MuckRock, a non-profit organization, plans to build a platform that allows users to sign up for exclusive documents and analysis and provide a way for readers to take part in topical membership programs.

The program, called BackerTap, is being funded through the Google News Initiative North American Innovation Challenges. From the MuckRock Foundation application for funding from GNI:

Paywalls and advertising are generally a one-size-fits-all solution, when the reality is some readers won’t be able to get enough of some stories — and are interested in ways to directly offer their support above and beyond a normal subscription or the ad revenue from a single pageview. Meanwhile, local news organizations often have the fewest resources to manage membership programs or invest in technology. BackerTap will make it easy and rewarding for both publications and readers to participate in topic specific membership programs.

MuckRock Cofounder Michael Morisy shares more with LMA about BackerTap and everything going on at MuckRock in early 2020.

First, tell us a little about MuckRock including its history. 

Founded in 2010, MuckRock Foundation is a non-profit open-source platform that helps journalists, researchers, and the public to open government and understand their world. We actually run a number of different services — including oTranscribe, DocumentCloud, FOIA Machine — that now serve over 3,000 newsrooms around the world.

Now can you tell us about BackerTap?

Since early on, we’ve experimented with using crowdfunding and crowdsourcing to make journalism and transparency more effective and more sustainable. BackerTap takes everything we’ve learned and breaks it out into its own standalone service that will make it easier for newsrooms to ask their readers for help, whether that’s soliciting donations for a public records fee or helping scour through thousands of pages of material.

Why do you believe documents that help the reader understand the inside story are so important to journalism today?

With officials loving to say something is fake news or portraying every scandal as he said-she said, documents help readers sort through spin to understand the truth.

How does BackerTap help publications and readers participate in topic-specific membership programs?

Journalism has to be a two-way conversation: if you want readers to invest in you, they have to know you’re invested in them. We’re really excited about creative ways we’re helping facilitate that.

Where are you at in your project?

We’ve been doing a lot of user interviews and internal architecting, and looking forward to inviting newsrooms into the early beta in the coming months.