Three months after Columbia Journalism professor Michael Shapiro launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $5,000 for a long-form journalism project dubbed The Big Roundtable, the site has gone live — and it’s only slightly different than the potential product he’d previously described to Poynter.
The new site, which was built using more than $19,000 raised on Kickstarter, features longform narratives “that just didn’t fit — too long, not quite the demographic for a particular publication,” as Shapiro described it to Poynter via email. But instead of the original model of providing an excerpt of a story and asking readers to pay $1 to read the complete version, TBR has opted for a donation button (Shapiro discusses how that conclusion was reached here). The site was open for business Thursday morning.
There are currently four stories solicited from Shapiro’s colleagues posted to the site. The selection process, he said, held a few surprises.
“I was determined not to simply replicate the gatekeeper-as-tastemaker role. And so I showed the stories to a group of readers. I wanted to see how others would react. The Molokai story came to me from a colleague, Jon Weiner. I loved it, as did Jon. But what would others say,” Shapiro wrote to Poynter. “I showed it to several readers, two of whom could not have been more different: a neighbor who is a wonderful writer of fiction and my son, who wants, among other things, to write comic books. I would have thought, given the subject — dying woman prays to long dead priest and is saved from certain death from cancer; was it a miracle? — that she would have loved it and he would have passed. But just the opposite. Who could have predicted that?”
Asking several readers to choose from stories hasn’t led to any major battles (“at least not yet,” he says) and every narrative has managed to find “the beginnings of an audience.” But now for the big question: Even though it’s only been a day, has anyone clicked on the donate button on any piece?
“Yes. Sales. Modest. Very modest,” Shapiro said. “But our writers are a little richer than they were earlier this week.”