The San Diego Union-Tribune has partnered with GoFundMe to allow its online readers to start or join a fundraising campaign based on articles published by the paper.
Since the program launched this past July, the Union-Tribune has added donation buttons alongside a number of website articles.
“It changes the story from something that I passively read to something that asks me the question: Do you want to take action right now?” said editor and publisher Jeff Light. “I believe that is an important question.”
So far, the most successful project has raised more than $30,000 for Iesha Booker, a bus driver who helped an unconscious police officer after he was assaulted. When the story about the attack was published, a reader learned that Booker was struggling as a single mother of seven children and began a fundraising campaign with a targeted goal of $50,000.
The pair of organizations split the 5 percent fee that GoFundMe charges, and the paper plans to donate all of the money each year to scholarships or nonprofits.
While the New York Times has recently used GoFundMe as part of its Neediest Cases campaign, Light said the Union-Tribune’s partnership is unique.
“Our approach is different in that we are giving readers the chance to take action based on our everyday journalism,” Light said. “We are not writing to raise money or to support or oppose anyone. It’s up to our readers to decide whether they feel motivated to take action.”
Light acknowledged that he has read a number of criticisms of the new program, including concern revolving around the possibility of multiple campaigns being created for the same story.
“That doesn’t seem like a problem to me; it was one of the requirements we had from the start,” he said. “One reader might react to a story about homelessness by raising money for a destitute family. Another might react by raising money to fund better enforcement of anti-camping laws.”
Ultimately, Light said he feels many locals continue reading the Union-Tribune because they have an interest in making their community a better place, and that initiatives like this can help accomplish that.
“My own view is that we should be providing more tools for inquiry, debate and community action on our sites, that we should aspire to transform local news from a strictly passive we-write-you-read relationship,” Light said. “I am arguing that to enhance our value as journalists we should find new ways to enroll our users in a journalistic experience.”