Suppose you had what you thought was a good idea for some investigative
reporter to dig into, and you passed the hat around to those who shared
your enthusiasm for the idea, and you managed to collect enough to pay
a professional journalist to go to work on the project, and the resulting story was published in the Mainstream Media, and you and the other original contributors got your money back? 

Well, that's roughly what's made possible by Spot.Us, a new web-based matchmaker in the San Francisco Bay area linking people with news tips or ideas, freelance journalists seeking investigative assignments, and news outlets seeking novel and exclusive reports on previously neglected issues. 

It's a new approach to a free
press—freeing the formerly passive non-journalist "audience" from the
need to own a press in order to target widely seen exposés
into the issues they consider important but uncovered, and freeing
journalists from the need to have a steady job (a vanishing asset
nowadays) in order to be paid to report on matters they find

Of course, the enterprise is no more economically free than a lunch. 
The reporters on assignment have to be paid.  But getting them paid is
a very grassroots process, and if the resulting story gets picked up by
a newspaper, broadcaster or other news organization, whatever they pay
for exclusive first use is shared back with the citizen "investors" in
the story.  If the story idea never gets enough financial support from
like-minded individuals to achieve liftoff, actual donors get a credit
towards support of another story proposal.

Sarah Kershaw, writing in the New York Times, observed in August:

Critics say the idea of using crowdfunding to finance journalism raises some troubling questions. For example, if a neighborhood with an agenda pays for an article, how is that different from a tobacco company backing an article about smoking? (Spot Us limits the amount any one contributor can give to no more than 20 percent of the cost of the story.)

But Jeff Howe, a contributing editor at Wired Magazine whose book “Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business” is being published this month said: “It’s not like the crowd is killing the newspaper. Lots of things are killing the newspaper. The crowd is at once a threat to newsrooms, but it’s also one of several strategies that could help save the newspapers.”