YouCommNews, an Australian non-profit, people-powered news site ​brought journalists, publishers and the public together for the crowdsourcing of ideas and resources (including funding) for high quality, community driven journalism. It was founded in 2010 by freelance journalist Melissa Sweet and Dr Margaret Simons of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation (PIJ Foundation) based at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.
This was their website.
The content below is from the site's 2010 archived pages.

The last posts on their Facebook page are from 2012.


YouCommNews is a non-profit, people-powered news site run as part of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation (PIJ Foundation) based at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.

YouCommNews uses the internet to crowd-source both ideas and resources for high quality, community driven journalism.

We help members of the public to commission the stories they want investigated. Story ideas are "pitched" here on the site and anyone can then pledge funds to support the projects.

The resulting stories will then be available for publication in mainstream, independent and online media, either freely or through the sale of publication rights, in which case there will be refunds to those who funded the journalism.

For regular updates and to connect with the YouCommNews community, see our blog and Facebook page and follow us at Twitter.

Who is behind YouCommNews

The PIJ Foundation was founded in 2009, following discussions between Health JournalistMelissa Sweet and Swinburne’s convenor of journalism, Dr Margaret Simons.

The Foundation and its first project, YouCommNews, are part of the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University of Technology. YouCommNews has been established with the help of grants from the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development, funding from the ARC funded Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, and philanthropic support from foundation sponsor, theFinancial and Energy Exchange Group. Other donors include Mr John Langmore.

  • YouCommNews Team
  • The Public Interest Journalism Foundation Board
  • Foundation Support



YouCommNews: public interest journalism in Australia

Posted by Elizabeth Redman on February 3, 2010

It's a question that can get lost in all the talk of business models and content creation: how might journalism best serve the public?

In Australia, the latest group to ponder this is The Foundation for Public Interest Journalism, directed by a group of journalists, editors, academics and members of the community. Part of the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University in Melbourne, it is setting up a project called YouCommNews, modeled on the American site, Spot.Us, which will allow the audience to commission the stories they want to see. 

The Editors Weblog spoke to Dr Margaret Simons, chair of the foundation, and to David Cohn, founder of Spot.Us.

"Journalism is in many ways facing a crisis," says Simons, who is herself a journalism academic, freelance journalist and media commentator. "Like most crises, there are also opportunities." 

She adds that this crisis is different in Australia, which has seen a substantial amount of journalists laid off, to the US, where some newspapers have closed. She also points to the transformations that the internet has brought to the news industry and the difficulties of charging for online news. "Most newspapers are profoundly challenged by new technologies," she says. 

In response, the foundation is launching the YouCommNews website, expected to be up and running before mid-year. "Anyone can pitch an idea on the site," she says. "A professional journalist can, a publisher can, or a member of the public can." Articles will then be written from these pitches by a network of professional freelance journalists. Audience members will chip in to fund the stories they want. 

Pitches will come with a quote. A particular story might be expected to take two days' work, for example, and will have a corresponding cost. A hundred freelancers have already signed up, and they will be paid according to the union rate card. The board of the foundation will act as an editorial subcommittee. 

"The Foundation itself might seek philanthropic funding," Simons says. It has already received a grant from the Victorian state government to help build and maintain the site. But large grants aren't they key to its operations. "The core idea is to allow the public the power to commission." 

This model is familiar to anyone who's used or read about Spot.Us, founded by David Cohn. This started as a combination of three different ideas: freelance journalism needed more transparency; citizen journalism had potential as well as limitations; and 'crowdsourcing', distributing tasks among a large group of people or crowd, had given rise to other 'crowdfunded' projects. He put them all together and came up with a model of community-funded reporting. 

Many publics 
Writing in this way changes the idea of what the public is, or what the community is, Simons points out. For example, a story about a local council may have a different public to an international piece, she says. 

"One of the things that new media is creating is the possibility of serving niche audiences, and they might be geographically remote from each other," she says. "So you're talking about many, many different publics who are overlapping." 

She hopes that there will be stories with a local focus as well as those with on national issues, but emphasises that it's not for her to decide. 

"It should be said that not every kind of journalism can be done on this model," she says, adding that stories which require secret investigation can't be pitched on a website for everyone to see. But she frames the project as an experiment that will focus on the kind of journalism that it is able to do well. 

The articles produced through YouCommNews will be available for publication by anyone who wishes, and a number of outlets are already on board. They include news website Crikey, whose former editor Jonathan Green is on the board of the foundation. The group has also talked to >public broadcaster the ABC, book publishers and public radio stations. 

