Exploring Best Practices & Navigating Possibilities

Friday afternoon, May 15

Co-hosts: Chris Faraone, Dig Publising, Boston

Ricardo Sandoval-Palos, Fund for Investigative Journalism

Note taker: Chris Faraone



  • Sarah van Gelder, YES! Magazine
  • Stephen Silha, Frisky Divinity Productions, Journalism That Matters
  • Julie Schwietert Collazo, Freelance journalist
  • Michael Stoll, SF Public Press
  • Valeria Fernandez, Independent journalist
  • Jeff Yang, Wall Street Journal Online
  • Michelle Garcia, Independent Journalist/Filmmaker

Faraone: Awesome session to which a few people referred in their closing comments. We rapped about connecting resources and identifying products that people are willing to pay for.


-How can we help and boost those who are already doing?

-How do we get people to care about stories they wouldn’t ordinarily care about?

-How do we make money in new ways?

-Why couldn’t (or how could) a collective of independent journalists and editors and publications negotiate a deal with Facebook like the one that the NYT just secured?


-Mentoring programs

-NOT introducing every facet of a project at the same time


-It’s the marketing, stupid!

-Upselling like PBS, but with print and web as well, and with new ideas incorporated

-Giving people products that they want (i.e. – not just tote bags and T-shirts)

-Trade and worker organizations that work differently, creatively



San Francisco Public Press (Michael Stoll)

-Legacy product (broadsheet) combined with heavy web presence

-Mix of paid and volunteer work

-Creative delivery method — bicycles

-Collaborations with other nonprofit news sources

-Upsell, upsell, upsell

ProPublica (“An independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.”)

-Hard-hitting, award-winning

-Strong fundraising game as well, robust operation working hard to generate new creative funding ideas

-Good and thorough description on PP’s ‘About’ page

Maximum Fun Podcast Network

-Store where independent podcast makers can upload and market their work

The Chauncey Bailey Project

-A collaborative one-off project, but one that led to a lot of new and tight relationships and to the development of other projects

Intersections (blog by Daniel Hernandez)

-Successfully streamlines work from different places, areas of interest

AAN + TMC teaming up to share all #BlackSpring coverage

-Took a single conference call and some basic aggregating, set up in one day

-Has helped diversify readerships, drive traffic, introduce readers from far away to indie outlets in places like Baltimore

-Boutique Products / Special Magazines / Collectible Deliverables

-Repackaging old projects with artistic packaging and lots of bells and whistles (i.e. GZA Chess Board for Liquid Swords)

Visionaire Magazine

Frank 151



Contributoria (“The Independent Journalism Network”)

*This is probably the closest thing to Spot.us since they went black. Writers post their ideas, and users can allocate either some of all their “points” for the month to that project and/or others. Great idea but with pretty awful interface. A positive is that all users get 50 free points every month — so you don’t have to pay to participate — but as some in our group noted, it’s really hard to get people to sign up and move around the site, as it’s rather clunky. Overall, this is a site that absolutely has to be looked at though, as there seem to be some answers as to how to help independent writers with crowd-sourcing for projects, which the likes of Kickstarter and the other bigs may not be well equipped for.

-First Google-funded, then Guardian — not apparently self-sustainable

-Users can get some credits for free to support projects, or they can optionally buy more credits

-More for individuals than for institutions

-Group did a pretty thorough critique (Julie has especially worked quite a bit with the platform):

-Not a user-friendly interface, hard to navigate

-Work of pro journos appears next to amateur content – no separation


*We didn’t spend much time on this, but belongs on this list (shameless self – promotional link to a crowdfunded project I did on there). While an increasingly popular blog and social media hybrid for individuals, largely thanks to a super smooth and easy-to-use interface, a lot of news orgs are also using Medium to tease articles and drive traffic. I’m pretty sold on Medium already, especially since they’ve been so responsive and helpful to a small-fry like me, but I think they’re here to stay, and know for a fact that their core crew in San Francisco is very interested in working with organizations and groups that practice journalism of all forms.

-Also some important talk about the lack of protection (legal and otherwise) for journalists working in these arenas

-Anyone can create a collection, but there are paid collections too. Here’s a good post on that experiment.

Blendle (Guardian called the “iTunes of journalism”)

*The only thing I really know about Blendle is that it seems to be working, and that young people are apparently reading their pants off in the Netherlands. A few things I’ve taken away from chats with people who are familiar with the platform:

-The news and distribution ecosystem is completely different over there, so that may be something to consider in making any sweeping predictions as to what can be done with this exact technology here.

