MuckrakerThe Muckraker

Journalism, like music, is now a project economy

I saw some sad news today on Mediagazer: Byliner, the longform publisher co-founded by John Tayman, might be folding.


For those not familiar with it, Byliner is a publisher of bite-sized fiction and non-fiction. When I met Tayman in San Francisco a couple of years ago, he talked about realising there was a sweet spot in between a magazine article and a book – a story that was neither too short nor too long. We’ve come to know these stories as ‘longform’. Generally 3,000-30,000 words in length, they even have their own site and Twitter hashtag.
The company wanted to be like Netflix, charging a monthly “all you can eat” type subscription.


Since the industry’s implosion post-2005, many of us have spent hours wondering what the next business model is. Whole conferences have been dedicated to answering that question: how will journalism make money in the Internet age?


For enterprise/investigative/longform journalism, the answers are already here – but they’re not what we want them to be.



A comforting idea but not a great idea



Byliner’s key proposition was that it could be the Netflix or Spotify of longform. Yet words do not have the star/pulling power of film. The attraction to that particular revenue model wasn’t that it could work but what it represented: a monthly pay check. In an industry beset by economic stability, the thought that readers would want to contribute a monthly sum is nice. It symbolises stability.

Therein lies the problem. The search for business models has not been dictated by what the market wants but a yearning for the old days, when you did your job and collected your salary at the end of every month.

It doesn’t work like that anymore. Across the creative industries – film, journalism, music – practitioners are living from project to project.
I call this the Project Economy. You make as much money as your latest project does. When the project ends, you move on to the next one and hope people find it interesting and will pay you to do it.

Example: my latest investigative project, The Last Story of Robert Bradford. Using Beacon Reader, I raised nearly $6,000 through a crowdfunding campaign – nearly $1500 of which is recurring in monthly subscriptions. After Beacon takes its 30% cut (which it shares around writers whose stories have done particularly well, a monthly bonus) and the exchange rate, it works out at about £330 a month. Not to be sniffed at.

However, I’m aware that I’ll probably have, at most, a year’s mileage out of the project. Then there’ll – most likely – be a year where I make no income from it whilst writing the final edition, finish up research and shop for a publisher. To prepare for that eventuality – should it come to pass – I’m squirrelling away as much money as I can from freelance assignments.

This is the reality of living in the Project Economy. As a filmmaker friend remarked, when times are good, they’re really good – but money management is key to survival. A % of every commission needs to be saved to see you through the times when no money is coming in.
There is no stability in this industry anymore. Being a journalist is now like being an actor: unless you have a huge hit, you’re going to struggle.

The search for business models needs to reflect this. “The good old days” aren’t coming back. It’s a different world. And it’s scary. Staying focused enough to follow your heart instead of the pay check is tough. But there has to be a way.

Previous Posts

  • In defence of Anthony McIntyre

    In the wake of Gerry Adams arrest, a lot has been written over the past couple of weeks about the Boston College tapes.

    Throughout the furore, one person has been consistently demonised, other than Jean McConville herself: Anthony McIntyre. Anthony was the researcher who interviewed Republican ex-prisoners for the Boston project. He’s been denounced, in various graffiti around Belfast and by Sinn Fein themselves, as a “tout” and an “informer”, a disgruntled ex-Provo motivated by his hatred of the Peace Process and the feeling that Gerry “sold him out”. Read More

  • The growing independent journalism movement in Northern Ireland


    Today, I was walking down the Lagan towpath - a path that stretches along miles and miles of canal and river from Belfast to Lisburn - with my friend Barton.  I was venting about the story. Every now and then, I run into a brick wall. I need a document, a phone call, anything to come unstuck. Usually, within a week, I do, but the frustration until then is unbearable.

    Barton didn’t have any solutions but he listened and he understood. And by the time we were returning down the path after breakfast at a little cafe beside the river, I knew what I needed to do next. I was ready to make another round of phone calls. Read More

  • The Crowdfunder: What happens next


    At 20 minutes to 11 on Thursday, I received this message on Facebook:

    “Guess what, you’re fully funded!”

    It was another 10-15 minutes before I stopped crying and started breathing normally again.  Ben, who made the crowdfunding film, was also incredulous: “I thought you’d be right down to the wire!”

    So had I. Yet 3 days ahead of deadline, I cleared my crowdfunding goal – 200 backers in 18 days, contributing nearly $6000 raised ($1,445 in that in recurring monthly subscriptions). 

    While I’ve been working on the book for nearly 2 years, my journey in reporting started long before that. I wrote my first story in 2005. 9 years later, 4 days shy of my 24th birthday, I finally have my first steady reporting gig. 

    So, from the bottom of my heart – thank you to everyone who backed me or helped in some other way. You aren’t just helping me finish this story – you’ve made a dream come true. Journalism is a tough industry to be in right now and if it wasn’t for you wonderful people, I wouldn’t have the resources to keep chasing this story. 

    Some of you have been asking me what happens next:

    • The campaign officially ends at 2:00am GMT on Monday 31st March. On Wednesday April 9th, you’ll receive the first chapter of the book (which I’m currently rewriting in a nervous state of caffeine-induced excitement)

    • All backers and friends  will be invited to a celebratory party. The details are being arranged but it’s most likely going to happen in late April/May. There will be free food and drink (it’s the least I can do)

    • I’m already planning trips to see sources and hunt documents in the National Archives. I will, of course, keep you updated via Beacon


    As always, if you have any questions – ping me (lyra at muckraker dot me). Otherwise, I’ll see you over on the Beacon forums (details on this coming soon). 