Other plans are in the works: the foundation, operating under the name PIJMO or Public Interest Journalism Movement, has already announced that it will hold a conference which aims to bring journalists and community members together, and run a resource centre with databases and professional training programs for journalists. 

The reaction from the US 
"I got really excited," Spot.Us founder David Cohn said. "I think it's an excellent project and proposal." It's his view that more people should be experimenting in this way. He's even offered to share his code. 

"The best pitches, I find, are ones that are phrased as questions," he says, "which is a question that can't easily be answered via search." Questions that are rooted in a particular community, such as a geographic or ethnic community, tend to do well, he adds. Stories about the environment have been popular, and he suggests that that may be because they launched in the Bay Area. 

In cases where a journalist's safety trumps transparency of the model, there are ways of getting around the lack of secrecy, such as writing very broad pitches, he says. Perhaps there are ways of covering breaking news as well, he adds, such as writing a pitch to cover a beat. 

"Creating a public pitch is a new art form, and we're still learning what is and isn't possible with it." 

Will it work? 
Non-profit journalism is becoming more widespread in the US: outfits such as ProPublica, the Bay Area News Project, the Texas Tribune, the Chicago News Cooperative and California Watch have been springing up across the country. Their proponents argue that their protection from market forces enables them to focus on quality journalism, while their critics have suggested that the non-profit structure only props up the dominant yet flawed business model and limits innovation. And others have pointed out that this is not necessarily transferable to large, established media organisations: The New York Times, for example, would need an endowment of around $5 billion to become non-profit. 

Crowdfunding, though, adds an extra twist to the idea of the non-profit journalism project, shifting a higher degree of control to the audience. 

It's often too easy to overestimate the power of the audience in the age of web 2.0: commenting on blogs, while certainly empowering, is not comparable to being able to set the agenda for a news publication. So the idea of allowing the public this degree of editorial control, and then removing the profit motive, is something quite new. At its best, it could be an important way for readers to learn about issues that are under-reported in the mainstream media. On the other hand, it risks not attracting a wide enough audience to really serve and represent the public as it purports to do. 

At the same time, it's important to remember that YouCommNews isn't competing with, or trying to replace, the broadsheet newspapers or major television networks. Indeed, it relies on other outlets for publication. But in time, it has the potential to become a key addition to the Australian media landscape. 

Could we see large media organisations operating on an audience-commissioned or community-funded model? In part at least, suggests Cohn. He points to the plans to introduce a paywall on the New York Times website next year, and suggests a mechanism allowing subscribers to choose which beat their payment will fund. 

Simons agrees. "There's no reason why not. It would take a shift in thinking." She points out that her project is very much an experiment, which would be risky for a mainstream organisation but is easier for a start-up. 

"We're trying not to have too many preconceptions."


How Do I Suggest a Story?

Anyone can suggest a story on a topic they feel is of public importance and should be investigated. To suggest a story idea, simply register with YouCommNews via this website as a Member of the Public and click Suggest a Story.

Your suggestion will be sent to our team who will contact you about turning it into a story pitch. If a suitable Journalist can’t be found to take on your suggested story prior to pitching on the site then YouCommNews will commission a Journalist to complete the investigation once it is fully funded.

Suggesting a Story

  • Click Suggest a Story and tell us about the story that you would like to see covered
  • Once your suggestion is approved, a YouCommNews team member will contact you about turning your suggestion into a pitch

How Do I Donate Towards a Story Pitch?

Anyone registered with YouCommNews can fund a story pitch. Donations can be made on the site through PayPal or credit card.

All donors should understand that they are funding the doing of the journalism. They are not buying the right to a particular outcome. The journalism will be done with independence and integrity.

If a media organisation successfully negotiates to buy the rights to journalism that has been funded by the public, members of the public may receive a full or partial refund, or the option of transferring money to another pitch or donating to the Foundation. (Donations to the Foundation are tax deductible. However, funding of pitches does not attract tax deductibility).

Donations to stories can be made by clicking the Fund this Story button below story pitches.

What Happens to the Finished Content?

Unless other arrangements have been negotiated with a media organisation, journalism done by YouCommNews commissioned journalists will normally be published on the YouCommNews site, and will be available for publication by anyone who wishes to use it.

YouCommNews endeavors to get stories published in as many places as possible.

