Lyra McKee is a brave young woman. Not (just) because of her investigation into the murder of a Northern Ireland politician – but because of her decision this week to offer supporters access to the metrics behind it.
Many journalists would find such an idea terrifying: telling everyone how many people are reading my work? Sharing it? Finishing it? There’s simply too much to lose. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
But crowdfunding creates a different dynamic. When I backed SA Mathieson‘s project on Beacon, I wasn’t buying content: I was supporting something I believed in. I was supporting a writer to spend time on one topic.
Notably, Beacon’s own strategy acknowledges this: there is no way to subscribe to the ‘brand’ of Beacon – to get access to all content you must support one specific project.
Likewise, Beacon describe a good writer for the site as: “A freelancer with a deep interest and passion in a single topic and a presence on social media.” Passion; networks – not just content.
Publishers and journalists could learn a lot from charities on this front. Fundraising is hard. Mobilising volunteers is hard. Demonstrating impact is hard.
Passion and networks are vital: ultimately supporters are part of the project. They are not only invested in its success, but keen to suggest ways that it can be better. Lyra’s decision is a recognition of that:
“If you want access to warts and all updates on how the project is faring journalistically – in terms of sustainability, the challenges, pitfalls, etc – then pledge just $20 a month. I’ll be sharing everything, including metrics (no matter how bad they make me look). It will be a direct insight into how the project is doing and whether it could be a viable model for investigative journalism in the digital age. You’ll also have access to me via Beacon’s Q&A forums so you’ll be able to ask me questions directly about the project and how it’s going.”
Alternatively users can pay a one-off donation for the price of a coffee.
I’m seeing more and more examples of crowdfunding as a way of funding a journalism which has impact. As Dorothy says to the Wizard of Oz: “If you were really great and powerful you’d keep your promises.” With almost 100 backers already, Lyra is well on the way to showing just how she’s doing that.
- I’ll be speaking with Lyra on ‘Lowering the cost of investigations‘ at the Polis Journalism Conference next Friday March 28
Declaration: Lyra is a distance learning student on the MA Online Journalism at Birmingham City University