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A Thoughtful Approach to Direct Community Support

American Public Media's experiments with Facebook Groups.

In The Dark, American Public Media’s spectacular investigative podcast, wrapped up its sophomore season a few weeks ago, and in addition to receiving critical acclaim for the effort, the podcast also provided APM with a platform to effectively experiment with some next-generation ideas related to the organization’s position as a listener-supported non-profit news organization looking to make an impact.

Nieman Lab’s Christine Schmidt has a great piece up looking at a few things related to this. Some key takeaways:

  • Schmidt notes: Emily Kittleson, APM’s national fundraising manager, said that “more than 1,000 people have donated to In the Dark this season (a ‘big increase in donations” compared to the first), and the number of donors in the group is comparable to how many would actually accept a material incentive, like a mug or a tote bag.”
  • The podcast created a Facebook group specifically for supporting donors. More than 250 people have joined the group, which was created only about three months ago, and the minimum donation is listed at $50. (Back of the envelope math: we’re talking at least $12,000 in donations extracted by the group.) It is a closed scene, and it is tightly managed.
  • This Facebook group experiment with In The Dark builds upon an earlier effort on another APM podcast: Terrible, Thanks For Asking. That group, which has a $5/mo or $60-one time gift barrier to entry, has reportedly drawn more than 1000 members.
  • Here’s the money chunk in Schmidt’s piece: “The second season of In the Dark investigates the conviction of a black man tried six times by the same white prosecutor in Mississippi. Curtis Flowers is still in prison, on death row — so “giving somebody a mug for donating doesn’t feel right,” Kittleson said. Instead, listeners congregate in the group to brainstorm ways to send Flowers support mail, organize a political campaign against the district attorney, and connect with Baran and the other journalists working on the podcast. The season ended this month, but the conversation seems to have just begun.”

I’ve only highlighted a few elements of the piece, so do read it in full. There are a couple more ideas you can pull in between the lines and from the context. (And while you’re at it, do read Schmidt’s other piece from yesterday, on Chance the Rapper’s acquisition of Chicagoist from the public radio consortium that acquired Gothamist’s site network back in February. Speaking of which: the intersection of public radio consortia and media acquisitions is pretty poppin’ these days, huh.)

The things I’m wondering about regarding In The Dark’s Facebook Group efforts: to what extent is it replicable? Can this fundraising/show-specific strategy be extended across a broad network of programs? Can local stations and publishers do it? Is it applicable only to certain kinds of programming? (Probably.) I think American Public Media is knocking on the door of something with this. Hopefully more teams try this out — and hopefully they pair it with truly meaningful productions.