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Byline – superb crowdfunded journalism site delivers the kind of independent news we used to enjoy

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Anyone with a brain will realize that the news business is in dire straits, and not only financially. The rise of the Internets, coupled with declining ad revenue has really changed things for the worse. The quality of the reporting, and its close ties with corporate marketing budgets and government agendas, has trashed the credibility of much of the Fourth Estate severely. But now there’s a new option in town, and it’s very cool indeed.

Byline is a crowdfunded journalism site, which aims to deliver not just topical and feature led reporting across a wide field, but also help readers and writers establish a relationship which goes beyond the traditional one. Think of the reader becoming a ‘supporter’ of the writer and/or their projects, and you get the idea.

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It’s not the first of this type of site – The Beacon, Ferret and Through The Cracks spring to mind – but what’s different about Byline is the fact that the developers have clearly thought through what it means to create a real relationship between supporters and suppliers. The key thing about crowdfunding story tellers is the fact that you are trying to deliver truth without the hype or agenda that pervades every aspect of our media scene today. But there’s more to it than that.

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The very earliest newspapers, printed in the early 17th century, dealt with the stark needs of the time, political, economic and military, without the flim flam we suffer today. As today’s media descends into an underfunded ‘entertainment’ milieu, the first casualty has been truth. We get whatever spin has been decreed or paid for. Which is sad really.

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However it’s not hard to imagine a future where we engage directly with those who provide the news (or entertainment – why not?) to suggest, critique or engage in different ways. Byline offers a great set of tools to do just that, and you can see how it could develop.

Readers can support the journalists (there is no editor) via two methods. Either they can crowdfund a project, a la Kickstarter style, to help it come to fruition, or they can pay a small monthly sub to the journalist/s of their choice to secure a regular stream of reporting on specific topics. It’s an obvious idea whose time has come. Complete with a first comic strip!

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The site is currently in beta form, having started officially less than a year ago, but it’s already got some heavyweight journalists on board, who deliver reports and projects on a variety of subjects ranging from the political scene to investigative journalism in war zones. All wrapped up in a nice clean design, which highlights the content perfectly, as well as making it clear how to support the writers involved.

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Of course it’s early days yet for the service, which means there’s bound to be changes as the site matures. It would be nice, for example, if there were some categories which could be searched, so that folks interested in say Energy or Business could find those articles quickly and easily. The whole place could also do with some lighter material, because let’s face it, campaigning journalism can become rather exhausting in excess.

Conclusion
The whole Byline concept is delicious and more to the point, well thought out for the long term. It’s not a crowdfunding site with a bit of news tacked on – as so many of these services are – but a serious journalism site where the commercial impartiality is guaranteed through public support. There’s not an ad to be seen anywhere on the site. Oh and the site’s revenues come from a 15% cut of the sponsor money, which seems a fair deal all round. Here’s hoping the service catches on and more people support the delivery of real news like this. We sorely need it!

Nigel is the managing editor of the Red Ferret, as well as a freelance columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. Loves tech and fancies himself as a bit of a futurist, but then don’t we all?

Nigel – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


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