The Ithaca Voice office, late on a Friday night

ITHACA, N.Y. — Today, the Ithaca Voice launched “Spotlight on Ithaca,” a new initiative that aims to fund in-depth reporting about your community by saving you money.

See here for a summary announcing the basic elements of the new project.

If that convinces you to sign-up, that’s terrific! No need to read further.

But we also wanted to provide answers for readers who may want more detailed information about how this will work. And so — in our usual style — we have prepared an “explainer” about Spotlight on Ithaca.

Donate to ‘Spotlight on Ithaca’

(As always, click on the section you’re interested in to learn more. Did we miss your question? If so, email me at jstein@ithacavoice.com and I’ll do my best to answer quickly via email or by updating this story.)

1 — What kind of rewards can I get donating to the Ithaca Voice? 
2 — What does voting look like for “Spotlight on Ithaca?”
3 — How do I donate, and how much are you asking for?
4 — Are there other rewards for donating beyond store credits?
5 — Are there restrictions on the number of rewards I can receive?
6 — How do I claim my store credit?
7 — What are some examples of the kind of stories you’ll be writing?
8 — Why are you doing this?

And don’t forget: Please donate — and save! — here.


1 — What rewards can I get for donating to the Ithaca Voice in-depth reporting fund?

The Ithaca Voice has partnered with 10 terrific local businesses to offer discounts of greater value than what readers are being asked to donate.

Here are the businesses and the rewards they are offering:

We’ll be emailing out the coupons at the end of our two-week fundraising campaign. They’ll be redeemable at the local stores by producing your email address and a specialized code that comes with the email.


2 — How does voting work?

When you donate, we’ll be asking for your email address. That’s in part to send you your discount (see more on that below), but also because you will be deciding which stories we write for our “Spotlight on Ithaca” series.

Here’s how voting will work:

— The Ithaca Voice will pick five story topics that deserve an in-depth, deeply reported story.

Examples of potential topics: pollution at the Ithaca gorge; whether Ithaca should approve “wet” shelters for the homeless; and the fate of the Cayuga Power Plant.

— We’ll send the five story ideas to all participating donors in “Spotlight on Ithaca.” Each donor will get one vote for what idea he or she most wants to see turned into a multiple-part series in the Ithaca Voice.

— We’ll write about the story topic that gets the most votes. (Of course, we hope to write in-depth reports on all of the most important stories at some point.)

— If, in the course of reporting, we find that the first vote-getter is not a feasible story, we will then move onto writing about the topic with the second highest number of votes.


3 — How do I donate, and how much are you asking for?

We’re asking for whatever you can give to make “Spotlight on Ithaca” possible. You can donate by going to our Fundrazr page here.

Everyone who donates at least $10 will be entitled to select a reward offered by one of 10 local businesses; each perk is valued at $10 or higher (see a full list above, in number one). Many have restrictions on how that store credit can be used.


4 — Are there other rewards for donating beyond store credit?

Yes.

You can also donate for:

— A gift of advertising to a local non-profit.

Whatever amount you donate to the Ithaca Voice, we will give that same value — plus an additional 25 percent — in free advertising for the Ithaca/Tompkins County non-profit of your choice. Just be sure to tell us which non-profit you’d like to receive the gift.

— A professional headshot by Ithaca Voice Photographer/Videographer Benjamin Torrey. (Torrey’s past work is below; to receive a headshot, you must give at least $50.)


5 — Are there restrictions on the number of rewards I can receive?

No. There are no restrictions on the number of times you can donate — and, therefore, the number of perks you receive.

For instance, one person could give $50 to the Ithaca Voice and receive $100 in credits to five places in town.

Please remember that we will not be disbursing the discounts until the end of the two-week fundraising campaign.


6 — How do I claim my store credit?

Very easily.

Here’s how it will work:

— We’ll ask for your name and email address when you donate.

At the conclusion of the two-week fundraising campaign, we’ll email you with a special code that details the nature and restrictions of the discount.

— Each business will then be able to verify if you gave by your email address and special code. When you go to the business, just be sure to have your email address and the coupon handy (you can print it out or bring it on your smartphone).


7 — What kind of stories will you be writing?

All of the things we’ve mentioned — compiling donations, sending coupons, soliciting votes — really just represent the beginning of “Spotlight on Ithaca.”

Then the real work begins.

The Ithaca Voice office, late on a Friday night

The Ithaca Voice will be writing a multi-part story series of substantial length and depth that will be published over the course of several days.

The best example of what this might look like is Melissa Whitworth’s 10-part series, “Hope on the Homefront,” an exploration of the struggles and successes of Tompkins County’s veterans. That series ran over the course of several months and drew wide acclaim from readers.

Another example of this type of in-depth report comes from Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, who wrote “Sex in the Shadows: An in-depth look at prostitution in Ithaca.”

In a poll we conducted in September, a plurality of readers — about 25 percent — said they wanted to see an increase in Ithaca Voice “in-depth story series” more than any other story form.

“We need more in-depth information,” one wrote. “Keep digging.”

8 — Why are you doing this?

Newspapers in America are in the middle of a well-documented crisis.

It’s even worse at small and mid-sized papers.

In 2014 alone, the number of newsroom jobs dropped by 10.4 percent — the first double-digit decline since the Great Recession — according to the American Press Institute.

A Brookings Institute chart shows the decline in newsroom employment

Here’s how Justin Fox put it in a Bloomberg View post from this summer:

“…The newspaper business fell apart, with a financial crisis and recession accelerating the digital disruption of the advertising-based business model that had sustained the industry for decades even as readership declined. …

… So far no one has come up with any kind of sustainable, viable replacement for the local and regional news-gathering that the midsize newspapers do (or used to do). As the jobs disappear, important information is disappearing too.

And The Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor was, if possible, even more funereal:

Cigar maker. Elevator operator. Pinsetter. Iceman. Lamplighter. Switchboard operator.

Local daily newspaper reporter?

How soon will we have to add this once-stable occupation to the list of jobs that once were — occupations once numerous that slid into obsolescence?

The Ithaca Voice was founded in June 2014 to try and reverse this trend.

We’ve attempted to do so in two primary ways:

1 — Through an editorial strategy that emphasizes engaging, clear journalism tailored to the best practices of the web, including “explainers,” innovations like our Ithaca Voice Story Database and a strong social media presence.

This has largely worked — we’ve quickly become the most trafficked news site in the Ithaca market and have more than 11,000 Facebook followers;

2) By producing high-quality videos with an in-house video production team.

Already, Ithaca Voice Advertising Director Mike Blaney has written, shot, edited and produced around 20 short films that do more to capture the imagination of local readers than anything ever offered by traditional print advertising.

***

“Spotlight on Ithaca” represents another important part of this mission. We are hoping that by giving both readers and businesses a direct economic incentive to help in-depth local journalism, we may be a small part of solving a big problem.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.