    I love you all. Night. 

    P.S The reason I’m only writing this post now is because I was in London yesterday and didn’t actually get to bed the night before because of my early flight. 

  • New reward option just for journalism wonks: Behind the scenes insights into the project


    With my crowdfunding campaign, Beacon and I are trying something which – to our knowledge – hasn’t been tried before.

    By backing the campaign, readers get access to the book as it’s being written, with a short chapter published each month. Instead of saving the story until the very end when the book is ready for publication, I’m giving them a chance to come with me on the journey as I knock doors and try to find answers. They will be with me as the story unravels. Read More

  • One week down, two to go: Progress update on the crowdfunding campaign

    Today marks 7 days since I launched the crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to continue my reporting/write my book on Reverend Robert Bradford, an Ulster Unionist MP murdered in November 1981.

    It’s been an amazing week. According to the Beacon guys, the campaign has smashed their records – raising over $2,000 on its first day.

    Since Monday, 81 backers have pledged $3,050. Many have opted for the $60 (one-off yearly subscription) reward which surprised me; I thought most would stick to the $5-$15 monthly rewards. Read More

  • Supporting independent investigative journalism: fund my book on Beacon Reader


    Folks, I need your help.

    For nearly 2 and a half years, I’ve been blogging here. I’ve posted stories about corruption and incompetence in government and public bodies. When expenses have cropped up – travel, lunches with sources, equipment costs – I’ve covered them myself.

    Today, I’m launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds so I can continue my reporting. Specifically, the money will help me finish my latest investigative project, a book about the last weeks of Robert Bradford, a Northern Irish politician murdered in November 1981. Read More

  • The real problem with Caleb Hannan’s story is that shitty journalism has a ripple effect

    You may have seen me ranting on Twitter over the weekend about a hateful piece of journalism from reporter Caleb Hannan. Josh Levin over at Slate sums it up:


    “If you haven’t read Hannan’s story yet, you should—I’ll be here when you’re done. In brief, the writer discovered that “Dr. V” was a con artist. She lied about her educational and professional credentials to Hannan and to a man who gave her $60,000—cash that investor never saw again. In the course of his reporting, Hannan also learned that Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt “was born a boy.”

    Hannan eventually sent Dr. V “an email trying to confirm what I had discovered.” The inventor got very angry, tried to get Hannan to sign a nondisclosure agreement, and wrote him a note saying that “his deportment is reminiscent to schoolyard bullies.” Not long after that, Hannan writes, he got a phone call informing him that Dr. V had committed suicide.”


    The Twittersphere is exploding with reactions to the piece. Some think Hannan did what reporters are supposed to do: expose the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Others take issue with how Hannan seems to suggest that “Dr V” being a con artist and being a trans woman are directly related. They argue he made her status as a transgender woman the subject of the story, as if it was something dirty or shameful.

    I have to agree with the latter camp. Read More

  • A journalism qualification will probably not get you a job. It may help you make a living.


    When I sit down to write a blog post, I try to make it informative. Sometimes, it’s just an update on the book, but I always try to give something back.

    I’m afraid this is not one of those posts. It’s 1.33am and I am stressed out.

    I spent most of the holidays filling out funding applications and preparing a crowdfunding campaign. I also started writing a brief for an illustrator friend who is doing the artwork for my book. Next up, I have to file my tax return and sort out my budget/costs for the year: £500 for that flight to meet Source X, £X to live and eat, etc.

    When I started in journalism, I had no idea I’d end up like this: self-employed and hustling for the funds to do each story. My plan was for a life of stability: graduate from university, get a newsroom job, mortgage and live happily ever after.

    That’s not how it turned out. 25% of my time each week is spent filling applications for funding and toying with crazy ideas. Sometimes, it’s fun. Coming up with crazy ideas always is.

    Other times, however, it’s really hard. In fact, most of the time, it’s hard. It’s not what I imagined it would be. In some ways, it’s better; in others, worse. Such is life.

    I tweeted recently that I wished my younger self had known that the future of journalism was Read More

  • A book’s progress: The fight for investigative journalism and plans for 2014

    Every few weeks, I post an update on my book project – a story about the last weeks and murder of Reverend Robert Bradford, a Northern Irish politician killed in November 1981. Given that it’s New Year’s Eve and a time for making resolutions, I’m also going to look back over the last year and talk about my plans for next year.


    After a pretty rough 2011-12, 2013 was a great year for me, personally and professionally. I was shortlisted for a journalism fellowship at Stanford University in California (I didn’t make the final cut but  given my humble roots and that I dropped out of university the first time, being shortlisted felt like a huge achievement), passed the first year of my Masters degree and made great progress with my book.

    2014 is going to be an even bigger year. While I feel proud of what I achieved in 2013, I also feel like I didn’t take enough risks. There’s so much I want to do and I haven’t done it because I’m afraid. It’s easier to talk about doing things rather than making them happen but life is too short. So this year will be about jumping off the cliff and building wings on the way down.

    So I’ve got big plans for 2014.  Read More