On his Medium page the founder of Pactio, Adriano Farano, describes how trust in all organizations is in free fall before adding, “In the digital world it’s much easier to trust fellow humans than organizations. Aha, I thought. What if we had a way to directly connect with and financially support the actual people who report the news, also known as journalists? The idea of Pactio was born.”
Pactio will launch its public beta in a few weeks and the platform will offer, “more of a membership model than a subscription model, in that the primary motivation for people to support a journalist on Pactio is that they want the reporting to exist in the first place.”
Speaking to NiemanLab, Farano continues, “You have a reporter who says, ‘I’m going to cover this issue, I’m going to be independent, it’s just me covering this beat and I’m asking you to support that work.”
The pricing model will likely be three-tiered, with subscriptions offered for $3, $5, or $10 per month. The journalist keeps 70 percent and Pactio keeps the other 30 percent, which will go towards payment and transaction infrastructure costs, the liability insurance, marketing, and Pactio’s profits. The platform is currently recruiting its first cohort of journalists and is inviting applications here.
Will it work? Farano clearly thinks so although he readily admits that, “there have been several crowdfunding journalism projects in the past and none of them are around anymore.” However, he argues that by focusing on ongoing financial support rather than one-off donations there will be a stronger “pact between a journalist and audience”.
He also argues that because Pactio is centered around individual journalists (be they independent or employed) rather than news organizations, trust will be “streamlined”. Last but not least, Farano feels the timing is right, with the percentage of Americans willing to pay for news increasing significantly from 9 percent in 2016 to 16 percent in 2017.
The elephant in the room, however, is the editorial stance, or lack of it. Pactio says it is “especially interested in local beat and community reporting in the U.S. that has a real impact on people’s lives.” In practice this is a laudable idea but far more complex in the real world, be it the Ferguson shootings in St Louis, MI, or the Grenfell Tower fire in London.
Indeed, for an audience to individually pay for a reporter’s work, the subject matter has to be one of immense import. Typically, these topics come accompanied by views/opinions that carry intense emotion and passion for the people concerned. How Pactio will steer its editorial policy and police its output is not known.
Some individual reporters are already pioneering similar models but on their own terms. Nafeez Ahmed, the former Guardian environment blogger founded INSURGE intelligence and currently earns $1,759 a month from 454 patrons. As Ahmed states, ‘With the support of my community of patrons from all over the world, we’ve raised a total $65,000 so far, all from micro-payments from individuals who care, and want to see a new form of media that informs and empowers everyday citizens’.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) is another donation-based initiative to help local journalists reveal stories of vital public interest. The Bureau is in the process of creating a network of journalists and technology experts, to discover and tell public interest stories. In a year, it has recruited 650 of them and covered stories in the UK, EU and US. Its founders also come with heavyweight credibility having worked in various roles at The Times of London, UK’s Trinity Mirror, Greenpeace Investigations and London’s Croydon Advertiser.
One thing is certain: donation-based reporting is making serious inroads into local journalism and is a trend that is only set to continue. Success, however, will hinge on the credibility of the reporters concerned.