Long gone are the days when photographers could pitch a great story idea to a magazine and get a guarantee or a nice long assignment. It does still happen, especially with unique ideas that are topical, timely or controversial, but it's the exception to the rule. Crowd sourcing, and specifically "crowd funding", could be the new model to getting those stories produced. Photographers, journalists, artists and other creatives are tapping the buying power of their social networks to make their projects a reality. Through web sites like Kickstarter.com and ProjectSite.com, photographers pitch their stories to the world, raise money and hit the road.
Journalist Erin Siegal has raised over $3,000 to cover her expenses in Guatemala as she completes a two year long investigative journalism piece on corruption in the adoption industry.
Photographer Zoe Strauss has raised $4,000 to do a series on how the BP oil spill is affecting people in The Gulf.
Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler have raised over $16,000 to turn their project on South Africans and their bikes into a photo book.
The great thing about this is you instantly have a built in network of people who care about your story. All those small donations add up and those people will follow your progress, tweet about it and post about it to Facebook. It's like having hundreds of people doing PR for you.
Another big plus is that once you are done with the story, you can take it to book publishers, magazines, gallerists and art buyers and show them, in a concrete way, just how dedicated you are to your craft. Telling someone you have a great project idea is one thing, showing them is another.
Lastly, putting your ideas together and preparing them for one of these funding sites will force you to really think through your project. You might just find, through a lack donations, that it's not the great idea you originally thought it was.
UPDATE: PDN just posted a very informative interview with Yancey Strickler, co-founder of the crowd-funding Web site Kickstarter. It include tips on why some projects exceed their fundraising goals while others don't bring in any money.