by Dani Rosales
In May 2018, 100 Days in Appalachia held The Pittsburgh Pitch, an event that used crowdfunding to fund local journalism. Modeled after Wheeling Heritage’s Show of Hands, 100 Days in Appalachia and the Center for Innovation at Point Park University asked local journalists in Pittsburgh to submit pitches under one theme – The Divide – and the top eight were selected to attend the event and pitch their story proposal to a live audience. Most of the pitches were submitted by freelance journalists. That evening each journalist pitched their story idea to a crowd of 92 locals, who voted for their favorite. The top three pitches were funded and the authors would eventually publish in their local media outlet and in 100 Days of Appalachia.
Project Goals: Jake Lynch, 100 Days in Appalachia’s Community Engagement Editor, had two major goals for the event. One was to diversify funding for journalism projects. “We wanted to see if there was another revenue source out there that could support local journalism and that was the crowdfunding idea,” said Lynch. The second goal was to find different ways to connect the audience with the reporting process, not just as consumers of news.
Tools & Technology: The Pittsburgh Pitch used Splash, an event marketing service with some free features, as the event’s website, along with EventBrite to sell the $10 entry tickets.
Impact: The stories that came out from this project have only just come out, so 100 Days in Appalachia hasn’t yet seen the impact in term of the number of readers. However, as a result of this project, they’ve noticed it has dramatically expanded their reporting reach. 100 Days in Appalachia heavily relies on publishing partners and cross-publication to help diversify their reach and audience. The Pittsburgh Pitch allowed them to find three separate stories to cross-publish as the writers would publish on their own publication and then on 100 Days of Appalachia. This diverse distribution model was “important for us in terms of expanding out a cross-publishing network.” This project helped the publication unearth story ideas from Appalachia that they “had no idea was bubbling up and that my editors were genuinely surprised about.”
Organization Background: 100 Days in Appalachia is a non-profit news outlet that aims to publish content that covers the 13 states included in the Appalachian region. To be able to do so, they employ an “open-source, co-publishing model and share content with regional, national and international media organizations.” Funding for 100 Days in Appalachia comes primarily from foundation support and private donors.
Project Resources: The Pittsburgh Pitch used sponsorships to cover event space, food, and drinks. The project had one full-time staff member, Jake Lynch, who collaborated with Andrew Conte, the Director for the Center for Media Innovation, as well as support from the Center’s students and staff. For the second and third place pitches 100 Days in Appalachia and the Center for Media Innovation supplied $1,000 for each. For the first place pitch, they mainly relied on crowdfunding but did receive a small anonymous donation of $100 to help round out the cost. For Lynch, “one of the explicit purposes of conducting these engaged journalism experiments was we wanted to do things that other local newsrooms, particularly smaller newsrooms could replicate, realistically.”
Here’s How it Happened
A crucial part of the success of the project was the pitches. This project worked on the assumption that there were journalists with great ideas that were unfunded. One of the most labor-intensive parts of this project, for Lynch, was to personally seek out and follow up with reporters to ensure high quality pitches were submitted. According to Lynch, “there was a lot of behind-the-scenes networking and just relationship building to make sure reporters did pitch.” He wanted to ensure reporters understood what the project was about and the guidelines to pitch, but more importantly, that they felt comfortable pitching.
Here’s What Worked
1. Doing work on the front-end
In the beginning stages of the project, Lynch spent months talking with reporters and networking with people from Pittsburgh to see if this was the place to develop the project. Did they like the idea? Would they pitch? How much time and money would they need to complete their reporting? The work had to be done in advance to ensure the success of the project. According to Lynch, “If you individually have a great idea and you try to force it on a community who hasn’t been consulted about it, it never sticks because they just don’t feel like they own it.” As a result, when it was time to set up the event, the people who he talked to felt some ownership of it and were invested in its success.
2. Deciding on a theme
One of the outcomes of the front-end work Lynch did was the theme for The Pittsburgh Pitch: The Divide. Including the locals in the conversation ensured that the pitches would be relevant to the people voting. “I’m not from Pittsburgh so I can’t just invent the theme because that might not make sense to anyone there,” said Lynch. From the extended conversations he had with reporters, Lynch was able to narrow down a theme that allowed locals to compare the pitches while being broad enough to give journalists the opportunity to submit a diverse range of topics.
3. Importance of local partnerships
The Pittsburg Pitch was a result of the collaboration between Jake Lynch from 100 Days is Appalachia and Andrew Conte from the Center for Media Innovation. This collaboration proved to be incredibly beneficial to the success of the project for three reasons:
Conte is a well-respected local and has connections all around Pittsburgh. According to Lynch, it’s hard to call in favors and ask people to support your idea when they have no idea who you are. On the other hand, if someone they know and have worked with before, like Conte, calls to support an event people are more likely to listen.
One of Lynch’s personal goals for the project was sustainability; he wanted this to continue long after he was done with it. If he partnered with locals who had the ability and were interested in replicating it, longevity would be assured.
Lastly, this project would only work if they were able to produce the money needed to support the winning pitch. To do so they needed to spend little to no money on food, event space, and other charges. The partnership with Conte helped achieve that. The Center for Media Innovation provided the space and the connection to local sponsors, who provided food and drinks. Because of this, every single dollar people raised was given to the journalists.
Here’s What Could Have Worked Better
1. Arranging more sponsorships
Although the event had just enough food and drinks to cover the crowd that attended, Lynch believes that making more relationships with local businesses “can knock it out of the park.” He thinks the event has the potential to become more if they can create sponsorships with more food and drink vendors, clothing companies and local bars; which is the case in Show of Hands, where the idea originally came from.
2. Making pitches more entertaining
For the event, each of the eight journalist had the opportunity to do a short 60-second elevator pitch. They were given free rein as to how to use those sixty seconds. Lynch had told the journalists, “if you want to rap it, have at it. If you want to show a video you’ve made, that’s great. If you just want to talk into a microphone, that’s fine.” In the end, most of them decided to simply speak into a microphone, some people showed a slideshow, but that was it. In the future, Lynch thinks having someone to help journalists work through the presentational elements of the pitches is important. It would help keep voters interested and engaged with the material.
Here’s What Else You Should Know
Timing is everything: Soon after the first Pittsburgh Pitch, local news organizations expressed interest in continuing the project. Unfortunately, they did not receive any pitches. Their takeaway? Maybe this is a once-a-year event so to give reporters time to investigate their stories before pitching again.
News coverage is crucial: Taking the time to really explain the event to the major news outlets is important. One of the issues Lynch encountered was a lack of coverage of the event, mainly because the major news outlets didn’t completely understand the event. Getting the news outlets on board is crucial to getting more people to attend.