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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

What happened to Spot.Us?

This post started with an email this morning from David Cohn, the US guy who started the Spot.Us service in the US, and which has now been replicated around the world, including in Australia. Here, it operates out of Swinburne University in Melbourne but the idea is the same. Journalists put up pitches for stories they want to write and the pitches are viewed by members of the public, who can then pledge funds toward turning those ideas into actual stories.

The service was sold at the end of 2011 to Public Insight Network (PIN), which I will explain here. PIN is owned by American Public Media, which is one of those large US non-profit media organisations that operates radio stations and also produces content that is syndicated for use by other radio stations across the country. We don't have these types of organisations in Australia, which is one reason why it's hard to understand PIN, and that's why I'm doing this run-down for the benefit of the readers of this blog.

The way I understand it, PIN is like a contact broker. Listed in PIN's database are thousands of sources who are willing to provide access to their expertise for the purpose of producing news stories. PIN has a sign-up page on their website where sources can go to get listed. In the listing process they specify their area of expertise, where they have worked, and other things that can help others to pick them out of the crowd when a query comes in. On the other side of the equation, there are about 70 partner news organisations who pay license fees in order to avail themselves of the service. There is only one partner organisation outside the US, and that is in South Africa.

A partner designates an 'analyst' who serves as the contact point for that organisation when it comes to getting in touch with PIN. The analyst sends in a query and someone at PIN consults the source database looking for a person who fits the bill. The questions are asked of the source and the questions and answers are placed in a searchable database for future reference. And the analyst - and their organisation - gets the answers to the questions they wanted answers to. I imagine that follow-up interviews, either by phone or in person, are possible also.

The email I received this morning says that Spot.Us will not change in the forseeable future, and it says that "high-quality journalism requires our active and ongoing support". This is PIN's appeal to the reader. "That basic understanding is core to the mission of the Public Insight Network and Spot.Us," the email continues. For people in Australia who know about the local franchise, PIN's takeover of Spot.Us will surely raise some questions, and those who are interested will keep monitoring the situation as things progress to see what changes occur to the service.

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