The initiative, which is based on the model of the US site Spot.Us, will create assignments based on ideas and pitches from users and those selected will be funded by donations from members of the site's community.
The project is one of three currently in development by the Public Interest Journalism Foundation (PIJ), based at the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne. The projects are looking at new ways to make the most of emerging technologies and new business models for journalism. The PIJ was set up last year and plans for YouCommNews have been in development since its inception.
"YouCommNews is an experiment in audience driven commissioning of journalism. It is a website that brings journalists and the public together, without the necessary intervention of Big Media. People can directly commission the journalism they want to see done," Melissa Sweet, freelance journalist and health writer and PIJ board member, told Journalism.co.uk.
"We hope that YouCommNews will encourage public interest journalism around areas and issues that have traditionally been under-served or neglected by the media industry. But it is an experiment - we will have to wait and see what are the issues that the community wants investigated."
The site is currently a work in progress, but will soon begin accepting pitches from journalists and news ideas from users. The project will officially be launched in September at the New News Conference in Melbourne. Sweet hopes the site will be used to support investigative journalism, particularly in hyperlocal issues and stories from disadvantaged communities. She said the project will work with mainstream news organisations and broadcasters as well as community media and specialist news titles to distribute the reports.
"We also hope that YouCommNews will encourage innovation in the telling of stories - for example, by supporting and encouraging reporting by Indigenous Australians," she added.
The site has so far been funded by grants from five different groups and has received advice and technical support from Spot.US. The site will be a research and training tool for journalists, as well as producing stories and reports, said Sweet. Any potential impact of the community funding model on the news produced will be carefully monitored, she said.
"We are acutely conscious of potential concerns around conflicts of interest; for example involving those who pitch or fund stories. We will have criteria for assessing story pitches, and are also developing guidelines for managing conflicts of interest in the funding of stories. One option is to take no more than 20 per cent of funding for any one story from any one individual or source," she said.
The project's US counterpart, Spot.Us, was first launched for the San Francisco area, but has since expanded to Los Angeles and Seattle.
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