel. Also, Thompson says all the major journalism schools in the country have approached him to get their students involved.
Thompson says the next step is setting up a trust deed and selecting an editorial board responsible for approving projects. It's still early days for the Foundation, but it's already talking to some journalists in order to build a small catalogue of showcase projects.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said the Scoop Foundation planned on selling its stories to commercial media. Foundation founder Alastair Thompson says the organisation plans to provide stories to mainstream media for free – like Propublica does.