Crowdfunded journalism – does it work?

finding dolly

I pitched the whole world on Dolly Freed. Seriously, every magazine you can think of and a hundred more.

Nobody was interested in a profile of a woman who used to eat roadkill, make moonshine, and sit around reading Sartre with her alcoholic and probably-genius father, a woman who later went on to get her GED, put herself through college, and become a NASA rocket scientist who helped figure out the mess behind the Challenger explosion before turning her back on that world for a life that felt more authentic and invigorating.

Yeah, I can’t see the appeal whatsoever.

So after months of rejection, I bought myself a website about and used it to self-publish a long-form feature story about a month ago, called “Finding Dolly Freed.” [...]

So did Radiohead journalism succeed? I guess it depends on the definition of success. In the strictest sense of the word, yes, it worked: I recovered my costs. Yet you could look at the visitor-donation ratio — 160 of more than 5,000 visitors contributed — and extrapolate that this doesn’t appear to be a sustainable model, at least not in its current form. I choose to look at it this way: 160 people sent money they didn’t have to spend, to a person they didn’t even know — that, to me, is wondrous.

Someone else may find a better way to indie journalism in this form — I hope so. I’d be thrilled to see an independent self-publishing model fly, but if you’ll allow me a dogmatic moment here, for it to be truly meaningful the journalism must be inviolable: Story and storytelling matter but so does the journalist and whether he/she has built the story on a foundation of reporting and integrity. Institutional backing confers credibility, but in the wilds of the Internet, you’re on your own; trust begins and ends with you and your standards and approach.

Wired: Dolly, Rejection and Radiohead Journalism

A few years ago Josh Ellis was able to get most of all of his expenses paid for in advance to write a longform journalism piece Dark Miracle: Trinity, The Manhattan Project And The Birth Of The Atomic Age, and still had $25. (Updated: see comments)

4 Comments

  1. Actually, I got all of my expenses covered — I think I had $25 left over at the end of the trip. :-)

  2. Bix, former publisher of Portland Communique, has several pioneering years of one-man news servce experience. Worth tracknd down. Foaf.

  3. You’ve mentioned him to me several times before… BTW, did he do it all for free or did he raise money?

  4. I posted about this earlier on my own blog. Your article has actually given me some food for thought, I feel you have made many very intriguing points. I wish I would found it earlier, prior to writing my own post.

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