American nonprofit news wire Women's eNews and Jess McCabe, features editor at Inside Housing, have successfully crowdfunded a project about domestic violence in the UK, raising over $3,500 (£2,100).
The series of features, called Why didn't she just leave?, aims to unmask the financial difficulties that domestic violence victims experience, and how these might keep them from leaving abusive relationships.
"I've reported on domestic violence for years and years now... it's always been something I've wanted to do but haven't really been able to find someone who would want to commission it," McCabe told Journalism.co.uk.
She said the subject has touched a lot of people, but "it's not necessarily something that's going to generate a lot of clicks".
For crowdfunding to work, "it needs people to really care about the story and want to have it told".
Screenshot from Catapult.org of the crowdfunding project
McCabe plans to set up interviews with victims and survivors of domestic violence over the course of six months. She said this was to avoid going through charities or refuges, that sometimes want to "package the story for you".
"I wanted it very much to be told in the voices of the women who've experienced it, as they know best."
She said she expected getting in touch with people who were willing to talk about their experiences to be perhaps the biggest challenge of the project.
However, the funding process proved to also be a chance for McCabe to connect with potential interviewees. "People were talking to me about that, they wanted to be interviewed. It just made me think... there really is an appetite out there, and people who are wanting the story to be told."
The project was McCabe's first crowdfunding experience. She said the financing method was a way for Women's eNews to cover stories it could not fund on its own.
She told Journalism.co.uk the project would be an experiment in balancing a long term freelance assignment with a staff job, as well as an exercise in sharing information about the process of reporting as it happens.
McCabe set up a Tumblr blog to keep her contributors up to date with the developments in the project, and said this was quite different from the way she would normally approach journalism.
"If I'm working on a feature I wouldn't normally say anything about it until publication, but because I've already done the fundraising I've obviously had to explain that I'm doing this project so it's not something I'm keeping quiet."
She said working on crowdfunded projects was a complete shift from traditional journalism. Announcing and explaining her plans in advance to the public was a new idea for McCabe.
The blog was set up in the spirit of open journalism, and publishing updates step by step was an experiment with the transparency of the reporting process prompted by crowdfunding, according to McCabe.
"It's also that you've got to show value for money, not only to your editor but also to the people who've funded you," she said. "They might have their expectations about how the project will turn out as well."
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