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It thus has much in common with the field of marketing, with the same use of catchy taglines and graphics to churn social-media sharing. They want to do meaningful reporting that makes a lasting impact. To do this, they need new outlets for publishing, and new ways to finance themselves.

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So where does Palast get his financing from? Indiegogo and Kickstarter are generalist platforms for raising money, but even more interesting are those sites that offer niche services and support for journalism in particular.

The Indie Voices team curates the process, only allowing media projects including documentaries and articles that seek to improve the media landscape in developing countries. Initially set up with the aim of creating an equity crowdfunding platform for books, Inkshares now also provides a donation-based crowdfunding platform for thoughtful long-form articles.

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And unlike normal publishing, the author retains the rights to the work that gets funded, which means they can also publish the material elsewhere. What if you wish to run a year-long investigation of tax havens, during which time you plan to run a series of 12 articles? Do you try raise the whole lot in one go, or run 12 separate crowdfundings?

Rather than funding a once-off project by a particular writer, Beacon Reader is a platform for writers to collect paid subscribers who will offer an ongoing stream of support. Backing a particular writer on Beacon is thus a gateway into a broader subscription to the work of the whole Beacon writer collective.

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It feels loosely like a kind of writers co-operative, but a competitive one in which writers have to earn their place and a share of the resultant income stream by securing a certain number of new subscribers and to continue building more subscribers over time. Crucially though, the writer still owns the rights to the pieces produced, and they can published elsewhere or sold on to media outlets to further monetise their work. This might be a great option for a writer looking to work through a big issue in small chunks, and who needs stable baseline support to cover their basic costs whilst waiting to get the pieces accepted by bigger publications.

What if the crowd was given a closer role in the actual article production process though? This also gave me the right to provide input into those articles. As a user of the platform I am thus a hybrid between a receiver of funding, and giver of funding, a receiver of editorial services and giver of editorial services. It will be fascinating to see how the process is managed going forward.

Alternative Journalism

Could editors and writers team up to be funded together? The diverse crowfunding platforms discussed above have a number of common themes.

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Their claim to democratisation rests on the assertion that they both maintain independence of journalists, but also give voice to journalists that might otherwise be ignored. In essence, private individuals are holding the commons open for others to use, in much the same way as Wikipedia gets supported by donations from a small percentage of its users. Interesting, and potentially conflicting, commercial dynamics emerge from this.

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  • We could argue that what the crowd is actually doing is shielding a writer from normal media commissioning processes — whether those are corporate or state led — maintaining the independence of the journalist to the point where an article is ready to be released into the public. In the cases where the journalist retains the rights to the article though, and the resultant piece is then sold on, we could also argue that the crowd is subsidising media companies who would otherwise have to take on the risk of commissioning work.

    If this was to become widespread practice, we could begin to see a separation of journalism production from distribution. Platforms like Uncoverage might begin to serve a role analogous to a literary agent, providing a platform to develop quality journalism which is then cherrypicked by publishing outlets. But what kind of reader is prepared to fund articles which may then be used by the broader public or potentially even commercial media outlets?

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    Perhaps it is a new sort of reader, seeking a more active, creative role. They have FDA approval, but supplements such as this are listed as food, not medicine. Harcup spent ten years working on LOP, and much of the material in this book is shaped by that experience. Reading it reminded me of how I first met him. Tony Harcup turned up for the one in Bradford, at which the then Northern Organiser for the National Union of Journalists, Colin Bourne, was speaking, along with Franklin and a local newspaper editor.

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    Part IV of the book takes a broader but very interesting perspective, based on his research into journalists who started out on alternative or oppositional publications, before moving into mainstream journalism. He devotes two chapters to analysing the responses he received to a survey he conducted. There is another piece of history in this book which connects me with the author and another person.