Lyra McKee: why more journalists are going direct to readers

Lyra looked to crowdfunding when writing a book on the murder of the Reverend Robert Bradford

Lyra looked to crowdfunding when writing a book on the murder of the Reverend Robert Bradford

Lyra McKee* is an investigative journalist in Northern Ireland. In this post, originally published on The Muckrakershe explains why she feels journalists are turning away from traditional outlets in favour of building their own brands while exploring crowdfunding and micropublishing.

When I talk to older journalists (older being over the age of 30), they ask me the same question: who do you write for?

It’s an awkward question. If it was 2009, I’d tell them I’d been published in (or had pieces broadcast on) the Belfast Telegraph, Private Eye, BBC, Sky News – a dozen or so news outlets that took my work back then.

In 2013 the answer is: none.

I’m part of a generation of “digital native” journalists who sell their work directly to readers, bypassing traditional news outlets like newspapers and broadcasters. Increasingly, reporters are using services like BeaconKickstarter and Woopie to raise funds directly from their readers and publish their work.

Why are they doing this?

“Getting paid was also a nightmare. Often, the cheques didn’t turn up”

For me, the decision to “self-publish” my journalism was born out of frustration. As Sy Hersh recently pointed out, if a story is particularly controversial, a non-staff reporter will find it very difficult to get it published.

Such was my experience. If I pitched a story to an editor about paramilitaries, it immediately got picked up. Anything concerning Northern Ireland’s government was usually shafted in favour of a press release from the government department in question.

Getting paid was also a nightmare. Often, the cheques didn’t turn up (check out Pay Me Please by freelance Iona Craig; it illustrates what a wide-scale problem this is). The most I ever made for a story – a six-month investigation in 2009 – was £50 from a national magazine. When that cheque arrived, I knew doing investigative work as a freelancer in the traditional sense just wasn’t sustainable. So I started exploring alternative ways of doing what I love and making a living.

“In my mind, this is going to be the defining trend of the next several years”

Traditionally, investigative journalism and foreign reporting has been funded by newspaper proprietors with big pockets or rich philanthropists, like those backing ProPublica and Northern Ireland’s own The Detail.

Yet with the emergence of crowdfunding, reporters are turning to their readers to ask them to fund their work, creating a new form of mini-philanthropy.

“In my mind, this is going to be the defining trend of the next several years,” says Dan Fletcher, founder of Beacon, a new site that allows readers to fund their favourite reporters.

“We’ve already seen the first signs of this with social media – platforms like Facebook and Twitter allowed a broad swathe of journalists to step out from behind the byline for the very first time and develop their own individualized followings and control their own channels of distribution.

“That’s a tremendously empowering thing. And generally, when something unbundles like that, it’s very difficult to go back to the world where brands have complete control.

“I think brands will continue to be powerful channels of distribution, but they’re paying less and less for the same amount of work. It’s an exposure play, more than anything else.”

Dan wouldn’t disclose how much money Beacon reporters were making but other crowdfunding experiments suggest the model is working.

  • American broadcaster NPR set out to raise $50,000 on Kickstarter to fund a story about the t-shirt economy; they raised nearly $600,000.
  • In a recent interview with The Muckraker, Bobbie Johnson of digital publication Matter said they had 10,000 paying readers of whom “many thousands” were subscribers: “Certainly a single journalist could do pretty well with the user base we have.”
  • Earlier this month, independent journalist Alexa O’Brien was heading to cover a trial and had spent $901 on her flight. She asked readers to donate cash to help her cover the costs. Within hours, she’d raised $763.
  • Then there’s Andrew Sullivan who made his blog, The Dish, independent and asked readers to fund it. The latest update says they’ve hit $791,000 in subscription revenue as of November 2013, just 10 months after going it alone.

Even the New York Times has caught on to the trend, publishing a story last week about what it calls “micropublishing”: small journalistic/publishing enterprises that only need a couple of thousand subscribers to survive.

The advantages and disadvantages of ‘the new way’

While it may not be how you anticipated spending your career, there are many advantages to this new way of doing journalism.

Newspapers frequently cut stories that are critical of their advertisers. Being reader-funded means you’re only accountable to your readers.

