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Crowdfunding for photojournalism

FALLING advertising revenue for the print media has tightened the budgets of dailies and weeklies as well as magazines and this makes it more difficult for photojournalists to get support for their reporting. Photojournalists have regularly applied for grants to support their work but a new idea – crowdfunding – has recently emerged as a means for individual photojournalists to raise resources so they can pursue the photographic projects they care about. Crowdfunding, a method of raising funds, usually through the internet, has already proven successful in a number of areas such as grassroots development aid, recordings and film production.

FALLING advertising revenue for the print media has tightened the budgets of dailies and weeklies as well as magazines and this makes it more difficult for photojournalists to get support for their reporting. Photojournalists have regularly applied for grants to support their work but a new idea – crowdfunding – has recently emerged as a means for individual photojournalists to raise resources so they can pursue the photographic projects they care about. Crowdfunding, a method of raising funds, usually through the internet, has already proven successful in a number of areas such as grassroots development aid, recordings and film production.

The Emphas.is internet platform is the first effort to tailor crowdfunding specifically for photojournalism. Ján Husár, a Slovak filmmaker and the project coordinator at Emphas.is, introduced the idea to Slovak photojournalists at a discussion forum organised by Nadácia Otvorenej Spoločnosti, the Open Society Foundation, in Bratislava on December 20. Tomas van Houtryve, one of the most significant photojournalists of his generation and a member of the VII photo agency, also attended the discussion and told the assembly that thanks to Emphas.is he was able to complete his extensive photo reportage about the last communist regimes.

“I call crowdfunding microfinancing and it is actually financing by the crowd,” Husár said in explaining the mechanism used by Emphas.is. “There is a crowd, i.e. people you don’t know, ideally on the internet, and you have a project you would like to finance. The term crowdfunding is used for financing filmmaking, for various social issues, and this scheme was used to build international assistance when Haiti was hit by the earthquake, for instance.”

Husár added that individuals seeking financing of a certain project through crowdfunding develop a financial target and then openly ask for financial support from individuals, usually starting at $10. For contributors to get something in return, other than the satisfaction of supporting an initiative that appeals to them in some way, there is often a table of rewards based on particular levels of support. The Emphas.is platform has a minimum contribution of $10 which qualifies the supporter for access to the ‘making-of zone’ where the photojournalist provides the contributor with regular updates on the project such as travel information, visual notes and insights into the evolution of the project. Those who contribute higher amounts might receive a signed postcard or book, or a limited edition print from the project they supported, or are invited to participate in blogs, forums or even be involved in some aspect of the actual project.

In the event a proposed project fails to raise the target sum before a deadline that is set by Emphas.is, the money is returned to the supporters. Husár told the assembled photojournalists that the most usual small amount given by individuals to support individual projects was $50, with $500 the most usual larger donation.

The Emphas.is idea was born in 2010 and the beta version of the website went online in April 2011. Van Houtryve’s photojournalism series was one of the first nine projects presented on the website and was the first that raised the target funds needed to carry it out. Most of the subsequent projects raised their target amounts very quickly and the project and its creators were nominated as the most innovative company of 2011 by the European Parliament, according to Husár.

The first projects that were selected for financing through Emphas.is were chosen by professionals engaged in photography and the emphasis was on choosing interesting projects and well-known photographers so that the chance of raising the target funds was better. But Husár said the project is now in a phase in which Emphas.is is willing to accept any well-developed project.

Husár said many of the first photojournalism projects were about violence, developments in the third world, heart-wrenching social stories and the global financial crisis, but that now photographers are also submitting projects dealing with subjects like conservation, which has inspired National Geographic to support the platform. Other media supporting Emphas.is include Wired magazine, the BBC, Le Monde, and The New York Times.


Frontline forums in Bratislava



Last year the Open Society Foundation in Bratislava organised several discussion forums with personalities involved in photojournalism in cooperation with the London-based Frontline Club. In February, Aidan Sullivan, vice president of photo assignments for Getty Images UK and USA was the guest presenter. Sullivan also served as a member of the jury for Slovakia’s 2010 Journalism Award for best news photos. Roger Tooth, the head of photography at Britain's Guardian newspaper, and Joe Klamar, AFP chief photographer for central Europe, were the guests in May.

In an interview at that time with The Slovak Spectator, Tooth recalled the days when The Guardian was designing its online version as an experiment during the late 1990s, as well as how the daily sought to balance the number of photos of men and women appearing on its pages.
Tooth also commented that The Guardian’s revenue from print advertising has been falling.

“The Guardian makes several millions pounds a year from its online advertising; but it’s far less than the money it used to make with its newspaper advertising,” Tooth said, adding that he sees the paper’s future in its online edition. “We are searching for ways of increasing our presence online and hopefully we will be able to support ourselves through that. So the online presence is becoming more and more important.”

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