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Spot.Us was founded in 2008 by David Cohn and launched through a $340,000 Knight News Challenge grant. It was acquired in 2011 by the Public Insight Network, a division of American Public Media. Cohn left the organization in 2012. Under APM, the site’s funding awarded and percentage of successful projects plummeted.
The project is based on the model of sites like Kiva and DonorsChoose.org, which allow users to donate or lend to groups in need. On Spot.Us, freelance journalists pitch stories and ask for funding to cover them. Once the stories are reported, they’re offered to news organizations for free, though publishers can donate in exchange for exclusive publishing rights.
As of April 2010, Spot.us had raised more than $100,000 toward reporting projects, with about two-thirds of its proposed stories reaching full funding. As of February of 2011, it had funded over 160 projects with the help of 5,000 contributors (a fifth of whom contributed more than once), and it had collaborated with 95 different organizations.
Spot.Us’ most prominent story has been a $10,000 reporting project by Lindsey Hoshaw on the Pacific garbage patch, which resulted in a blog and a story published in The New York Times in November 2009. New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt published a column about the project, its fundraising needs and the Times involvement in July 2009.
Spot.Us also funded an investigative report on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge that was published in December 2009 in conjunction with SF Public Press, McSweeney’s San Francisco Panorama and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Cohn has also integrated the project’s open-source model into advertising. In June of 2010, it launched a program that allows users to earn credits they can use to fund stories by engaging with ads on the site.
OpenFile was a user-driven local news site based in Toronto, with affiliates in five other Canadian cities, Montréal, Calgary, Ottawa, and Vancouver, and Halifax. OpenFile was founded by Canadian journalist Wilf Dinnick in May 2010. The site relied on users to direct its news coverage, inviting them to start a “file” (the site’s founders chose the term to…