Byline: Breaking Stories the Media Avoid

A year ago the gossip blogger Guido Fawkes described Byline as an “obscure website that claims to be ‘quality journalism’.”

After only a year in beta development, has been, for a week, the only journalism site to break the scandal of a press cover up of Culture Secretary and former chair of the select committee John Whittingdale.

Many have known about the scandal for years: we’ve known about this scandal for six months. We hoped the media would clean up its act. But for over a week we were alone breaking this story. It was a scary place to be. Until Open Democracy, Private Eye and Newsnight stepped in gallantly to save our modesty.  

When South Korean entrepreneur Seung-Yoon Lee and former Economist journalist Daniel Tudor founded Byline a year ago, they knew things were bad – but not this bad.

Byline was created because the traditional ad-subsidised model of independent journalism was obviously broken. Google and Facebook have hoovered up $40bn of ad revenues. News print sales are tanking. Meanwhile digital ads have also been exposed as part scam, and easily blocked by software. The normal way of funding content – advertising – will not work in the foreseeable future.

The response of publishers has been varied. Some tried to create membership rules or paywalls. These have worked for some niche publications. Others have gone the way of ‘native advertising’ or ‘sponsored content’ which – as yet another form of advertorial –we believe is a short-term fraud perpetrated on readers. 

Instead Byline was predicated on the belief there was a direct market for journalists and projects to the public through crowd funding.

We’ve have had our successes in our first year. We’ve funded live court coverage of nearly a dozen trials and raised over $100,000 dollars for Norman Finkelstein’s essays on the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Our best hits in terms of traffic include, up to this moment, Alex Andreou’s coverage last summer of the economic crisis in Greece. 

Because of the dysfunction of the media, and in particular the British press, we’ve inadvertently become known as the place which will publish stories the rest of the media will not – particularly about them

In out first year we are probably more remembered for Graham Johnson’s revelations about Greg Miskiw, the master of the dark arts: or the live court coverage of the Sun trials by Martin Hickman; the Andy Coulson perjury trial by James Doleman: or Peter Jukes’ digging over the Daniel Morgan Murder. 

The new revelations about press misrule by Jim Cusick and Nick Mutch are yet another sorry chapter in this sad saga.

But covering the worst aspect of such an important profession is not where we want to be. 

In response to this alarming crisis of faith in, and funding of, journalism, we are now planning to redouble our efforts.   Byline will relaunch soon with a new team led by our most prominent journalists with a concentrated focus on getting and great projects funded.

For us, it’s not about the traffic or cross postings, but having the best analytics, staff, social media savvy and understanding of the public, so that any good journalist with a good story can come to us and get the work done. Where they place it later is less important to us.

So bear with us while we re-organise and regroup to get out of the beta phase and prove…

We love quality journalism. And we plan to ensure it thrives.