-One thing to definitely consider is that people are presented with a lot of options on Blendle, and given the opportunity to really pick and read what they want. Which leads to the question of whether this is a feasible way to move important news that may not always be the sexiest clickbait.

-In any case, if you sign up for the beta on the homepage now, you will be among the first to know when they roll something out in the US.


*We didn’t talk about this, but for those who aren’t using Slack already, it may be something to check out for organizing newsrooms, stories, etc. I’m currently using it to organize a new project, and I would describe it as cutting a whole bunch of steps out of the way that I already set up systems. Instead of, say, creating a central Google doc, and then spinning off other related Google docs — all of which have to be manually linked back to the original — I can just #hashtag a new breakout topic, and there’s suddenly a slide for that. Lots more features too, like easy separation of teams, but I definitely recommend.

-Kickstarter campaign by Scott Carney (“A publishing platform for journalists to share payment structures, rate editors and sell pitches”).

-Aiming to create a type of Yelp! system in which writers and freelancers in general can rate editors and publications

-Group did a pretty thorough critique:

-General consensus is that something like this is needed but this isn’t enough money to do it

-Longer term plan is needed, what is end game?

-The group’s general consensus was that this is just not enough money, and that there simply won’t be the resources to pull off what Scott is trying to pull off. At the same time, a lot of this work absolutely needs to be done, as freelancers are being screwed at every turn and looking for answers.

Hacks and Hackers

*Great meetups for journos and technologists. Not sure what to say about this, as the conversations can encompass many things, but here’s a current exchange I’m having with people I met at Hacks and Hackers in Boston:

Austin –

At the local level, there is an unbelievable amount of information already available that is devastating, and that few reporters take real advantage of. Most notably, the state’s open checkbook and OCPF records (campaign contributions).

The latter are very hard to trace. Individuals can now give $1,000 apiece, but so can their wives, husbands, secretaries, mother-in-laws, etc. If we had someone helping trace that stuff, wowsers.

For me, it’s all about the contracts. Look at how many businesses the state did software contracts with last year. More than 550 (see attachment) …

Now, to trace those to the open checkbook is a start – what companies received how much. Then those costs need to be cross-referenced with company price lists (or what we know, how much does this or that drone usually cost for example). Then the final step is to trace lobbying money (separate from OCPF money, but that too) back to those companies.

There’s actually one more complicated step as well, but my point is that the many, many revelations on the bottom of that pile are far more devastating than any secret document. It’s all about the money. It’s all about the spending and campaign dough. Nothing else matters.

Hi Chris:

I took a look at the OCPF site. A web scraper could conceivably be used to pull data off of this site, as well as others. You could then perform any set intersection query to find interesting (or potentially damning) cross-references.

So, if you were to scrape the OCPF site and the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Corporations Division Registry, then you would have the names of campaign donors on the one hand, and the principle names of partners (for LLCs) and officers (for Corporations), on the other. Once you have that intersection, you could compare it with the list of software companies that won contracts with the state government that you sent me.

The web scraper would require some basic scripting. The set intersection can be done in either MS Excel or LibreOffice Calc.

However, doing all of this is a fair amount of work. I would have to write two custom web scrapers – or someone would have to; there’s no off the shelf solution. Web scrapers that query databases are site specific; they’re designed to plug through the site’s query functionality and pull out info. So, there isn’t an easy way to write a tool that would scrape any website, which the author could just put on the web for any

journalist to use.

What could be interesting is to set up system that continually scrapes several databases, and which offers a web site where anyone can search for interesting set intersections. That way, different people and different journalists could use it.
However, that’s not a trivial project at all. It would have to be funded. I’m up for teaching security tools & practices to activists and journos anytime; it’s fun and it’s a discrete time investment with a straight forward benefit for those involved. Building something like the above would require a substantial time commitment and the people involved would have to be paid.

*The following are personal notes that I took in a different session, but I thought they were relevant enough to include among best practices (-CF):

-How the Dodge Foundation is winning in New Jersey …

-They have an institutional knowledge and memory of the local media landscape

-They have money to spend

-They can spend money almost on the fly, without long process

-They get out there, meet editors and reporters in person

-They also support arts, ed, enviro reporting (not only in-depth investigative)

-They import and export good ideas from other states

-They are honest about past successes and failures

-They are not hung up on analytics

-They stick with grantees for longer than many other foundations

-They have an open and ongoing dialogue with donors and board members about programs