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(Credit: Indiegogo, screenshot)

Queen’s University student Joanna Plucinska started a campaign to raise 50,000 Canadian dollars for her tuition to Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

While it’s a unique way to pull together the cash for a Columbia University’s pricey graduate program, iMediaEthics has concerns.  One of the “perks” Plucinska advertises to donors in exchange for their financial support is the offer to write, edit or blog about anyone who donates C$100.  Her pitch reads:

“Want something written or edited? Want to be interviewed and featured on my blog? Done with this donation!”

While Plucinska’s campaign originally was to pull together $50,000, she updated the goal at some point this summer to raise just $6,200 after she obtained “alternate sources of funding.”

Plucinska’s intentions may be good, but if she does end up enrolled in Columbia’s program, she’d likely learn that exchanging cash for coverage is a huge media ethics no-no.  So what does Columbia University  think?

iMediaEthics reached out to Columbia seeking confirmation that Plucinska was offered a spot at the school and for comment on her campaign.

Elizabeth Weinreb Fishman, the Associate Dean for Communications for Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, responded via e-mail:

“Due to privacy considerations, we do not comment on whether an individual has been offered admission to the journalism school.  Because of this, we have no comment on the question relating to the Indiegogo campaign.”

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Regardless, the Indiegogo campaign ended on June 26. Plucinska’s campaign page says she raised $1,340 Canadian dollars and since her campaign was a “Flexible Funding campaign,” she gets that money. Other types of Indiegogo campaigns — like Gawker’s campaign to raise cash for an alleged video of Rob Ford smoking crack — are “Fixed Funding campaigns,” requiring fundraisers to reach their target or else they don’t get any money.

What do you think of this campaign to raise money for grad school tuition? Is the quid pro quo–accepting money to write about someone–ethical, if the higher purpose is to get educated in journalism?

iMediaEthics has asked the student for comment and will update if we receive any response.

The prospective student’s campaign follows Gawker’s recent high-profile and well-publicized Indiegoogo campaign to raise $200,000.  The purpose was checkbook journalism:  to buy an alleged video of Toronto’s mayor smoking crack got a ton of attention, including several articles on this site.

UPDATE: 7/19/2013 12:51 PM EST: Plucinska defended the campaign in an email to iMediaEthics, writing in part:

“Your commentary is valid. However, I never claimed to be producing journalistic work as a part of this campaign. I offered these perks/services as a part of a fundraising, public relations-style campaign which I had notified a staff member in the financial aid office at Columbia about.”

She also stated: “In the work I have done for newspapers as well as radio shows, I have never received cash or financial compensation from the individuals I interviewed.”

iMediaEthics notes that she didn’t label her offers to write articles as public relations work, and instead touted her journalistic background in her campaign.

CORRECTION - July 19, 2013 12:45 PM

Corrected the spelling of Plucinska’s last name. In one of six instances it was misspelled. We regret the error.

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Journalism Student Will Write About You for C$100, Raising $ for Columbia Grad School

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