While your friends inside news outlets complain about lawyers blocking their stories for stupid reasons, you can choose to listen to or ignore a lawyer’s advice.

The disadvantage is instability. You’re not taking a pay cheque home every month and to fund your stories in the first place, you need to spend time building an audience/your reputation.

Yet with sites like Beacon popping up, it looks like bypassing newspapers for WordPress is going to become standard practice.

*Disclosure: Lyra is a student of mine on the MA in Online Journalism by Distance Learning

6 thoughts on “Lyra McKee: why more journalists are going direct to readers

  1. Basic

    I’m afraid that Lyra McKee is a well-known fantasist. Her BBC work consisted solely of one short report, years ago, commissioned from a youth group where she was doing a media studies course – broadcast purely to show what young people do on a media studies course. That’s it.
    It is not to OJB’s credit that it will cut-and-paste nonsense from any Walter Mitty figure. God knows there are enough of them online now.

    Reply
    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      Thanks for the comment, although Lyra’s BBC experience (which I’m aware of) isn’t the point of the article, and the substance (original interviews, background) is important and valuable, which is why I asked if I could republish it on OJB.

      Attacking the author rather than the content suggests yours is a personal issue. Pursuing it anonymously is pretty cowardly too, by the way.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Noe trist og noen gode råd i årets siste uke | www.boredigitalt.no

  3. anonymous

    The MSM is controlled by a very small group of people and the real news is not given to people; only propaganda that TPTB deem suitable for public consumption. Independent journalism is the future and crowdfunding sounds like the way to go.

    Will you help to reveal the truth of what happened during 9/11? This topic has been totally controlled and suppressed. There’s a book which has been recently released on the internet with shocking information. The author knew the Mossad agent who organised the events of that day.

    Dimitri Khalezov has spent 10 years researching and writing this book. Download links:

    Or read at:

    In a 2010 interview, Khalezov explained that you can’t build a skyscraper in NYC without an approved demolition plan. On 9/11, the World Trade Center’s demolition plan was put into action to demolish the complex.

    Khalezov learned of this demolition plan from his job in the Soviet Union. He had worked in the nuclear intelligence unit and under an agreement between the Soviet Union and the USA, each country was obliged to inform the other of peaceful uses of nuclear explosions. The WTC was built with 3 thermo-nuclear charges in its foundations.

    Note: underground nuclear explosions do not produce mushroom clouds. This is only ever seen when the explosion takes place above ground. On 9/11, the explosions were deep underground.

    More info:

    http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/esp_sociopol_911_154.htm

    You can watch the 2010 interview at:

    http://www.disclose.tv/forum/dimitri-khalezov-wtc-nuclear-demolition-full-playlist-t21675.html

    Video # 4 – WTC’s demolition plan
    Video # 14 – WTC 7 (which fell ½ hour AFTER the BBC announced its collapse).
    Videos # 24/25 – chronic radiation sickness of WTC responders (their cancers are not due to asbestos poisoning)

    Khalezov was interviewed on 4 Sept 2013:

    http://www.renseradioarchives.com/harris/

    Here is a recent article mentioning Khalezov:

    http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/12/28/mossad-bush-planned-executed-911/

    I know it is preposterous to claim that the WTC was brought down by nukes. But note that the place where the WTC once stood is called ‘Ground Zero’. If you look up the meaning of ‘ground zero’ in the old dictionaries you have at home, you’ll find that there would only be one definition. It is what you call a place that has been nuked.

    After 9/11, the US government sent people out to switch all the dictionaries in the public domain. The replacements differed only in the meaning of ‘ground zero’. They show extra definitions for that term, to obfuscate the original single meaning.

    For example, if you have a genuine old Merriam-Webster dictionary, you would see this:
    ground zero n (1946) : the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs.

    The replacement books (even of old editions) show two extra definitions and this is what you’ll see:
    ground zero n (1946) 1 : the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs. 2: the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change 3: the very beginning : SQUARE ONE

    Have a look at this video:

    At 6:05 mins, he shows the old and new definitions of ‘ground zero’.

    Reply

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