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Sept. 22, 2009, noon launches in Los Angeles, focuses on its platform

San Francisco-based Spot.Us is expanding its crowdfunded journalism tools to Los Angeles, a move founder David Cohn hinted at in an interview with Zach in June. 

The expansion ushers in a refocusing for Spot.Us, as the nonprofit puts its development energy into serving as a platform rather than eyeing growth as a full-fledged news organization. Cohn told me last night his intent is to resist the allure of becoming a news source — an impulse Spot.Us has struggled with — and instead use the organization’s infrastructure to serve and connect three interwoven groups: local community members, reporters/journalists, and news publishers. It’s a platform play, which has the benefit of being cheaper and faster than setting up Spot.Us editorial bureaus across the country.

The L.A. expansion is in partnership with USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism and it’s backed by additional funding from the Knight Foundation. The new money will support an L.A.-based managing editor. (He’s hiring!)

Interestingly, the L.A. expansion may not serve as much of a guide for Spot.Us’ future moves. Cohn recognizes that strong local partners and grant money are hard to come by, and while he’ll pursue those opportunities, he’s also embracing an expansion mindset reminiscent of Craigslist. With the technology in place thanks to the L.A. effort, Spot.Us can use its platform to dip a toe in new markets and allocate resources as interest warrants. Cohn is eyeing Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Miami and certain parts of Texas in the short term.

Here’s the video from our interview with David back in June:

And here’s the press release:

Crowd-Funded Journalism Comes to L.A. as Spot.Us Partners with USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism
David Cohn,
Geneva Overholser,

(Sept. 22, 2009) LOS ANGELES — Spot.Us, the community funded journalism project founded less than a year ago in San Francisco, announces it is expanding to Los Angeles through a collaboration with USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism. The USC Annenberg partnership, which will integrate Spot.Us’ innovative news delivery method with the journalism academy and strengthen ties to the local media community, is made possible by additional funding from the the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, one of the original backers of the project. Among other things, the grant will fund local staff to coordinate freelancers and publications in the LA area and further site development.

“We’ve had a lot of success in the Bay Area, and we want to be a network for community journalism, not just a single city site,” said Spot.Us founder David Cohn. “We are committed to civic journalism because that is what has been hit the hardest, and to really cover civic issues, you have to be local. The partnership with USC gives us the perfect opportunity to work in another city taking all we have learned and built in San Francisco.”

A pioneer in community-funded journalism, Spot.Us is the only “crowd-sourced” Web site that focuses on local, long-form reporting. Visitors to the site may choose to donate money to support investigative reporting into an issue of their choice. Once completed, the reports are solicited for distribution through local media outlets — if no outlet is found, the story is posted on the Spot.Us site. If wider distribution is found, the story is sold to the outlet and the donation is refunded. By encouraging partnerships with other news organizations, the project expanded the readership of its stories beyond the site, collaborating with national news giants like The New York Times and local organizations including The Oakland Tribune and radio station KALW.

Launched in November of 2008 after being selected a winner of the Knight Foundation’s “Knight News Challenge,” over 800 people have funded more than 30 projects on Spot.Us with an average donation of just over $40. The site has also received support from local foundations like the Full Circle Fund. “The Knight Foundation funded — and continues to fund — Spot.Us because it uniquely combines local investigative journalism with Web 2.0 technology,” said Gary Kebbel, journalism program director at the Knight Foundation.

Stories funded by Spot.Us cover the gamut of community concerns, from environmental to budgetary to cultural. “Breaking the Wall of Silence” is an investigative report into the civilian oversight of police in Oakland. A story from the City Budget Watchdog series, “A Tale of Two Zip Codes,” examined diminishing anti-poverty programs in the Tenderloin neighborhood. One popular story, “Follow the Trash,” which details where a local community’s recycling goes after pick up, turned into a collaboration with San Francisco magazine, allowing those who helped fund it to reinvest their money in other stories.

“With traditional journalism models facing economic challenge, it’s clear that we must find new ways to support the critically important work of journalism. Spot.Us represents a new way to ensure that communities get the stories that matter most to them,” said Geneva Overholser, director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

POSTED     Sept. 22, 2009, noon
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