Reporters get the inside story on reader-supported journalism #ahcj15

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

In traditional publishing, freelancers know there’s lot of waiting. Pitch an idea and wait. Report, write, and submit your article. And wait again. Send a bill. And wait some more.

Crowdfunding offers another way for journalists to get paid. While there’s still lots of waiting, journalists who go this route collect payments from readers, also known as supporters or patrons. As in patrons of the arts. For Health Journalism 2015, AHCJ member Tara Haelle (@tarahaelle) moderated a panel, “Freelance: Is crowdfunding in your future?” in which a journalist described how she used crowd-sourced funds to publish her book. Representatives of two crowdfunding sites explained how they work.

Heather Boerner (@HeatherBoerner), an AHCJ member and freelance journalist (and now author) in San Francisco, raised $4,200 on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to cover much of the costs of her book, “Positively Negative: Love, Pregnancy, and Science’s Surprising Victory Over HIV.” It’s the story of how anti-viral medications help those who are HIV-positive to have children.

The original $100 assignment for a well-known website and an unspecified number of words had been such a joy for Boerner to report and write that the finished project totaled 9,000 words. When her editor wanted 2,000 words cut, Boerner sought other funding. “Crowdfunding is not what I set out to do,” she said.

Refusing to let the story go unpublished, she pitched it to other editors. “It was my most favorite thing that I’ve ever written, and yet they all wanted it to be different. One even wanted me to take out one of the couples I interviewed,” she said. After exhausting conventional publishing options, she explored Kickstarter, among others, before choosing Indiegogo, a global fundraising site that seemed appropriate for her project.

She set a goal of $6,500 to cover the costs of an editor, a fact checker, designer and book consultant to guide her through self publishing. She raised $4,200 and, after Indiegogo took its share of $600, she had $3,600.

Turns out the fundraising itself required at least three hours every day of promoting her idea on Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email to entice friends, family and strangers to give money. Although she fell short of her goal, she needed to spend only $300 of her own money and now sells her book on a variety of sites.

Two other panel members — Dan Fletcher (@danfletcher), cofounder of Beacon, and Erica Castello (@whimZmc), who does marketing and special projects for Patreon — discussed the need, as Boerner identified, to fund journalism projects that might not get done otherwise.

Beacon funds journalism projects exclusively , said Fletcher, a former social media director at Bloomberg and managing editor at Facebook. The site funds writers “who tell great stories and uncover important information” about the environment, health care, politics and other topics, the Beacon site says. Also, Beacon raises money for the Texas Tribune, a member-supported, nonpartisan media organization. For some projects, Beacon will contribute $2 to $3 for every $1 a journalist raises, Fletcher added.

Patreon lets fans support artists and writers, said Castello. “It should be easy for journalists to get paid,” she added. Among the journalists seeking funding on Patreon are Maryam Henein, a documentary filmmaker, Lev Bratishenko of Montreal, and Laszlo Devai of Debrecen, Hungary.

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