tar Sands
Credit: Tar Sands, Alberta, by howlcollective on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

A crowdfunded news site covering energy conflicts and the environment is set to launch in Canada after raising more than $80,000.

The National Observer Kickstarter campaign was put in motion by Linda Solomon, founder and editor-in-chief of the Vancouver Observer, after the outlet managed to crowdfund $54,000 last year for its Tar Sands Reporting Project.

"The money will go towards continuing what we've been doing for the last year quite intensively, which is covering Canada's story in terms of energy and the environment, but particularly in terms of the oil sands," Solomon told Journalism.co.uk.

The National Observer surpassed its initial $50,000 crowdfunding goal earlier this week, with support from 574 backers.

As a journalist I feel very fortunate to have been able to move into this space thanks to crowdfundingLinda Solomon, the Vancouver Observer
Reporting will focus on the impact of the oil sands on public health, the economy and on Canada's wilderness areas and coastlines, where pipelines are planned.

"It's really an enormous story in Canada but because there's so much at stake financially it's a story that's very under-covered by the mainstream media", explained Solomon.

"As a journalist I feel very fortunate to have been able to move into this space thanks to crowdfunding, which I think we've been successful at because people know they're not really getting the whole story, and that often the story of ordinary people is just really not told."

Crowdfunding is becoming increasingly popular as a means to support investigative or community journalism. ProPublica crowdfunded an investigation into intern experiences in 2013, and Lyra McKee, who is using Beacon to fund her investigation into the death of Irish politician Robert Bradford.

The National Observer campaign is Kickstarter's 21st most-funded journalism campaign; the Tar Sands Project comes in at 24th.

Solomon admits she was "astonished" at how much money the National Observer campaign raised, especially as it ran for 10 days less than the Tar Sands Project.

She believes the appeal to both campaigns lies in the fact that "enough people now feel that it's really urgent that we have really strong and honest reporting on everything to do with climate change".

But perhaps more than that, crowdfunding demonstrates a desire to safeguard the sort of long-term investigative reporting projects that are currently threatened by the diminishing resources and financial means of mainstream media.

"I think the problem with investigative reporting is that, by its very nature, it's reporting that the kind of people who could become big advertisers aren't going to like, for the most part. It puts you in dangerous territory with them."

One of the benefits of crowdfunding is that it inevitably means readers feel invested, emotionally as well as financially, in the projects they choose to back.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk last year, Ernst-Jan Pfauth, publisher of De Correspondent – which crowdfunded $1.7 million (just over £1 million) in 2013 – said: "the relationship is so much more direct because we owe our very existence to their generosity".

For Solomon, who cut her teeth in journalism at a "crusading newspaper" in Tennessee, crowdfunding creates a "golden relationship" with which to pursue the sort of investigative journalism she believes is crucial to society.

"It's somebody running a media company trying to do investigative reporting and trying to take on issues that are unpopular... what you get is a community of support," she said, going on to say she has stayed in touch through Kickstarter with the people who supported last year's Tar Sands Project, keeping them updated of news and progress.

"I can't even articulate how powerful I know investigative reporting can be, and how important it is to society that it be strong", she said.

"That is a passion for me and that drives me to do this... and I think the money is out there."

The National Observer is currently recruiting for roles including a managing editor and a politics and environment reporter, and is expected to launch on April 8.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).