Hyperlocal media outlet Brixton Blog and Bugle hired its first paid editor this week after successfully completing a crowdfunding campaign raising £15,000 in December to pay for the position.
Former freelance journalist Anna McKie joined as the part-time news editor of Brixton Blog and free monthly newspaper Brixton Bugle, as the outlet focuses on getting stronger front page stories and running "longer term deeper news investigations", said founding editor Zoë Jewell.
Jewell and founding editor Tim Dickens have been running the Brixton Blog and Bugle alongside working full time jobs. The team wrote on their Indiegogo campaign page that "up until now, we've just about scraped by".
"But our small ad revenue from the paper just about covers costs... We've also been missing some of the news that we really should have been onto," the crowdfunding pitch continued.What [the crowdfunding] is allowing us to do is actually give us some time to think about these bigger issuesZoë Jewell, Brixton Blog
Jewell told Journalism.co.uk the founding editors will now explore ways to monetise the website and to make the outlet sustainable overall.
She started the site, now in its fifth year, in January 2010 as a blog, and launched it as a local news website in 2012 when Dickens joined as co-editor. The first edition of the Brixton Bugle also followed that year.
"What [the crowdfunding] is allowing us to do is actually give us some time to think about these bigger issues.
"That's our project if you like for the next few months... to start focusing on applying for funding."
The media outlet previously received funding from the Carnegie Trust to support a training project for local journalists, and has also tried a subscription model for the website which it might experiment with again, said Jewell.
Crowdfunding as a hyperlocal
Having a "tangible goal" for crowdfunding was important to complete a successful campaign, she said.
Explaining how the outlet is currently being managed and how the money will be used can help build a "very clear, achievable project".
Rather than asking for contributions to fund the Brixton Blog "for an x amount of time", for example, the campaign outlined a clear proposition to crowdfund for a part-time role paying the London living wage.
Jewell said people who read free papers might not question how they are funded and produced.
"It did make clear to a lot of people quite what the struggle is for local news and how hard it is to raise money.
"That's the challenge, always, to think beyond the single passionate volunteer who's working on something," she added, "and question whether it's sustainable on a long term basis."That's the challenge, always, to think beyond the single passionate volunteerZoë Jewell, Brixton Blog
Her advice for media outlets who might plan to crowdfund is to constantly remind their communities the campaign is taking place.
Email has been a key factor in the success of the outlet's Indiegogo success.
"It feels very unnatural to ask for money in that way I think, but actually that does really pay back and a lot of people gave through emails that we sent out."
Readers or investors?
But did crowdfunding for a new role at the hyperlocal mean contributors now get a say in what stories get covered and how?
Some outlets and journalists who crowdsourced their funding for projects said they now interact with readers in a more collaborative way.
"There has been some debate generally in the hyperlocal community... about whether crowdfunding potentially could compromise your editorial – people feel like they've invested in it," she said.
"But I don't think we really felt like that was a problem in any way whatsoever."
She explained contributors preferred t-shirts and tote bags over "big money perks," and some of them chose to have no perks at all.
"The idea that communities are dying in the digital age is nonsense," Jewell said in a press release.