We also have a list of registered media organisations which can negotiate to buy first publication rights providing they donate 50% or more towards a pitch. If a media organisation successfully negotiates to buy the rights to a pitch that has been funded by the public, extra proceeds go back to members of the public who supported that pitch in the form of site credits, which can then be used to support another pitch.

What if a Pitch I Support Doesn’t Reach Its Goal?

If a pitch fails to get the required amount of funding for the journalism to proceed, donors to that pitch will be refunded in the form of ‘site credits’ which can be used to fund any existing pitch on YouCommNews, and are valid until the end of that financial year.

Who Are the Youcommnews Journalists?

Reporters on YouCommNews are freelance journalists who have registered with YouCommNews. They have agreed to abide by the values of the Foundation, the Media Alliance Journalists’ code of ethics and the principles of the Australian Press Council. The journalism commissioned through YouCommNews will be supervised by the public interest journalism committee of the Foundation. The public interest journalism committee may also appoint an editor to a project. We encourage every member of the public to view the reporters’ details and pitch before making a donation.

Your Privacy

YouCommNews will ensure that your personal Information is never distributed to a third party without your permission, for more information please read our privacy policy.

For Journalists


Journalists working for YouCommNews will be paid at a rate negotiated in advance when the project is pitched, with the starting point for negotiations being the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance freelance rate card (PDF).

How Do I Create a Pitch?

Pitches need to be written in a clear and accessible fashion, making it clear why you think the issue should be investigated. Don’t be afraid to let the public know why you think the topic is important. Each pitch should include a profile of yourself, giving details of your background and qualifications. Depending on the nature of your project, you might like to consider novel ways of keeping the audience informed of your work, such as regular blog posts on your progress, or email bulletins to those funding your work.

What’s the Role of the Public Interest Journalism Committee?

The Public Interest Journalism Committee will report to the Board of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation. Its responsibilities are:

  • To consider and make recommendations to the Board on applications for registration as media organisations and journalists
  • Consider and make recommendations to the Board on pitches
  • Organise the commissioning of journalists
  • Negotiate rates with journalists and media organisations
  • Organise the supervision and editing of the journalism

What Happens To The Finished Content?

Finished content is either published on the YouCommNews site, or by a registered media organisation which has negotiated to buy first publication rights. Journalists are always notified if a media organisation opts for first publishing rights, and it is ensured that all work is attributed to the Journalist. If there are no partnering organisations, completed work will be made available to be republished through a Creative Commons license. Stories may not be altered without the author’s permission.

What If My Pitch Doesn’t Reach its Goal?

Even if a Pitch isn’t fully funded, you may still choose to proceed with a story. For example, if you raise 80% of funds needed, you can still accept that money as long as you do what was originally outlined. You can also choose to cancel the pitch at any time, in which case donations will be refunded to those who supported the pitch in the form of credits to be directed towards another pitch.

Creative Commons Information

YouCommNews aims to get your work published in as many places as possible. All Stories produced on YouCommNews will be made available through a Creative Commons license unless a media organisation has contributed either 50% or more of the total cost. If a Media organisation has contributed 50% or more towards a story they will then be given the option of receiving first publishing rights.

For Publishers and Broadcasters

Why Do We Need Board Approval?

Publishers and Broadcasters are the only registrants who are allowed to donate more than 20% towards a pitch, and because of this YouCommNews must make sure that all of our registered Publishers and Broadcasters abide by the values of the Foundation, the Journalists’ code of ethics and the principles of the Australian Press Council. This is to protect the independence of the journalism.

The Board of the Foundation reserves the right to reject applicants for registration as a Publisher or Broadcaster.

How Can YouCommNews Help My Organisation?

YouCommNews is an opportunity to increase your freelance budget by working with and for the public. Many Publishers and Broadcasters have a gap between what they can fund themselves in the way of investigative journalism, and what they wish to do. We only work with freelancers and cannot support staff writers. By working with YouCommNews, part of the cost of investigative work can be shared with the public that is most intensely interested in the subject matter. You can donate 50% towards a story pitch upfront and the YouCommNews community can fund the other 50%. In this scenario, your organisation will still get first publishing rights. You can also register on YouCommNews and find out about professionally written, 100% community funded articles which are freely available through a Creative Commons license.

General FAQ

The Public Interest Journalism Foundation Mission Statement

The Foundation promotes and enables innovation in public interest journalism. It develops and tests emerging models of journalism to inform an engaged and accountable society. Our guiding principle is public interest through knowledge development, collaboration and sustainability. We act with integrity, honesty, transparency and independence.