I know this blog has a readership among freelance journalists, due to the feisty response earlier this year when I asked  for information about what rates are paid by various Australian publications.

Today I want to give a bit of a plug to an experiment I am involved in which has, as part of its aim, providing a new potential source of work for freelancers. It is YouCommNews. You can read more about it in today’s Media section of The Australian. It is an exercise in allowing the public to commission the journalism they want to see directly – by suggesting stories to freelancers, and by contributing the funds to get the journalism done.

YouCommNews is a project of the Swinburne University Public Interest Journalism Foundation, of which I am chair.

It is built on two core insights. Number one, that publication is no longer a problem. Anyone with a basic level of digital literacy can publish. The difficulty is in getting high quality journalism done, and paying journalists sensible rates to do it.

The second insight is that journalism should interest people. Or to put it another way, the journalism we do should matter to people, and they should be engaged and involved at every stage. This model allows the public – or rather the many differenet groups, or different publics, that gather around journalism that matters – to decide for themselves what is worth supporting. So on this model, size of audience is not the only, or the main, measure of success. A story might be of intense interest to a few thousand people. Providing that they are sufficiently interested to raise the money, then a journalist can be hired and the work can be done. The journalism will then be available for anyone to publish or broadcast.

We launched YouCommNews earlier this month at the New News 2010 conference, which was the first major public outing of our Foundation. We are sponsored by the Victorian Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development, and by the Financial and Energy Exchange Group.

But why am I writing about it here, for an audience of freelancers? Well, at the moment we have on the site a number of pitches by freelance journalists, but also a number of stories suggested by members of the public, for which we don’t yet have a journalist to do the work. Or, it should be said, the funding to commission it. We are after both.

So for example, look at Code Red for Seriously Ill Aussie Kids – an investigation begging to be done into the seemingly unjustifiably high cost of equipment for disabled children. This one already has some funding pledged. It needs a good journo before we activate the community to get the money we need.

The sociologist and social commentator Eva Cox has called for a serious investigation into the impact of income management in the Norther Territory. She writes:

I want to see a piece of journalism that tells us what is happening and how this radical program is being received. I want to see interviews from an existing town camp group of residents, some Indigenous new recipients, non Indigenous recipients, including sole parents and unemployed people, to see how it is affecting their lives and sense of control over their lives. What is the effect on local community and welfare groups, local shops? How are particular groups being affected eg African or other refugee groups who will be included.    

Or on a more local level, there is this call for an investigation into the state of planning in Melbourne.

Or a call for an investigation in to how much ex politicians are costing the budget.

Or a plea from the husband of a school teacher for a search for solutions to the problem of violence in schools.

One suggestion – for an investigation into the inpact of influenza vaccinations, has $500 pledged and has already been picked up by eminent journalists Bob Burton and Melissa Sweet. You can see their pitch here.

You can see the full list of stories in search of a journalist here. These are all ideas brought to us by the public. And once they have journalists attached, we will seek the funding.

To be eligible for commissioning by YouCommNews you need to register with us as a journalist, which involves pledging to act in accordance with our Mission Statement and the MEAA Code of Ethics and Australian Press Council principles. More information on the site here.

Members of the public can also register with us – no strings attached. And publishers and broadcasters can also sign up, and can then negotiate to buy rights to completed journalism. Crikey and Griffith Review have already joined, among others.

We are after involvement, ideas, money and talent. We are motivated by our knowledge of how much good journalism matters.

I hope you get involved.

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