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How ProPublica Used Kickstarter to Fund a Reporting Internship

Investigative news site ProPublica took to Kickstarter in May to fund an internship to conduct watchdog reporting on the intern economy in America, and they’ve successfully raised the money they need to proceed.

The nonprofit newsroom says it started the campaign with a question: “What’s your internship story?” and relied on crowdfunding and a loyal readership base to fund their internship. Over a 30-day period, ProPublica received nearly $24,000 for a 16-week fall internship, and the job will entail traveling across the country to college campuses, investigating some of these questions:

Who benefits most from these internships? What protections exist for interns who encounter discrimination or harassment? Are interns being fairly compensated? 

Backers on the site could make contributions from $5 to $10,000, with $500 toward the campaign buying you a pizza party at ProPublica’s NYC offices (still can’t believe no one took them up on that offer). The Knight Foundation got behind the idea, too, and will donate $5,000 toward funding the internship-reporting intern.

ProPublica’s Kickstarter intern will need to combine reporting chops with solid technology skills. The news org promises to make the internship a fully interactive experience for readers. With the data collected, ProPublica will develop a news app for readers to follow the progress of the intern’s investigation through graphics, video and social media.

Full disclosure: I have a particular interest in this topic because I worked as an unpaid intern twice in college—once for a community newspaper and another summer for a National Magazine Award-winning publication in Texas. Both experiences were tremendously valuable. I truly believe both summers of working without pay were imperative to propelling me toward a lifelong career in journalism, but with that said, it wasn’t easy to make rent in a new city without a paying job and justify doing all the work of a regular reporter with nothing to show for it. In both instances, my family had to pay for the internship credit (think $1,000+ each time), so between tuition, lodging, transportation and food, I ended up paying thousands of dollars for my internships.

Dozens of lawsuits against major media companies have surfaced over the last few months, so ProPublica is really pursuing a hot topic here. ProPublica’s Nerd Blog is tracking all of the outstanding intern lawsuits; I’m assuming they’ll find a way to roll this info into the “Investigating Internships” news app.

Hopefully ProPublica’s intern will be able to get to the heart of the issue and really push for change. They’re encouraging anyone who has done an unpaid internship or had to turn one down to fill out their questionnaire. In the meantime, they’re scoping out intern candidates.

I’m predicting major success for ProPublica on this front. Given their history of winning some of the most esteemed awards in journalism and the heartbeat behind their operation, the intern economy investigation could have big ramifications. Community editor Blair Hickman has some good insights on how journalists can use Kickstarter for investigative projects, too.

What are your thoughts about ProPublica’s newest venture? Will you be following the intern’s journey on their news app and website?

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