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.
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)