The short answer is that we are a platform for independent journalism that uses crowdfunding to get the writer paid, cutting out the need for advertising. We display the resulting work on our site, so we look like a newspaper – even though we aren’t. Since we’re a platform, we have no ideological bias, editorial stance, or style guide. Byline doesn’t even own the content – the journalist retains copyright for everything he or she produces.
Imagine a Venn diagram, where circle A is ‘what the journalist wants to write’ and circle B is ‘what the reader wants to pay for’. Byline aspires to be the host of anything that exists where those circles overlap.
Journalists can get paid in two ways. Project and/or Column
The first is through a Project; this works like Kickstarter in that it involves raising a large sum of money up front. If the target is met, the journalist gets paid, and gets to work. The project is best for any kind of journalism that requires up front travel or investigation.
The second is the Column, and is designed to reward journalists writing regular pieces with ongoing, predictable income streams – ie. something like a salary. Readers commit to paying a small amount of money (ie. $1, $3, etc) either per month or per article. If you write consistently and compellingly about an important local issue; political corruption; conflict in the Middle East; or the Kardashians (well, we’d rather you didn’t write about the Kardashians, but we wouldn’t stop you), who knows, you may well be able to find enough of an audience to make a decent regular income from it.
Friends don’t let friends use paywalls.
Unless you’re the Financial Times (or a specialist publication), nobody wants to pay for access to your news website. So why would the reader crowdfund you? We think the journalist can offer other ‘freemium’ style incentives: pay X and gain the right to ask questions to the journalist in the private members’ area; pay Y and have a Google Hangout with them; pay Z and get a signed book, and so on. The journalist sets rewards he/she is comfortable with.
Since we have no editorial policy, we don’t choose a ‘lead story’. Instead, the reader chooses it. Every reader will be given their own front page, based on the stories they’ve been reading and funding. If you have a lot of interest in economic news, your main story might be about deflation; if the idea of that bores you to tears (and we know it), you may never even see the piece – unless you look for it. But because we don’t want to reinforce everyone’s biases, we will build in an element of surprise: if you click on a lot of stories with one specific ideological direction, we’ll sometimes give you an article that argues the complete opposite.
Why Are We Doing This?
The news media is in a mess. Journalists are losing their jobs, and online editors seem to think that ‘freelancer’ means ‘someone who writes for free’. Quality is in decline. And if you’re a proprietor, you’re probably losing money as well (unless your name is Rupert). Ad spending is going from Time Magazine, The New York Times, and The Times, to Google, Google, and Google. Oh, and Facebook, too.
The advertising-driven model is clearly breaking down. And to make matters worse, fewer and fewer people want to buy this bundle of disparate information we call a ‘newspaper’. So why not forget about advertising altogether, unbundle the news, and just ask the reader to pay for what information they want?
A decade ago, everyone was illegally downloading music. Apple realised that people would still pay for individual songs, even if they felt that most albums were half killer, half filler. So, they unbundled the album, and sold individual songs from an easy-to-use, well-designed platform. Quite clearly, it worked – and this is what we want to do with news.
We sincerely believe readers will pay for reporting on issues they care about. So instead of having one newspaper that tries to be all things to all people, let’s provide a home for every little journalistic niche. You no longer need to sell a paper to a million people; you just need to convince a few hundred to pay something. One could call it long tail journalism, otaku journalism, or the ‘theory of one thousand true fans’ applied to the media.
What We Like
– Context and depth in journalism. Projects and Columns on one theme means journalists get deep into topics they care about. If you’re tired of reading about the latest unspeakable tragedy in XYZ far-flung corner of the world without being given the real background to what happened, then we’re on the same wavelength.
– A connection between reader and journalist. Rewards may sound like a pain for some journalists, but we think they are a way to build a regular, loyal audience. Some readers will even be able to share information and help the journalist.
– Bias. Yes, bias! Let’s kill this sacred (and, dare we say, mythical) cow of ‘fair and balanced’ reporting. Byline itself has no bias, but we encourage every reporter to freely display their own biases.
– Journalistic Independence. We don’t interfere with what the journalist writes. We don’t even edit it. Naturally we have a few limits. Two examples would be: anything that incites violence or unnecessary hatred, and disguised-as-journalism attempts to sell products. Someone has to be the judge of these things, and in this case it is us, the Byline staff We will try to err on the side of openness, though.
What We Don’t Like
– ‘Native Ads’. Most people don’t know this expression, but it is basically 21st Century-speak for ‘advertorials’ (David Ogilvy was doing them back in 1950). Companies pay media outlets to release an advert disguised as journalism. Buzzfeed and Vice live off native ads, but even The Guardian is now getting involved with its ‘Goldman Sachs Partner Zone.’ The worst recent example has undoubtedly been this one.
– Journalists working for free.The Huffington Post is the poster child for this, but they’re certainly not alone. These days, freelance journalists are being pressured into writing for free – or even paying for such an ‘exciting and unique chance.’ If I were a carpenter, would you say, “Can you make me a table? I’m not going to pay you for it, but I have lots of friends I can show your table to. You’ll get amazing exposure”? We set up Byline to try and correct this problem – we want to be a ‘Huffington that pays’.
– Listicles. Tired of ’17 awesome celebrity twerking moves you totally need in your life’ and the like? We won’t ban listicles on Byline, but
we certainly won’t encourage them!
There isn’t much else we don’t like. So why not get in touch?