BYLINE FIRST WEEKEND ROUNDUP: 'Why Does It Have to Be So Complicated?'
“Are you deliberately trying to confuse me?”
“Why does it have to be so complicated?”
It seems as though Byline is a little bit like the Offside Rule – easily understood by those in the know, but potentially mystifying to the newcomer. And unfortunately for us, you are all newcomers. At just one week of age, this “obscure website” of ours (thanks, Guido Fawkes!) has no right to be so confusing.We can only apologise. When you’re deeply involved in something – be it Morris dancing, Dungeons and Dragons, accountancy, or whatever – you start taking it for granted that other people will understand and appreciate its finer points too. To us, Byline is really simple. But that’s because we’ve spent the past nine months arguing about it.
Byline is our baby, and like all parents, we think our baby is beautiful. We’re always posting about it on Facebook too, just like any obnoxious new parent. But some of you who have ended up going around in circles trying to work out how to make pledges may well feel that our baby has vomited on your shoulder just as you picked it up for the first time.
Please rest assured that we have the detergent out, and are working on fixing all our numerous faults as fast as we can. We know that ‘Project’ and ‘Column’ need explaining, rather than merely being presented to you as something obvious. And we’re painfully, painfully aware that our site looks horrendous on mobile. We’ll sort all this out soon, we promise.
What’s all this Project and Column stuff all about?
Anyway: one of the main ways we have confused people is by having something called a ‘Project’ and something called a ‘Column’ – and then not explaining what they are! So please forgive us, and allow us to explain now.
The Project is pretty straightforward. The journalist raises one lump sum in order to do a certain piece of work – usually one that involves a lot of upfront cost. They set a target, and can only receive money if and when that target is hit. Currently, we have Metrography, Julie Bindel, and David Placer raising funding through Projects.
So far we haven’t had many comments about Projects, probably because it is type of funding familiar to anyone who knows Kickstarter. The Column has been a little controversial, though. So why do we have it? The aim of the Column is not to give the journalist a ‘Kickstart’, but rather a salary. If a journalist writes consistently and compellingly enough about a particular topic – to the point where a few hundred people are prepared to give them a few dollars per month to do it – then they can make a living from independent journalism. This is our ‘holy grail’. It may sound like a pipe dream, but it is already working for creators of funny YouTube videos over at Patreon.com. There’s even a theory around it: Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, called this Theory of 1,000 True Fans. The idea is that it only takes 1,000 supporters willing to pay a small amount of money every year for a creator to make a good living.
Currently we have Steven T. Jones (former Chief Editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian), China specialists Joanna Chiu and Jens Schott Knudsen, and Peter Jukes raising money in this way. Peter is a pioneer of crowdfunded journalism in the UK, and we are hoping that he can make history again by becoming the first British journalist to make a salary from crowdfunding.
Some of you may ask the following question:
Don't worry. You can cancel a Column payment any time.
If you want to, you can just pay once, and then immediately cancel the monthly charge. It takes just a few seconds, and can be done by clicking on Payment Settings -> Manage Payments -> clicking ‘Stop’ on the Column you wish to stop funding.
We are learning by necessity. Before we opened the site, we thought we were ready for anything. But we’ve been receiving comments from readers and journalists pointing out problems that we could never have even imagined would exist. We genuinely lost a customer because their name had an apostrophe in it (it’s a long story…) No amount of ‘what if?’-ing and testing can prepare you for something like that.
At the same time, we’ve seen some really encouraging signs.
Traffic has been beyond our expectations; the inimitable Peter Jukes ruffled a few big-game feathers with his column on the Guido Fawkes blogger Paul Staines; Julie Bindel put in an illuminating report from Amsterdam’s red light district; Daoud Kuttab argued for an end to talk of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine; Metrography showed us the ‘Orphans of Alqosh’; Steven T. Jones tackled the struggle of artists in San Francisco; and, our co-founder and CEO Seungyoon Lee managed to annoy Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein and former politician Louise Mensch on Twitter. Our journalists were also featured in media as diverse as The New Yorker, China Digital Times, and PinkNews.
And, we’re still keeping our Wikileaks-themed secret weapon in reserve, for the day we finally get a mobile site that doesn’t make you scream ‘dear God, my eyes!